By Rob Ficiur
Sports legends are developed over a period of years; except when they are not.
Sometimes a legend can happen because of one event. We have seen recently seen three Instant Legends come out of nowhere.
1. Jean Gabriel Pageau – The 24-year-old Ottawa Senators forward has been a second or third line NHL player. When your career high is 19 goals in a season, becoming a legend seems like it will be a long time coming (if ever). That all changed on April 29. That Saturday, Pageau became the 11th player since 1988 to score four goals in an NHL playoff game. In the era of low scoring games, we have not seen a four goals post season game since Johan Franzen did it in 2010.
The timing of the four goals is what will (maybe) make Pageau a legend. With the Senators down 5-3, Pageau tipped in a goal with just over three minutes left in the game. With the net empty, Pageau tipped the tying goal in with 1:02 left in the game. When Pageau scored the double overtime winner, he became a legend. It is one thing to score four goals in a 7-2 win. It is quite another when the last three allowed your team to make an improbable comeback.
Pageau’s legendary status (outside of Ottawa) is conditional. If the Senators don’t win their second round series, most fans will soon forget this great performance. To Ottawa fans he will be a legend, since there has not been much to remember in Senator land for a long time. For the rest of us winning makes a legend.
2. Edmonton Blows 3 goal lead – The Connor McDavid Oilers surprised everyone by winning the first two games of their series in Anaheim. They surprised delirious Oilers fans by losing the next two games at home. In Game #5, the Oilers were up 3-0 with less than five minutes to go. The Oilers surprised fans again by giving up three goals in the last three minutes.
We all “knew” Anaheim was desperate when they pulled the goal with 3:16 left in the game. No one team ever scores three goals in the last three minutes. Even the impartial fans were shocked when Anaheim scored three goals in the last three minutes. This is the latest three goals have ever been scored to force an NHL playoff game.
Longtime fans will remember back 35 years ago when another young Oilers team, led by a young superstar named Gretzky, blew a big playoff lead. In 1982 the Edmonton Oilers were up 5-0 with ten minutes left in the game. The LA Kings came back to win that game 6-5, including two goals with the goalie pulled. Those 1982 Oilers were 41 points better than those Kings. This year’s Oilers are under dogs against the division winning Anaheim Ducks. Those Oilers ranked 2nd in NHL standings, these Oilers rank 8th.
The 2017 three-goal collapse occurred in a different era. Oilers players and coaches were quoted all over the media the next day describing how they had been robbed by a goalie interference non-call. The wife of goalie Cam Talbot was among the fans on social media crying how their team had been robbed.
The 1982 Gretzky lead Oilers went on to win four of the next six Stanley Cup championships. Do legendary teams have to lose big before they win big? The 2017 Oilers will answer that question in the days (and years) ahead.
3. Blue Jay’s over the catcher home base slide – A split second decision made Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Chris Coghlan an instant legend. Nothing in Coghlan’s nine year of Major League baseball experience indicated he would be a legend. The Blue Jays called up Coghlan to play third base when MVP Josh Donaldson was injured. His hitting and fielding performance are such that he seems destined to return to the minors when Donaldson is healthy.
On April 25, the otherwise ordinary Coghlan became an instant legend. When the Jays hit the ball to right field Coghlan tried to make it home. Halfway from third base to home plate the play seemed destined to fail. St. Louis catcher Yodier Molina was going to have the ball in plenty of time to tag out Coghlan. In the past, base runners used to plow over catchers on the way to home base. That charging the catcher rule was changed in 2011 when base runner Scott Cousins broke Buster Posey’s leg in a collision at home plate. It was a play that changed the game. Not long after, MLB banned home-plate collisions. Ironically, future legend Chris Coghlan was on deck when his team mate Cousins broke the catcher’s leg.
During the run from home to third base, Coghlan knew he could not bull doze the catcher. If you can’t go through them the best option is to go over the catcher. Coghlan dived over top of the catcher and landed safely on third base. It was a play no one had seen executed at the major league level.
I have watched the Coghlan Jump a dozen times, always wondering how it worked out. I have concluded that shock is why the catcher didn’t simply reach up and tag Coghlan out. I have concluded that Coghlan was lucky he walked away from home plate. He landed half on his neck and half on his shoulder. Every time I watch the replay I cringe in pain feeling my should and neck both hurt… how could he walk away?
How could he do it? How could the team do it? That is how instant legends are mde.