Que Sarah, Sarah

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Love It Or Hate It: Sleeping With The Enemy

By Sarah Spain
Originally published 4/1/08 on TheLoveOfSports.com

A few hours before the Chicago Cubs officially began their 2008 season, Ernie Banks, known throughout the world as Mr. Cub, was honored with a statue outside Wrigley Field. Banks spent his entire career –19 seasons—with the Cubs, and Monday his love affair with the city and the team was finally immortalized in steel and bronze.

At the ceremony, Banks boasted that he’s the only pro athlete to spend his entire career in one city (Chicago), under one mayor (Richard Daley), for one owner (P.K. Wrigley) and in one park (Wrigley Field). He finished by saying: “I played all my home games under one light, and that’s God’s light.”

That kind of loyalty (and eloquence) is hard to find these days.

Across the country, another player was remembered for his days with a Major League ball club. Jeff Conine, (who I’m told is known throughout South Florida as Mr. Marlin) signed a one-day contract with the Marlins Friday afternoon so that he could “technically” retire as a member of the team with whom he won two World Series rings. Before today’s season opener, Conine, who also played for Kansas City, Baltimore, Cincinnati and Philadelphia, addressed the home crowd, saying: "Even though I wore five different uniforms, I always considered myself a Florida Marlin.”

If Banks’ speech was a heartfelt love letter to a life-long spouse, Conine’s was a post-it note apologizing to a disgruntled wife for a few adulterous trysts.

Of course, Conine shouldn’t be blamed for switching teams more often than Anne Heche. In today’s world of professional sports few athletes are afforded the luxury of playing for one team and one team only. Those who can are forever associated with the town in which they made their name: Kirby Puckett, Walter Payton, Dan Marino, Steve Yzerman, John Elway and Cal Ripken, to name a few. Players these days barely have time to get to know their local groupies before they’re off to a new area code with new…well, you know how the song goes.

So what’s a modern day fan to do?

Is a kid who grew up idolizing the Red Sox’s Johnny Damon supposed to just forget about him because another team scooped him up in free agency? On the other hand, isn’t that same kid a traitor if he roots for the Yankees’ Johnny Damon?

What about Tom Glavine fans who burned their #47 jerseys when he left the team for the hated New York Mets? Now that he’s back in Atlanta is all forgiven, or will the Braves faithful always remember that Glavine chose money over loyalty?

Now that one of my favorite Bears, Bernard Berrian, has been lost in the free agent market to NFC North rivals, the Minnesota Vikings, I can’t very well cheer for him, can I? Even if deep down I love him, I’d have to hate myself for rooting for a Vike, right? Well…it’s just not that easy, is it.

Memories of a player can’t simply be erased when he changes teams, much in the same way memories of a lover aren't forgotten immediately after a break-up. That guy is still the guy who hit that game-winning homer or drained that series-winning three, even if he’s not technically your guy anymore. And really, what’s so bad about wanting the best for someone who gave his best to your team for years? Who can be faulted for wanting to hang on to the good times you had with your team’s former superstar? Why can't a girl sleep in a tent on the street outside her ex-boyfriend's apartment if they used to like camping a lot?

Not everyone can be as faithful as Ernie Banks but, thankfully, not everyone is as slutty as Jeff Conine. As for those guys in the middle, the players you used to love but who have now moved on, can you really "stay friends?"

Are Giants fans who secretly want Jeff Kent to have a career year with the Dodgers, in essence, sleeping with enemy? Are New England fans who like to see the Colts’ Adam Vinatieri succeed making cuckolds of their Pats? If you root for one guy and not his whole team, isn’t it kind of like hooking up outside of state lines or sleeping with someone else when you’re “on a break”—it’s not really cheating? If I invite Bernard Berrian into my proverbial boudoir, but I keep Adrian Peterson and company out of the house, will the Bears still have grounds for divorce?

Can you root for a player on a rival team or do you have to cut ties when your team does? Sleeping with the enemy, love it or hate it?

