Yzerman Chases Cup, Respect
George Johnson / Calgary Sun
That damned ring.
That ostentatious victory parade.
That silly "I'm going to Disneyworld!" commercial spot.
They are what we all smugly believe is missing from Steve Yzerman's career; what is leaving a dark, empty void in his life.
There are those who'll swear on a stack of Bibles that the sum of an athlete means little without at least one championship on the resumé. They'll argue to the death that greatness, scope, worth, depth of achievement should be measured strictly in terms of finish, not buildup.
They are invariably successful people, lucky enough to have been part of a winner.
Being a winner and winning are not irrevocably joined at the hip. Yet the message from the outside is all too clear: You're nothing without your name engraved somewhere on that big, silver trophy, bub.
Dan Marino has never won a Super Bowl. Dan Fouts or Fran Tarkenton, either. And surely they rank high on anyone's list of all-time NFL quarterbacks. Marino and Fouts had to put up 40 points a game during their halcyon days, to offset suspect defences. Tarkenton, poor man, got caught up in that Viking curse.
Ty Cobb, the Georgia Peach, felt like a prune come October. He never won a World Series. Neither did Rod Carew or Fergie Jenkins or Yaz or The Splendid Splinter. So these guys are bums?
Sir Charles has all the honors the NBA can bestow, except a ring. Does that lessen his impact or diminish Barkley's accomplishments?
At least in tennis, golf and such, the athlete has only himself to count upon. In team sports, an individual is at the mercy of the group. Yet when all is said and done, it's the individual who will be judged.
During one trip by Marcel Dionne through Alberta a few years ago, then-Calgary assistant coach Guy Charron asked a prominent Flame player if he'd enjoy meeting the Hall of Famer.
"What for?" was the curt response. "What's he ever won?"
Not one blessed Stanley Cup. But that shouldn't make Dionne less of a hero, or a star. You try going through a career playing hockey in Los Angeles wearing those goofy purple uniforms, propping up a franchise, and see if you don't resent the fact that what you didn't do has taken precedence over the far-more considerable amount you did.
Yet there is a stigma there and it hangs around like a foul odor. No one on Tour, no matter how swollen their bank account, wants to be remembered as the finest golfer never to have won a major championship.
Be warned: The mark of Cain is upon you.
It isn't fair. But it's the ugly truth.
Steve Yzerman knows this. Eric Lindros, too.
And they make an interesting contrast as these Stanley Cup playdowns begin to reach a crescendo. Despite his tender years, Lindros understands how the game is played, on the ice and in the history books. All season long the 24-year-old has been quick to divert accomplishments and progress toward one goal: The Cup. And only the Cup.
Yzerman, the Red Wings captain, has been burned far too often to set himself up for another such painful fall.
He also understands it isn't how much you care or how bloody good you play or what you're willing to sacrifice. Those are controllable factors. Yzerman knows that winning a championship is about Dame Fortune, and injuries, and depth of team and good breaks and bad breaks and referees and on and on.
Been there. Haven't done that.
He, more than anyone, is fully aware that no one ever promised fair. Gary Leeman has a Stanley Cup ring and Steve Yzerman doesn't. You figure that's fair?
"It grows on you every year as you get older, especially if you haven't won one," acknowledges Yzerman. "I think if you win one early, in your younger days, you can pretty much relax. Then whatever happens, happens.
"Players as they get older, you can see the end of your career only a few years away. When you're a kid, you don't ever think about that."
He thinks about it now. Plenty.
If only because we won't let him forget. In an age that embraces cross-dressing, cross-hair coloring rebounders, that tolerates whining, petulant, self-indulgent young men able to indulge in boyhood fantasies and get paid whopping great sums of money for the privilege, Steve Yzerman is a throwback.
Quiet. Articulate. Polite. Respectful. He'd never be caught drunk in bars or ripping reporters' shirts or railing on about how hard he works or how much he's sacrificed or how the world's against him despite all the material comforts the game has provided him with.
"He comes in," former St. Louis goalie Mike Liut once said, "he's a great young player and everybody likes him. He's a good kid and he's doing all the these remarkable things.
"He carries the franchise.
"Then after awhile you accept it, you become complacent about it, you expect it. These are things you are not entitled to just expect."
Steve Yzerman does not expect anything. Not anymore. But he's allowed to hope.
And we hope along with him. If there's one person to cheer for in this playoffs, it's No. 19 with the famed Winged Wheel stitched on his jersey.
Yzerman at long last hoisting the Cup aloft ... now there's a Kodak moment; a cameo keepsake.
But even if he's cruelly denied that chance again this spring -- or whatever future springs are left to him now -- it really doesn't matter. He was, is and always will be Stevie Y: Winner.