What more could Crosby ever want? What more does a wildly wealthy and successful athlete possibly need?
Silly questions, because the second Crosby grabbed the flag with the maple leaf adorned in its glorious center and began to carry it around the rink on this historic Sunday afternoon, it was apparent his charmed life hadn't been as complete as we might think.
Sometimes it seems like a trite cliché, this old-fashioned notion that the Olympics are meant to extend far beyond the playing fields. But there in the midst of megadrama and exploding fireworks were Crosby and his Canadian teammates, proving the Olympics at their core really do transcend sports. In the most magnificent hockey game in Olympic history, as 30 million souls (give or take a few) across the continent crammed into bars and parks and anywhere there happened to be a television, Crosby curled around the boards and wristed an overtime shot past Ryan Miller, the terrific American goalie who'd eventually be named tournament MVP.
Team Canada 3, Team USA 2. Bedlam in Vancouver's public squares, mayhem in Toronto's streets, ecstasy in Calgary, happy joy in tiny Cole Harbour. It's extraordinary that a flat, golden medallion the size of a fist has the power to spark celebrations that, sadly, surpass the merriment of soldiers coming home from war. That's the hold Crosby and Co. has on the populace. Outside of the states, destiny's child absolutely created the ideal finish to these Vancouver 2010 Games.
For two complicated and thrilling weeks, this country seemed to be struggling to identify who and what it is as a nation. How fitting that it was Crosby, lyrically nicknamed The Next One, who will forever stick in the public's psyche as the defining symbol of when all of Canada took a joyous, well-deserved leap and learned, once and for all, it's perfectly fine to stick out the chest and cry with pride. Canada opened the Olympics worried how the rest of the world would view its insecurities, its need to please (not a bad trait, mind you), and it closed the Games more united and patriotic and in love with itself than ever before.
"Every kid dreams of that opportunity," Crosby said modestly of his heart-stopping goal. "It could have been anybody else, it could have been any other guy in that room. Obviously, being in Canada that's an opportunity of a lifetime to play in the Olympics here and try to win a gold medal. You dream of that moment a thousand times growing up."
As Crosby spoke, whenever a door opened, you could hear the crazy commotion raging outside, an everyone's-invited party that surely will last well into spring. Crosby jokingly wondered how he and the rest of us stuck inside the safe caverns of Canada Hockey Place could plan our escapes. But the smile that never left his face made it clear he couldn't wait to join the fun. More than anything else, what rings true about these Games is the vision of Canadian Olympians, with or without medals but with knitted tuques on their heads and libation in their hands, joining the adoring throngs. With glowing hearts, indeed.
If Crosby's game-winning, culture-changing tally doesn't quite have the gravitas of Paul Henderson's goal that defeated the Soviets in Game 8 of the 1972 Summit Series, it's only because Canadians need months, maybe years to sober up and process what they witnessed. And how appropriate that in a sport where lore is passed down from generation to generation, before Sunday's game Crosby received a text message from Penguins owner Mario Lemieux that read, simply, "Good luck." It was Lemieux who, once again, took a feed from Wayne Gretzky, The Great One, and fired the goal that beat the Soviets in the 1987 Canada Cup, another rousing moment the locals talk about as if it were equal to the first time man landed on the moon.
"You're going to see a lot of kids growing up now wishing they were Crosby scoring in overtime and winning a gold medal," said Chris Pronger, the veteran Canadian defenseman who thought he had witnessed most everything in hockey, but never anything as mind-blowing as this. "And that's pretty special."
Crosby didn't have the greatest tournament statistically. Scoreless in Canada's previous two games, he did beat Switzerland in a shootout during the round robin edge of the tournament, and the chemistry he formed with linemates Eric Staal and Jarome Iginla made it impossible for other teams to blink when Canada's top line bounded over the boards. But for three periods Sunday he had been fairly silent, with only two shots on goal and a missed breakaway that American winger Patrick Kane halted with a fantastic backcheck.
"I never thought I had to be the guy," Crosby said.
"He's got a little destiny to him -- his entire career, throughout minor hockey, junior hockey, NHL. I think he had a great tournament," said Steve Yzerman, Team Canada's executive director. "I just keep going back that he's such a young person and to have the weight of the country on his shoulders, it's not necessarily good enough to win. He's got to lead the team. That's a lot to put on a young player. I thought he conducted himself very well under immense pressure."
It wasn't possible to lift the unrelenting, glacial weight on Canada to rule the sport it invented, a sport that permeates and defines this country's soul. So rather than plead with his players to ignore the burden, coach Mike Babcock decided to stress that everything is relative. Look at figure skater Joannie Rochette, Babcock told them. Just days after the sudden death of her mother, Rochette managed to win a bronze medal in what was one of the most emotional, inspirational moment of any Olympics.
"If she can go through something like that and still compete and give it her best, wow," Crosby said, shaking his head. "There's pressure and then there's pressure."
Long before Crosby scored the most sublime goal in Canada's history, chaos started forming in the streets outside. Before sunrise there already were staggering amounts of people lining up for still-closed restaurants and pubs and liquor stores. Scalpers were getting $2000 for lower-level seats, easily. It was impossible to walk down standing-room-only Robson Street and not hear somebody saying, "This is the best day of my life." The 17th and final day of the Vancouver Olympics was a giddy festival of patriotism and grand expectations, and naturally it could only end with mass genuflection toward Canada's national religion.
And then, with 24.4 seconds hanging on the clock and the crowd inside the arena on its toes and going absolute bonkers, Team USA stuck a dagger through all those red chests. Zach Parise, son of a Canadian hockey player who had a knack for scoring big goals, tucked the ping-ponging puck behind goalie Roberto Luongo to push the game into overtime.
Could the young and fairly unheralded Americans continue their perfect streak and upset the hosts for the second time in a week? Was Luongo finally tiring? Would an entire country's dream come crashing down?
"We couldn't think about any of that, nothing negative," Crosby said. "We knew if we kept playing our game we still had a pretty good chance."
Sid the Kid's narrative arc has been heading this way ever since Crosby was a precocious tyke growing up in Cole Harbour. A proficient skater at three with motor skills already ridiculously fine-tuned, Crosby gave his first interview at age seven. He's been Canada's most visible and dissected and beloved player since 2005, the year he turned pro. Alex Ovechkin might gripe that Crosby is too polished, too much of a corporate darling, but then it's Crosby who has the gold medal to wear with his championship ring, while Ovechkin and his Russian team shockingly fizzled on the Olympic stage.
"I just shot it," Crosby said. "Maybe it went five-hole. It doesn't even feel real. It feels like a dream."
As Miller collapsed into an exhausted puddle, Team USA's remarkable run over, Crosby tossed into the air his stick, then his gloves, then his mouthpiece. He was mobbed by his teammates, while tens of millions of tear and beer-stained Canadians hugged each other ... and hugged each other ... then hugged each other some more. And then they turned to people they actually knew and started hugging all over again.
Canada's 14th and last gold medal didn't just set a record for most won by a nation in a single Winter Olympiad. It shifted and transformed a nation's collective consciousness, reconfirming what Canadians knew about themselves but were too modest to say. It made the rest of the world envy Canada's coolness.
Toting a flag as big as a bed sheet around the rink, Crosby bathed in the crowd's love and gratitude, and much later he was still in his uniform, still doing interviews, still trying to come to grips with this enchanted moment. Someone asked him if he was planning to attend the Closing Ceremonies that were about to start a few streets away.
"That would be nice if I can manage to get there," said Sid the Kid, a 22-year-old who might really have it all.