Hawks Squawk: Rookie Kris Versteeg Early Favorite For Calder

By Sarah Spain
Originally published 11/24/08 on MouthpieceSports.com

Chicago Blackhawks rookie Kris Versteeg would never admit to checking out the stats of his fellow rookies or scanning the NHL leaderboards for his name. The 22-year-old forward is content just to be a part of one the league’s fastest-rising teams.

“I just try to help this team win,” Versteeg told me earlier this season. “It doesn’t matter in the rookie race where I finish, it matters where the Chicago Blackhawks finish.”

Despite his “team first” approach, Versteeg’s individual play has him leading the pack in the race for Rookie of the Year. Named to this week’s NHL.com “Hot List” for his recent play, the Lethbridge, Alberta native is making the most of his enviable position sharing a line with superstar sophomores Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.

In his last four games, Versteeg has put in four goals and dished out three assists. He’s riding a five-game scoring streak and has scored 20 points in his 19 games with the Hawks—a mark that ties him for second-most on the team with Patrick Sharp. His +/- of 11 trails only Aaron Johnson on the team and leaves him tied for seventh overall in the NHL.

In 2004, the Boston Bruins drafted Versteeg in the fifth round, but he was traded to the Hawks for Brandon Bochenski in 2007. Versteeg played just 13 games with Chicago in 2007, spending most of the season with the Rockford Ice Hogs. Many scouts pegged the 5’10”, 180 pounder as too small and too weak for NHL standards.

Versteeg, following in the footsteps of diminutive linemate Kane, who won the Calder Trophy last year, looks to be enjoying proving his doubters wrong.

His 20 points, 13 assists and plus-11 rating are all first among rookies. His seven goals put him third behind the Leafs’ Mikhail Grabovksi and the Blue Jackets’ Derick Brassard, who have nine and eight goals, respectively.

Of course, Versteeg himself is the first to point out that his success is due in great part to his teammates.

“I‘m playing with two great players,” said Versteeg of linemates Kane and Toews. “It’s fun playing with them … those two are pretty special.”

With a nose for the net, great hands and endless hustle, Versteeg manages to keep up with the two 2008 Calder Trophy finalists. His success on the first line has allowed the Blackhawks to use Sharp to anchor the second, a move that helps compensate for the team’s lack of a true second line center.

A confident, outgoing guy (this season’s impromptu locker room serenade of Fergie’s “Glamorous” came as no surprise to his teammates) Versteeg is handling his newfound success with equal parts aplomb and humility. He’s quick to smile and eager to praise the efforts of his teammates, two great qualities that never show up in a box score.

The Hawks are just 19 games into the 82-game season, so only time will tell if Versteeg can stay hot all year. The NHL, enjoying one of its most popular seasons in years, would certainly benefit from a funny, personable guy like Versteeg (from an Original Six team, no less) taking home the hardware at year’s end.

The song that should accompany Versteeg on his walk to the podium at the 2009 NHL Awards ceremony? “Glamorous,” of course.

The Top Ten Things Chicago Sports Fans Are Thankful For This Year

By Sarah Spain
Originally published on 11/25/08 on MouthpieceSports.com

Mariotti and mashed potatoes. Cubs wins and casseroles. Sarah Spain lists the top ten things Chicago sports fans can be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving. It’s not just about stuffing your maw full of turkey and sweet potato casserole, over-imbibing and passing out on the couch ten minutes into another display of Detroit Lions’ futility.

Thanksgiving is about giving thanks for your blessings. Family, friends, health, wealth (well, what’s left of it) and, of course, sports. In honor of the most delicious of all holidays, I present:

The Top Ten Things Chicago Sports Fans Are Thankful For This Year

10. Jay Mariotti’s Resignation: After 17 years of uninspired, unfunny and uh-nnoying contributions to the Chicago Sun Times, the city’s least-favorite columnist finally called it quits. Mariotti claims to be the only Chicago writer who tells it like it is, but negativity for negativity’s sake is worse than blatant homerism. No, Jay, Chicago is not, as you said, “a weak market,” and it’s certainly even stronger without you in it.

