The Best That Never Was?

Contrary to popular belief, sports is the best drama of all time. What sets the performances of athletes who are payed to play a game from Oscar worthy actors is the simplest of factors.

Unlike the latter, the former is unscripted. Pure poetry in motion that warrants significant results. Ask any athlete at any position at anytime, what they would rather be doing at that exact moment and the answer may be universal. Nothing.

Unfortunately for some, just becoming a professional doesn’t necessarily cement them as being successful. Those athletes are typically remembered by the sudden “remember him?” or the “I totally forgot that guy was on our team that year”.

However, every once in a while an athlete comes around that changes everyone’s perceptions of that team. Becoming the cog that is instrumental to the machine running smoothly. This can be said for New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.

You see, before Gronk, the position of tight end was played normally by a former wide receiver that couldn’t catch well and was large enough to help block defensive linemen. When Gronk catapulted into the NFL, the common perception of a tight end was obliterated. Never before had that type of athleticism and personality been part of the position. His quirky attitude and can’t miss pre and post game interviews made for excellent cannon fodder on Youtube.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t all unicorns and show ponies for what can only be described as the freak of nature that is Rob Gronkowski.

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Lunatic Patriots fans, avert your eyes from what you’re about to read. Injuries may very well force him into an early retirement. Against the Jets, Rob suffered what is described as a herniated disc that will require season ending surgery. Add this to the already lengthy laundry list of injuries that he’s fallen victim to since entering the league 7 years ago.

If in fact injuries do him in within the next year and a half, an unfortunate question will be asked time and time again. What could he have been like without the injuries? Many shoulda coulda woulda’s will follow.

Which made me think about all the former NHLers that suffered the same fate. Of the three that came to mind immediately were Eric Lindros, Bobby Orr and Pavel Bure. All of which are now in the Hall of Fame. All three went to Stanley Cup finals on separate occasions with Orr being the only that came out on top.

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For Lindros it was concussions, which is unfortunate in the sense that he was built similarly to Gronkowski. Eric was huge, commanded a lot of space on the ice, could decimate opposing players who dared to skate through the neutral zone with their head down. Oh, and he could score at will.

Ironically, his forte was his eventual demise Scott Stevens caught Lindros with a pulverizing body check. Lindors was one of a kind and his style of play is yet to be imitated nearly 20 years after the fact. While he was recently inducted into hockey’s hall of fame, it’s hard to shake the notion that a lot of hockey was left on the slate.

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Orr played like he was 5 inches taller than he actually was. Blocking shots, colliding into his own net to break up plays and taking and distributing abuse on a regular basis. Considered by most to be the greatest all around defensemen, his body constantly failed him. Forcing him into an early retirement. Regardless of imitators and to quote my favorite rapper, “no matter how many fish in the sea it would be so empty without Bobby.”

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Pavel Bure was magical with the puck on his stick, just Youtube his highlight reel. After all, you don’t receive the nickname “the Russian rocket” for nothing. Despite his style of play resembling nothing of Lindros or Orr, Bure succumbed to a similar narrative. Lower body injuries hindered Bure’s ability to become one of the best ever to play. His one appearance in the Stanley Cup final fell short as the Rangers beat his Canucks in game 7 in 1994. In the years that followed, Bure became more of a journey man of sorts, shuffled around team to team due to his injuries until his retirement in 2005.

While he, like the previously mentioned players, holds a spot in the hall of fame, it’s a far cry from what could have been for one of the 90’s most electric hockey players.


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