Welcome to a weekly column by Kyle Bauer on various happenings in national and local sports. Agree or disagree with the author? Please comment below or let him know your thoughts by email, [email protected] or twitter, @kyle_bauer
On Thursday, Lions kicker Jason Hanson decided to retire after 21 seasons of being the only reliable piece to a grossly unreliable franchise. His steady foot was comforting, not just because he would hit field goals at an 82 percent career clip, but simply because he was always there. It was always No.4 trotting out there for as long as I could coherently remember watching Lions football.
Now Hanson is gone, and in a football context, this isn’t a terrible thing for the Lions. Sure, he had a great season in 2012–the only Lion not named Calvin Johnson who had an improvement from ’11 in offensive numbers–but at 42 years old with signs of natural wear-and-tear setting in via a bad calf, I can agree with his personal assessment that it was time.
That’s the thing though; time, his time has passed and all this time for me has passed. Hanson is an icon for an entire generation simply because we’re too young to know any other kicker. While some argue he’s a hall of famer, I certainly won’t. He’s had the luxury of kicking indoors most games of his career, he’s rarely had to hit a pressure-filled field goal, I can’t remember any games won as regulation expired by a Hanson field goal– though it has happened 10 times. He’s measured by time, the longevity makes him a sentimental piece to Lions fans. It’s hard to justify his place in Lions culture as anything else. He was a really consistent kicker who for many of us has been kicking most or all our lives.
It makes me feel old, like through Hanson’s retirement, I’ve hit some sort of milestone in my life. I’m very close to 26 years old but suddenly I feel 36, like, I should have a wife, two kids and be working a much higher paying job than I am now.
We’re a breed who likely grew up unabashed sports fans. We lived our lives through the sports heroes of our youth. Whether it be wearing their jersey, hanging their poster, collecting their cards, playing as them in video games, carrying notebook covers for school or excitement for their cameo on a Nicklelodeon show; a chunk of our lives revolved around these players.
Now, in 2013, when someone like Hanson retires, I lose part of the little left from my childhood. It sucks.
When I see Steve Yzerman and Joe Dumars as general managers, Jim Harbough as a coach and the realization that there are players in the NHL who were born in 1994; reality sets in, you’re freaking old. It’s such an obvious scientific concept; we all age (except Teemu Selanne), we’re aging right now at this very second! But for the sports-obsessed such as myself and maybe yourself, I catch myself gauging my time on earth up against an athletes career. This is all so absurd, yet I scratch my head when I think Pavel Datsyuk is actually 34 and about to retire at an age when retirement becomes justifiable.
Time is a general constant, yet I doubt any of us like how quickly it moves and how quickly our sports icons are forced to move with it. Sometimes I think we have trouble accepting it, I know I do. That’s why I clung to Hanson as someone who defied time. I found myself not really rooting for Ray Lewis, but making it a point to watch the Ravens playoff games because, damn, this man I’ve watched dominate the NFL since I was in elementary school is potentially playing his last game and I am watching part of my childhood potentially play its last game–same could be said for Randy Moss.
There was point in my NHL fandom–many years ago actually–where I HATED Teemu Selanne. He played for the Winnipeg Jets and Anaheim Mighty Ducks; teams that seemed to be pesky for the Red Wings. Selanne was even more detestable when he signed a contract with the Avalanche in 2003 at a time where they were kind of-sort of still rivals of the Wings.
When he went back to the Ducks, threatening retirement, I watched him dominate Detroit in the 2007 Western Conference Finals. For some strange reason I began developing a respect for him. Maybe it was maturity on my part as a hockey fan–the same maturity that allows me to appreciate Sidney Crosby and Patrick Kane today, despite them playing for rivals. As I thought deeper, this new found appreciation was coming at a time when Yzerman, Mario Lemeuix, Luc Robitaille, Brett Hull and Pavel Bure had just retired, Jaromir Jagr decided to “end his career” in Russia and Sergei Fedorov began ‘running out the clock’ in Columbus and Washington. Selanne was becoming the last of the NHL ’94 generation that created my abnormal obsession with hockey and the NHL. I went from thinking he was some flashy, money chasing, one-dimensional, stupid Jofa-helmet-wearing Euro to rooting for him when he wasn’t playing against the Red-and-White.
With Lidstrom retiring this past off-season, I had lost another piece of that childhood. I could never remember a time when Lidstrom wasn’t loading up for a one-timer on the power play. The game has changed immensely since 1991, but he never had to, and that’s understating something remarkable. I even became sad when Chris Pronger–CHRIS FREAKING THUG-ASS PRONGER–let the hockey world know he likely won’t be back because of an eye injury and post-concussion-syndrome. My nostalgia for feverishly rooting against him was heavy as his stick coming down on Kris Draper’s wrist. As much as I hated him, he represented a link to the past; he was a Hartford Whaler, then a young force with the ’96 St.Louis Blues playing along side Hull, Gretzky, Grant Fuhr, Dale Hawerchuk, Glen Anderson, Al MacInnis and Craig MacTavish (the last helmetless player). He was on the Joe Louis Arena bench watching Yzerman score his legendary Game 7 overtime goal. With both he and Lidstrom now gone, the active-link to that moment is dead–such as Hanson was the last active-link to a great moment like Barry Sanders surpassing 2,000 rushing yards in December ’97.
That’s why today, I cheer for Grant Hill, Tony Gonzalez, Jaromir Jagr and even respect Derek Jeter, who’s been relevant long enough to have cameoed on Seinfeld. In this abstract way, they’ve kept part of my youth alive.
We all feel our age one way or another, be it through our jobs, family, physical abilities, looks etc. Strangely or maybe not so strangely for me, it’s been through Hanson and other athletes who were long to feel theirs.
Kyle Bauer is an award winning college sports broadcaster and former Sports Director of WXOU 88.3fm, freelance journalist and radio producer who has been published in The Macomb Daily, mlive.com, Oakland Post and MIPREPZONE.com, follow him on Twitter @kyle_bauer