9. The Chicago Cubs’ Season: Before the disappointment and heartache of the playoffs, there was the joy and excitement of the Cubs’ wildly successful 2008 regular season. Fans should be thankful for 97 wins, a no-hitter from Carlos Zambrano, an eight-run comeback win over the Colorado Rockies, a series of Brewer beat-downs, a Wrigley sweep of the White Sox and countless other magical moments. While some believe a World Series win is the only thing that matters, there’s something to be said for six months of outstanding baseball. For half of 2008, Chicago fans were treated to the best baseball in the world. That’s something to be thankful for.

8. Cubans: Not the cigars, or Mark (though we’ll be very thankful if he finds a way to beat the system and buy the Cubs). Nope, Chicago fans are thankful for Cuban baseball players, who look to be a big part of the 2009 Chicago White Sox. Teenage slugger Dayan Viciedo, a Cuban defector, recently signed with the Southsiders and will join fellow Cubans Jose Contreras and Alexei Ramirez.

7. The Emergence of Kyle Orton: You won’t get far in the NFL without a capable signal-caller (see: 2007 Chicago Bears) unless your team’s defense is so good it can also provide the offense (see: 2006 Chicago Bears). After several years in the shadow of the biggest turkey of all, Rex Grossman, Kyle Orton finally snatched up the starting job this season and he hasn’t looked back since. He’s no Tony Romo, but Captain Neckbeard possesses the skill, strength, size and smarts to keep this inconsistent Chicago Bears team competitive. For the first time in a long time, the Bears’ offense is the constant, while the team’s defense is the question mark every week. A quarterback we can believe in? Definitely worth giving thanks for.

6. Inspiring Comebacks: Though only one of them will be back next year, both Kerry Wood and Ryan Dempster are worthy of our thanks. Woody had 34 saves and 84 Ks in 66 innings in his first season as the Cubs’ closer. Not only did his success help the team win games, it was also cathartic for fans who spent years rooting for the return of the former NL Rookie Of The Year. After struggling out of the bullpen in recent years, Dempster spent the offseason and spring training trying to work his way back into the starting rotation. Lou Piniella gave him the nod and Dempster shocked everyone, playing well enough to earn a couple Cy Young votes. Pitching at Wrigley last year, he went 14-3 with an ERA of 2.86, enough to earn him a four-year deal with the Cubs. Now, if he could just make that World Series prediction come true…

5. Cedric Benson’s Arrest For BUI (Boating Under The Influence): Normally I wouldn’t wish for anyone—even White Sox fans—to run into trouble with the law, but Cedric Benson’s arrest was a real highlight of my summer. Truth is, Benson couldn’t score in your family’s annual flag football game, not to mention the NFL. The sorry excuse for a running back was sent packing after the arrest and the city of Chicago couldn’t be happier. Which leads us to…

4. Matt Forte: Holy crap it’s nice to have a real running back! Chicago Bears’ rookie Matt Forte needs just 91 more yards to break the 1,000 yard mark, a feat accomplished by only three other Bears rookies. He’s on pace to gain 1,810 yards from scrimmage on the year, the most by any Bears player other than Walter Payton. The second-round draft pick has 909 yards so far this season, good for fifth overall in the NFL, and first among rookies. With a running style sweeter than pecan pie and jukes that’ll freeze you faster than a gust of wind off Lake Michigan, Matt Forte’s arrival is definitely something Chicago should be thankful for.

3. The New-Look Chicago Blackhawks: There are countless reasons to be thankful for the resurgent Hawks. For the first time in the storied history of the team, fans can watch every single one of the Hawks’ 82 games on TV. Pat Foley, who was unceremoniously dumped in 2006 by former Hawks higher-ups is back in the booth where he belongs. Chicago is leading the league in attendance, an incredible feat for a team that looked dead in the water just a few years ago. Most importantly, the team is putting together one of its best seasons in recent years and looks primed for their first playoff run since 2001-2002.

2. Derrick Rose: Looks like one year of college ball was all Derrick Rose needed. In his first NBA season, the Memphis product is averaging an absurd 19 points, 5.7 assists and 3.9 boards per game. Rose is putting Chicago ball back on the map, breaking down defenders and taking it to the hoop with the authority of a shopper navigating sales on Black Friday. Less than 20 games into the year, he’s already assumed a leadership role on this team and feels comfortable taking the shot with the game on the line. The Bulls, formerly Chicago’s darlings, have become an afterthought in the last few years, but Rose might just be their saving grace.

