Tuesday, July 24, 2007

How It All Started

In February 1980 I was seven years old. On a Friday evening, I sat on my parents' bed with my dad and watched the U.S. desperately hold off the Soviets. We were captivated. I had never seen my dad so excited about a game (until I scored my first AYSO goal a few months later). He wasn't even a particularly big hockey fan, but I think he bounced off the bed several times that day. The scene repeated itself the next day during the clincher against Finland. I was hooked. Among Eruzione, McClanahan, Craig, and Pavelich, the player I latched onto most was the one who shared my name: Ken Morrow. After watching him drape a gold medal around his neck, I followed Morrow to his new team. It just so happened that they were pretty good too.

I will always credit Ken Morrow with making me an Islanders fan. But it was the guy streaking down the right side with the deadly accurate shot and the number 22 on his back that cemented my love for the team. I used to wake up the morning after the Islanders played and run to the kitchen to check the box score in The New York Times. I would read every line looking for the name "Bossy" followed by a number. It seemed like he scored every night and those numbers kept climbing.

I became a little jealous of my best friend when I found out that he shared a birthday with Mike Bossy. I thought it was unfair that he had that in common with the player I admired most. As I grew older, I took 22 as my uniform whenever it was available. Two had always been my lucky number, so what could be better than two 2s and a connection to a gentlemanly and wickedly talented All-Star? Later, I wondered if I should have forged my own identity and chosen my own birthday as my number. But I'm still proud to have all of those jerseys, t-shirts, and warm-ups adorned with double-2s.

I was so disappointed when my favorite player was forced to retire in his prime. You only get the chance to admire sports figures in that kid-like way once. It ended too soon. More than missing watching him play, I felt bad that Mike wasn't able to complete his legacy. I still hate watching lesser players pass him on the career goals list. I regard his playoff goal total as the real benchmark by which to measure greatness. Of course, this is only the fan's point of view. I can take comfort in the fact that athletes themselves generally view their careers from a different perspective. I would guess that Mike doesn't need 900 goals or the title of greatest player ever. Ken Morrow doesn't need a Norris Trophy. The titles that these men currently hold with Islanders suggest that they are quite satisfied with their legacies.

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