People are funny. One of the ways in which this is so is that they seem to think they ought to have a say in when professional athletes retire.
Michael Jordan? He’s tarnishing his legacy!
Brett Favre? He’s older than Methuselah!
Tiger Woods? He’s a shell of a man!
Please. If an athlete wants to play until he’s riding on fumes, he won’t hear me tell him what to do with his career, his legacy, his life. Let him pound on that gas can like a kid with an empty ketchup bottle in his hands and lonely tears in his eyes. We’ve all been there, or will be eventually, in some form or another.
It’s a bit different in the case of Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford. At 34 — with concussions having cost him much of the past two seasons — Crawford is practicing with the Hawks again amid growing noise from fans that it probably would be best for all involved if the old netminder instead went quietly into that good night.
Many simply are concerned for Crawford’s long-term well-being. It’s a well-intended way to look at it, at least, though chances are at least some of those playing doctor aren’t actually in the medical community.
There are others, though, who are ready to write off Crawford because the Hawks have, of late, become a promising team without him. Consider this merely the latest example of Crawford being taken for granted by Hawks fans, as he has been throughout his excellent career.
Before Crawford’s brilliant postseason in 2013 — when he won his first Stanley Cup, and the Hawks their second of a dynastic half-decade — he was widely lamented as a playoff question mark. Although he helped lead them to another championship in 2015, a vociferous contingent of fans viewed him as being in the way of backup Scott Darling.
And now? Crawford, who is under contract through next season, somehow isn’t seen as the obvious best-case-scenario No. 1 goalie for the Hawks as they chase one of two Western Conference wild-card spots.
One game, playoff spot on the line, all three are good to go. Who’s your #Blackhawks goalie?— Steve Greenberg (@SLGreenberg) February 11, 2019
A Twitter poll this week pretty much drove this home. It asked, essentially: If Crawford, fellow 34-year-old Cam Ward and rookie Collin Delia all were in fine form, which player would fans want in goal in a must-win game with a playoff berth on the line? Of several hundred respondents, just shy of 60 percent answered Crawford. More than half as many said Delia, owner of six career regular-season victories.
Crawford is a two-time Cup winner and unquestionably a top-three goalie in Hawks history. He was having arguably his finest season in 2017-18, with a career-best .929 save percentage and a stingy 2.27 GAA, when he got hurt. The Hawks were in playoff contention with him and tumbled into oblivion without him.
Like it or not, Crawford is going to get the chance to reclaim his No. 1 role this season. He never looked at his second straight December concussion as a career ender.
“Not at all,” he said. “I was going to come back as soon as I felt 100 percent. I’m not worried about that.”
And the Hawks will be lucky to have him. As they have been — tremendously so — from the very beginning.
I’M JUST SAYIN’
• Jack Hughes, we hardly knew ye. A blink of an eye ago, many a Hawks fan was holding out hope for a bottom-of-the-barrel finish and a chance to draft spindly American forward Hughes — the next Patrick Kane? — with the No. 1 pick. Actually, some red-sweatered maniacs undoubtedly still are rooting for an all-out collapse and a shot at Hughes. Hey, it takes all kinds.
• Now, a Bulls tank is something we can all get behind. Not that we necessarily have to. The sheer, unadulterated beauty of the Bulls is that they’re bad enough to end up in the bottom three of the league-wide standings no matter how hard they try to win games.
• I loved how Sun-Times Bulls beat writer Joe Cowley put it after Jabari Parker and Bobby Portis showed up Saturday with the Wizards and staged a laugher: “Games in February for a 13-win team usually don’t elicit much emotion. This one should have, and the Bulls barely showed a pulse.”
No offense to Otto Porter, who came to the Bulls in exchange for those players, but there’s more than enough stink here to get on everyone’s shoes, Porter’s included.
• You can only replace one, Bulls fans: head honcho John Paxson, trusty sidekick Gar Forman or Gregg Popovich’s biggest fan, coach Jim “Pop Zero” Boylen.
Discuss amongst yourselves.
• I can’t be the only one picturing Joe Ricketts — Mr. Has Nothing to Do With Running the Cubs himself — stuffing Cubs fans’ dollars into his personal fanny pack days from now while team chairman Tom Ricketts apologizes to media in Arizona for his father’s emails, can I?
• Three White Sox players I can’t wait to keep tabs on this spring: shortstop Tim Anderson, slugger Eloy Jimenez and pitching prospect Dylan Cease.
Who could be more motivated than Anderson, a talented guy Sox fans are dying to see kicked to the curb to make room for Manny Machado?
And is this the year people stop toeing the silly line that both teams won the trade of starting pitcher Jose Quintana to the Cubs for Jimenez and Cease? Quintana helped the Cubs reach the 2017 postseason, and his work on the North Side isn’t done yet. But Jimenez and Cease are dazzling prospects. If they light it up this spring, no more “tie” talk.
• According to a recent USA Today story, the Cardinals aren’t among the top 11 teams in the running for a World Series title. Have the names Paul Goldschmidt and Andrew Miller not reached Gannett HQ?
Not surprisingly, the Cubs and Brewers are in the 11. You’re darn right the Cardinals should be, too.