1. Barack Obama: Alright, fine. He’s not really a sports figure, but he’s a big White Sox fan, repped the Bears on Monday Night Football and wants to throw his weight around to get a college football playoff. Plus, he’s a native Chicagoan and the guy can hoop. The election of our 44th president is something everyone—not just Chicago fans—can be thankful for.

Top Ten Sports-Related Halloween Costumes for 2008

By Sarah Spain
Originally published 10/17/08 on MouthpieceSports.com

Halloween is fast approaching and people everywhere are scouring the web for this year’s hottest costumes. Ladies, you don’t want to show up at the party only to find you’re one of many dressed as “Tina Fey doing Sarah Palin.” And fellas, you’re not gonna be the only “Joker in a nurse’s costume” at the club, so don’t run the risk of that pretty bird you’ve been working all night accidentally leaving with that other guy in face paint and a red wig.

Here’s an idea! Why not combine your passion for sports with your passion for alcohol-infused, obesity-promoting holidays? Below: 10 sports-related Halloween costumes that are sure to amuse, entice and/or offend.

10. Tim Donaghy: In July, the former NBA ref was sentenced to 15 months in jail for gambling on games he officiated.
Costume Requirements: For all you lazy fans out there, this costume is quite simple. A ref’s outfit, a wad of cash and some handcuffs. If you wanna get creative, tape a “Parking in rear” or “Exit Only” sign to the seat of your pants and carry some soap on a rope.

9. Madonna & A-Rod: Perfect for couples! Now that both superstars have split with their spouses, the most in-shape twosome since Hans and Franz are free to be together forever—or at least until next season starts.
Costume Requirements: HIS: The Yankees are out of the playoffs for the first time in 13 years, so an A-Rod jersey and a Yankees ballcap can be bought on the cheap. Not so cheap? That hundred dollar bill you’ll have to carry around and use as a napkin. HERS: On her Sticky & Sweet tour, Madonna has been seen rocking knee-high boots, fishnet stockings, a pleather leotard and a top hat. All should be easy to find at your local S & M store. (Bonus: Add some boxing gloves and you’ve got your Oscar De La Hoya costume ready a year early!) .

8. Michael Phelps: Guys, are you dying to show off those chiseled abs one last time before winter sets in? Here’s your chance.
Costume Requirements: A speedo, goggles, eight gold medals, aggressive manscaping.

7. David Tyree: Everyone remembers the unbelievable catch Giants’ wide receiver David Tyree made in Super Bowl XLII.
Costume Requirements: A New York Giants uniform, a Super Bowl ring and a football to glue to your helmet. Don’t glue the football to your hand, though—you might need that hand to double-fist.

6. Misty May-Treanor: Just months after winning her second straight Olympic gold with beach volleyball partner Kerri Walsh, May-Treanor tore her Achilles tendon rehearsing for Dancing With The Stars.
Costume Requirements: A sparkly gown, high heels, tranny-licious makeup, a cast and crutches. Carry around a volleyball and recruit friends to be your partner, Maksim, and judges Carrie Ann, Bruno and Len.

5. 2008 Barry Bonds: The King of the Swing hasn’t taken one since the end of last season, despite filing for free agency in October of 2007. Let people know what Bonds is up to now that his baseball career appears to be over…
Costume Requirements: A San Francisco Giants uniform, an impossibly large head, a McDonald’s visor and a drive-thru headset.

4. Pacman Jones: Gather your hos together to celebrate everyone’s favorite strip club-frequenting, gun-toting, suspension-lovin’ NFL cornerback!
Costume Requirements: A life-sized Pacman costume (true to the original video game), a bottle of Cristal and a wad of singles. Recruit all your “lady friends” to be strippers that escort you around the party, occasionally pausing to pick up your scrilla after you make it rain.

3. Manny Ramirez: The newest LA Dodger did it all for the blue in the 2008 playoffs. In eight games he batted .520, walked 11 times, hit four homers and drove in 10 runs.
Costume Requirements: A Dodgers jersey, a head full of dreads, a cane and a back-brace (from carrying the rest of the Dodgers on your back).

