You might be our only hope.
Today is Mario Lemieux’s 47th birthday. While I’m not in the habit of liking any owners during a lockout, I have to do something to celebrate Le Magnifque’s existence and the fact that pushing 50, he’s still super foxy.
If you’re old like we are, Mario Lemieux has been a staple of your lifelong hockey existence. We’re still a long way from 47, so we prefer to think back to ourselves at the time of Lemieux’s career highlights. To illustrate the point, I’ve included some pretty embarrassing visuals of my own life in Mario’s time.
On Oct. 11, 1984, in his first game, on his first shift, on his first shot, Mario scored his NHL first goal. That was my 5th birthday.
Pants, the day of Mario’s first NHL goal
He famously overcame Hodgkins Disease – on the day of his final 1993 radiation treatment, after missing two months of the season, Mario chartered himself a plane, flew to Philly and played. The Flyers fans gave him a standing ovation. He had a goal and an assist that game.
Mario appeared in just 60 games that year – before and after cancer treatment – and still won the scoring title. What did you do today?
Pants, circa 1993 (rocking the Jagr hair)
Does everyone know these stories already? I just love to hear them. The man is a hero in every sense of the word.
During the ’04-’05 lockout, Mario was both a player and part-owner of the Penguins. That must have been very difficult. The League asked owners not to discuss the lockout, so Mario couldn’t say anything publically while he suffered along with the rest of us.
Pants “suffering” in Vegas (wearing a Red Sox ’04 World Series ring)
I didn’t know this story about Bettman’s complete ass-hattery – there are so many, and I was so angry.
It’s hard to forget how Bettman initially canceled the 2004-05 season, then put out a last-ditch request three days later for Wayne Gretzky, then a part-owner of the Phoenix Coyotes, and Mario Lemieux, then still a player/owner for the Penguins, to fly ASAP to New York in the hopes of bridging the angry divide between players and ownership and brokering an agreement.
But when both men answered Bettman’s drop-everything request… the two legends found that Bettman and then-union leader Bob Goodenow weren’t even in the negotiating room. The antagonism was as high as ever, and the season was called off for good within several hours, without a single new proposal being offered by either side.
- Johnette Howard, ESPN.com [link]
When it came down to brass tacks in the summer of ’05, when everyone knew they couldn’t possibly afford to lose a second straight season, Mario said the players should have taken the deal offered by the League in February ’05. He forecast a worse deal in the summer. Well that worse deal is what just expired.
Mario bailed out the Penguins many times. He, and other players, deferred their salaries in the mid-90′s after bad management ran the team into the red just a few years after winning back-to-back Cups (’91 and ’92). In 1998, the Pens declared bankruptcy. Mario put the money they owed him into equity and bought the majority stake in the team. He kept them in the ’Burgh and began the enormous task of turning the team around.
They missed the playoffs in ’02, ’03, ’04 and post-lockout in ’06 (Crosby’s rookie year). But in 2009 they won the Stanley Cup.
Pants on Bourbon St., Halloween 2009 with the Penguins Stanley Cup
With another lockout on our hands, and two weeks of the season already cancelled, what does Mario say now?
Nothing. He can’t, I’m sure, bound by the same rule from the last time. But I’d do some serious breaking-and-entering to find out what Mario’s not telling the media. Lemieux has chosen few moments to speak out, and the words have always hit home. In ’92 he called the NHL a “garage league,” a moniker making the popular rounds now in reference to Bettman’s leadership. In 2011, he blasted the League for not punishing teams who don’t control their players – knowing he’d spark criticism of himself for employing Matt Cooke.
Lemieux is an owner now and lines have been drawn, but I can’t help hoping he’s in there, furious, fighting for the game and for us. Hell, he already put his own money on the line twice.
Pants & Chuck enjoying Mario’s money – March 2011
According to Crosby, the personal relationship between him and Lemieux is fine as they both understand their roles in this conflict. [link]
What else could Sid say? Mario makes some mean unbuttered toast?
What do you think? Does the lockout have me grasping at straws or does the presence of someone like Lemieux, who’s been on both sides of this table (even at the same time), give you a glimmer of hope that someone in those owners meetings doesn’t have a heart three sizes too small?
Pants & Chuck with Tin Foil Stanley – Pants’ wedding, 2011
(I hope you guys appreciate this, those are some horrible photos of me!)