2. Chinese Gymnast: Ladies, this is a great way to have an of-the-moment costume, but also, as is the Halloween tradition, wear little to no clothing.
Costume Requirements: Red leotard, a red scrunchie and barrettes for your hair. Blue eyeshadow, chalky hands, underdeveloped breasts and baby teeth. Don’t forget to proudly display your fake passport and be sure to eschew the traditional water bottle for a baby bottle.

1. Epic Fail: Any Chicago Cubs player.
Costume Requirements: A Cubs uniform, something to choke on and a box of Kleenex for your fans.

Blogs With Balls 1.0 Recap

By Sarah Spain
Originally published 5/15/09 on MouthpieceSports.com

It’s Monday afternoon and I’m still recovering from hours of hand-shaking, air-kissing and card-pushing at the mutual admiration society that was the first annual Blogs With Balls convention. The event allowed many who have communicated with each other solely via e-mail and Twitter to finally meet in person. It was great to put faces with names (both real and aliases) and to get to know the personalities behind some of the most influential voices in sports and new media.

While there were certainly differences of opinion and moments of contention, in the end it seemed that most everyone agreed on a few basic points:

1. Talent and hard work will win out in the end, whether in mainstream media or blogging. As Bethlehem Shoals of Free Darko so eloquently put it during his panel: "I hate bloggers who can't write!" It doesn’t matter how much you like sports, if you don’t know how to write, then blogging is not the profession for you. Period. The fear that uneducated, untalented bloggers will make a big mark in the world of sports is irrational. As with most everything in life, talent will rise to the top.

2. The terms “blogger” and “journalist” don’t mean what they used to. Many credentialed mainstream media members write “blogs” these days. That just means a particular piece they’ve written is intended for consumption online. Some “journalists” have even less access than “bloggers” (or, in some cases, simply choose not to take advantage of their access). Even the term “media” gets lost in what one panelist described as a “first person” world. Is Shaq a media member because he twitters about games? Are bloggers media members simply because they’ve decided to create a blog and write about something? Is the idea that media is limited only to credentialed members of the press antiquated? Dan Levy has a great take on this in his recap of the weekend. (http://onthedlpodcast.com/Blog_Podcast/Blog/Entries/2009/6/15_The_Official_Blogs_With_Balls_Review__What_Was_Answered_and_What_Questions_Came_Out_Of_A_Fantastic_Event.html)

3. Everyone should understand the importance of research and reporting. (Levy also covers this, in regard to a Bill Simmons podcast interview of Erin Andrews). Mainstream media members should not be the only people digging below surface level for a story. The most compelling stories—on the web or in print—are those that feature strong opinions based on facts.

4. The notion that blogs are written by those who want but can’t get mainstream media jobs is tired. Successful bloggers are as educated, talented and followed (if not more so) than many of the reporters who show up to the ballpark every day and get sound bites.

Which leads me to a topic that I spoke a bit about on my panel, but found really intriguing as it popped up in a number of discussions throughout the day: how does access affect coverage?

One of the earliest complaints about bloggers was that the anonymity of the web allowed any Joe Blow off the street to spout off about any number of topics without having to answer to criticism or back up his or her claims with proof. Those who used their virtual soapbox solely for the purpose of ripping athletes, teams or reporters gave a bad name to everyone in the blogosphere. Talented writers who wanted to give a voice to the fan and view sports with a fresh perspective got lumped in with the guys who posted unfounded rumors and hadn’t learned the difference between “your” and “you’re”.

I have an interesting perspective as someone who produces what most view as “blog content” but with the access of a credentialed mainstream media member. In my opinion, there’s a balance to be found between eschewing access and getting so close to the athletes you can no longer report objectively.

In an interview with Buzz Bissinger following their Costas Now appearance, Will Leitch wrote of bloggers: “We enjoy the distance that ignoring the press box gives us; it allows us to remain in touch with being an actual sports fan, and respond to sports in the way actual sports fans do. We're not chummy with anyone, and we're not out to get anybody either. The distance is (theoretically) what keeps us clear.” (http://deadspin.com/5020265/our-conversation-with-buzz-bissinger)

Yes, seeing Derrek Lee speak to the media whether he’s gone 0-for-5 or had the game-winning home run, does affect my opinion of the guy. He’s the most respected player in the Cubs’ clubhouse by his teammates and the media, both for his attitude and his work ethic. Knowing this, I cringe when bloggers or radio callers say he’s “not trying.” Not one tiny part of me thinks his early-season slump was the result of him “not trying” and that’s because I was at the ballpark every day, watching him put the work in and seeing his frustrations mount with every strikeout or double-play ball. That doesn’t mean I don’t cover his struggles objectively, it just means I have a point of reference to speak from when doing so.

Sure, rip a guy for throwing the ball in the stands after two outs (I’m talkin’ to you, Milton) but don’t give yourself the authority to make claims about him as a person if you’ve never so much as shared air space with him. Now, if you dislike a player because he’s a crap interview or he blames his mistakes on his coach or any other legitimate reason, chances are he’ll give you the quotes to back that up. Armed with truth, your opinion will be viewed as legitimate commentary, rather than just the spewing of another schmo searching for a spotlight.

Be funny, be edgy, be controversial, but consider the power of your words. I agree with what ESPN’s Amy K. Nelson said about considering your subject. Your intended audience may very well be different than your actual audience. (Jerod Morris’s Raul Ibanez fracas proves that - http://www.midwestsportsfans.com/2009/06/what-i-learned-during-the-most-bizarre-week-of-my-life/). If you would never say in person what you’re writing, figure out why. If you’re writing the truth (which is what everyone on stage at BwB seemed to imply is the goal) then you should feel comfortable backing up your statements to the very person you’re making them about. You get a pass if the post is about wanting to sleep with his wife, though.

Having said all that…the truth is, access or no access, if your shit is funny, compelling, original and smart, you can get away with a lot. If it’s not, you just sound like a dick.

Which brings us right back to the beginning. Talent will rise to the top. The panelists—and many of the attendees—at Blogs With Balls confirmed as much. The taste-makers and industry-changers are those with a unique take on sports and the skills to express that take. After meeting me for a few drinks with some of the speakers Friday night, a friend of mine from college told me, despite not being particularly into sports or the internet, how fascinating and inspiring she found it to listen to a group of people who are so obviously passionate about what they do. Blogs with Balls panelist Jeff Pearlman said as much in his wrap-up of the weekend. (http://jeffpearlman.com/?p=1853)

It was a pleasure to meet so many people who love what they do and are interested in making a difference in an industry that was stagnant for a very long while. Props to the guys from Hugging Harold Reynolds for putting it together and props to those from the mainstream media who had the balls to attend or appear on a panel in a room full of potential haters. No props for ESPN’s “Blog Buzz” segment, which didn’t have the balls to say the word “balls.”

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NHL Legend Jeremy Roenick On Retiring, Regrets, Fame & The Future

By Sarah Spain
Originally published 8/9/09 on MouthpieceSports.com

NHL legend and former Chicago Blackhawk Jeremy Roenick took time out to talk to MOUTHPIECESPORTS personality Sarah Spain about his decision to retire from the National Hockey League after 20 years. Roenick talks about leaving Chicago, the state of hockey and his advice for Patrick Kane and the rest of today's players. He even reveals which opponent he'd most like to deck.

SARAH SPAIN: Now that your hockey career is over, there's so much to reflect upon. Of all the things you’ve accomplished, what are you most proud of?

JEREMY ROENICK: I think just my career in general. I don’t think there’s any one specific thing, but if I had to pick one I think scoring 500 goals. I never in my wildest dreams imagined I’d be able to accomplish that, especially with as few people that have done that. But I think the fact that I’ve played the game as hard as I have for the length of time that I have, without really wearing down. I was able to keep up a very, very physical style of the game and my body withstood it right to the end, so I’m pretty lucky about that.

SS: Looking back are there things you regret—interviews, quotes, actions on or off the ice?

JR: The only thing I wonder is what would have been different if I didn’t get traded from Chicago in ’96. What would have happened if I would have stayed there. Obviously not all of it was my doing. The Hawks, at the time, didn’t believe in the big contracts and didn’t think that the contracts and the salaries would get to the level that they’ve escalated to, which is understandable—they had their belief and I had mine. You know, that pretty much led to my big move. But nothing that I said I regretted. I probably wish maybe I said it a little differently or made sure that the media understood it better so they didn’t throw me under the bus at times. But no, there’s nothing that I regret I said or did…but I would like to know what it would have been like if I had played my whole career in Chicago. It would have been pretty unbelievable.

SS: Now that that’s all over—and your career is over—do you see your departure from the Hawks the same way you did when it happened or is there some honesty and truth about what went down that was never really revealed at the time?

JR: You know, I think that’s all…well, Bill Wirtz had to run his business the way he saw fit. He did a lot of things that a lot of people didn’t like. You know, he didn’t put games on TV, he didn’t agree with the salary structure as it was moving forward. As soon as the salaries were being released and disclosure came about and salaries started escalating, he didn’t believe that they would go to the level that they did—and that’s perfectly fine. So…I understand, it’s his business and he can run it the way he deserves and he wants. I was in full agreement—it was with that same thought process that I ran my life; that was, at the time that I was in Chicago, I wanted to get paid $4 million. They didn’t think that I was worth that. They thought that that was a lot of money to pay an athlete. You know, they didn’t think that I’d be able to get that—well, big deal, four years later I was making double that $4 million. That was their thinking, they were wrong in their thinking in terms of where the salaries were going and, in general, it lost me for the rest of my career. I think it did hurt me a little bit…but it also hurt the Hawks with where they went for the next 12 years. It’s nice that Rocky [Wirtz] has changed all of that thinking and has really brought the Hawks back onto the map and done great things with this team. Now it’s paying off for them ‘cause the fans are coming back and it’s a full building and there’s excitement again. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why.

SS: You’ve mentioned several times that you’d think about joining the Hawks’ front office—is that still an appealing idea even after everything that has happened this offseason?

JR: Oh, absolutely. Without question. I’m a Hawk through and through, it’s in my blood. That’s where I started, that’s where the best days of my career were. I’m very, very proud that I got to wear the Indian Head on my chest. There’s no question. My loyalty is also to Doug Wilson and the San Jose Sharks and to the Flyers—it’s to the people that I worked for that showed me class and did things for me. You know, I’ll show my loyalty to them. If the Hawks ever came to me and asked me to do something and work with them, or to join the front office or something, that would be like a dream come true for me; to get to represent the team that put me in the life I’m in. I’m very, very fortunate for that and I would love that.

SS: Have you reached out to anyone in the Blackhawks organization or spoken to anyone about any of the offseason issues, whether it be keeping quiet about the Hossa injury or the problems with the qualifying offers?

JR: I have a lot of opinions. I understand that some things are business-related and have to stay under wraps. I have my own opinions about the Dale Tallon situation, I have my own opinions about the Hossa situation. But, you know what…you know, if I was in a media position…I would speak my opinions, but I’m going to be politically correct and say that they choose to do business the way that they want to do business and…you know, can’t fight them on that.

SS: During your retirement press conference you talked about a special moment you shared with Gordie Howe as a little boy and the effect that had on you for the rest of your life—how it made you always want to take time to connect with your fans. Have you ever had a teammate you felt you needed to tell to straighten up and be a better guy with the fans?

JR: Absolutely, and I have. I have gotten into a lot of guys’ faces and I have yelled and I have screamed. I preach to a lot of guys that they have to be better. I think Keith Tkachuk has gotten a lot better with the fans because of our friendship and me telling him that he’s gotta give more time, you know, to sign, and to not be so standoffish. I think Tony Amonte has learned a lot from watching me deal with the media and the fans and he has become very good with both. I think those are two examples of guys I think have learned from the way I’ve dealt with fans and media and have gotten very good at doing those things.

SS: What do you say to those who think your interest in fame and celebrity took away from your game at times?

JR: I think it’s all just excuses to try to find flaws, because if they can argue with 500 goals and almost 1,300 points and almost 1,400 penalty minutes and all the other accolades—having the most game-winning goals in American history. If they can argue that my media took away from my game, well I find it very hard for them to win that argument.

SS: Lots of talk about you taking a gig in broadcasting—do you ever worry that your sometimes controversial opinions would get you in trouble with a network or do you think you’d be more like Charles Barkley, who gets away with it because it’s clear he’s speaking from experience?

JR: I wouldn’t be affiliated with any teams, I’d be independent. I don’t answer to anybody, I answer to myself, so I would be very much like a Charles Barkley. I’d very much say how I feel and how I see it and if you don’t like it, that’s too bad. I’ll also maintain a level of respectfulness, not demeaning someone ‘cause of their race or their religion or their ethics. Just tell it like it is, whether it’s good or bad. If you don’t like it, see ya later.

SS: Are there guys in the league that you would like to call up, maybe tell them to spice things up? Maybe you think they have the opportunity to fill a hole that you’re leaving in the league, personality-wise.

JR: You know I’ll tell you the truth I don’t think guys have the guts to do it. I don’t think there’s guys out there that have the—for lack of a better word—I don’t think they have the balls to step up and be an individual and push the limits of what they can say and what they can do, because they worry what their teams are gonna say, their GMs are gonna say and what their teammates are gonna say.

SS: Do you think that that’s the state of hockey today?

JR: I think it’s the mentality of the league and the squeaky clean image that the NHL likes to have. That’s the vision that they hold and if that works for them and that’s what they want to do, like I said, I don’t tell people how to run their businesses or their companies or their leagues. Publicity is an amazing thing in this world and sometimes negative publicity is better than no publicity at all because it puts you on the map. But, the NHL is a wonderful organization, it’s a first-class organization and a squeaky clean organization. There are a lot of guys who will be very reluctant to challenge that and I totally understand it.

SS: So speaking of sqeaky-clean images, the Patrick Kane arrest situation is adding fuel to an already volatile situation in Chicago, what with the offseason the Hawks have had. Kane’s a young guy, what kind of advice would you give him?

JR: Well first of all he’s a hockey player and just saying that, he’s a respectful person and he’s a good person. I know him very well and I’ve talked to him at length at times. I know he’s a really good kid. People use youth as an excuse for a lot of things and I think he will use that, but I also think the experience he’s going through will teach him a lot about being a professional athlete, about being a celebrity and about putting himself in the proper situations and acting in certain ways. Patrick Kane is now gonna realize that he represents one of the most storied franchises in all of sports and one of the greatest organizations in the world, the National Hockey League. He’s gonna have to answer to those people and he’s not gonna like having to answer to those people with what happened and that will stick with him. He’s respectful and he’s smart and he’ll learn from it….he’s gonna become a better person because of it.

SS: Beyond the hockey-related gigs and broadcasting, is there another job or experience you hope to have that no one would ever expect from you?

JR: Yeah, I’m gonna sell insurance. Can you believe it? This is gonna be important to me, ‘cause who would have ever thought that Jeremy Roenick was gonna sell insurance? I was asked to join forces with an insurance company and a friend of mine here in Arizona. I said the only way that I will do it is if you make sure that you take care of the people that have taken care of me my whole career. And that’s make sure that you save them money, give them good coverage, and if I bring somebody’s account to you, you give them the best possible rate that they can find on the market. He promised that so I said: okay, let’s do it. I will go out and I’ll bring people to you and make sure that I take care of those people and all their coverage needs are well-met but they save money at the same time. It’s kind of like a way of giving back, also.

I’m dealing with an energy drink, too, called Verve. I’m doing things for kids’ charities. Trying to put some good juices and good vitamins into kids so they don’t have to drink the cokes and the sodas and the high sugar stuff. Trying to take care of kids out there.

SS: Alright, let’s finish with a speed round:

Toughest guy you ever played against? Mark Messier
Goalie you most hated to face? Dominik Hasek
Team you played the best against? Toronto Maple Leafs
Favorite coach to play for? Mike Keenan, but I also really enjoyed playing for Hitch [Ken Hitchcock] and Ron Wilson.
Biggest hockey idol? Rick Middleton
Player you’d most like to punch off the ice? Jordin Tootoo

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