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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Hockey Bad Boy’s Road To Recovery And Redemption

The National Hockey League playoff games get underway Tuesday night — 16 teams vying for the coveted Stanley Cup. That reminded us of one of our favorite hockey moments.

The year was 1970, and the Boston Bruins were one goal shy of their first championship in 29 years when Bobby Orr scored in overtime to beat the St. Louis Blues.

The moment is captured in the iconic photo of Orr flying parallel to the ice, but the pass to set up the score came from Derek Sanderson, the Bruins’ brash young Canadian center.

This May 10, 1970, file photo shows Boston Bruins' Bobby Orr flying through the air after scoring the winning goal past St. Louis Blues' goalie Glenn Hall, that clinched the Stanley Cup Championship, in Boston. Derek Sanderson, who set up the pass, cheers in the background. (A.E. Maloof/AP)

The Boston Bruins’ Bobby Orr flies through the air after scoring the winning goal that clinched the Stanley Cup Championship, in Boston, on May 10, 1970. Derek Sanderson, who set up the pass, cheers (click to enlarge). (A.E. Maloof/AP)

Sanderson, who was the NHL’s Rookie of the Year in 1968 and helped the “Big Bad Bruins” win two Stanley Cups, would go on to become the world’s highest-paid athlete in 1972.

Off the ice, with his good looks and easygoing manner, Sanderson was a sex symbol in the fledgling sexual revolution.

He dated Playboy bunnies, had his own TV show, owned nightclubs with the Jets’ Joe Namath, and was a regular on the late-night TV talk shows.

But as Sanderson reveals in his memoir, “Crossing The Line: The Outrageous Story Of A Hockey Original,” the fortune and fame took its toll. (See book excerpt below)

He became addicted to alcohol and drugs, drifted from team to team, became homeless and hit bottom in New York’s Central Park, trying to steal a bottle of wine from someone.

It took several rehabs, but Sanderson has been sober for years, and now counsels young athletes about the pitfalls.

Here & Now host Robin Young met up with Sanderson before a Bruins game at the Boston Garden and talked with him about his rise, his fall, his recovery and how he feels about his life soon becoming an open book, as his memoir is being turned into a Hollywood movie.

Book Excerpt: ‘Crossing the Line’

By: Derek Sanderson with Kevin Shea


Derek Sanderson book

Why would anybody want to read a book about a third-line centre who played in the National Hockey League more than 30 years ago? I mean, I read two books a week, and if that’s all the book has going for it, I’m not  interested.

I have a friend who told me, “Hanging out with you is like living in a movie.” When I look back at it, I realize that every day, something crazy was going on, but when you’re in it, you don’t realize that. It’s your normal.

I have no doubt that I should be dead or in jail. Thank God, I’m neither. Instead, in January 2011, GQ magazine named me one of the 25 coolest athletes of all time. My boys, Michael and Ryan, might argue that point when they see their old man hobbling down the stairs in the morning, hair all over the place and wearing an undershirt and boxer shorts! I try to tell them that, once upon a time, there was a day, but they only laugh.

People ask me all the time, “Where was the bottom for you, Derek?” That is the sensational sound bite searched for by TV producers, radio hosts and newspaper journalists. The truth is that the day you realize you can no longer stop drinking and that alcohol has you by the throat, when you realize you can’t stop for more than a day before you begin to withdraw, every single hour is a bottom. You just can’t see how anyone or anything can help you. There is no light at the end of the tunnel. Fear begins to take control of everything you do. You don’t even know what you are afraid of.

There are times that this book will let you experience the joys of a kid who only ever wanted to play in the National Hockey League, and who got there and was able to play with the greatest player of all time and win two Stanley Cup championships. At other times, this book will take you to places you do not ever want to visit, experience things you don’t ever want to do and feel things you don’t ever want to feel. It will make you understand that alcohol is as dangerous to a person as heroin or cocaine. As they say in Alcoholics  Anonymous, “a drug is a drug is a drug.”

I do not take any pride in some of the things I have done through my life, and certainly am embarrassed about other things, especially when I told my wife and sons, who never knew that Derek Sanderson.

I have tried to entertain, to inform and hopefully help some people without lecturing. There were a lot of great times and a ton of laughs before hitting rock bottom forced me to rearrange my life.

Along the way, I was blessed with great parents, a terrific sister, great friends I knew would always be there for me, and one amazing alcohol counsellor in St. Catharines, Ontario. With an assortment of wonderful people to help me, and by the grace of God, I have survived, and am able to tell you my story.


Derek Sanderson
June 2012

Excerpted from the book CROSSING THE LINE by Derek Sanderson with Kevin Shea. Copyright © 2012 by Derek Sanderson and Kevin Shea. Reprinted with permission of Triumph Books.


  • Derek Sanderson, former professional ice hockey player, and author of the memoir “Crossing The Line.”

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  • Trudie

    Such great memories of  “The Turk” have loved him forever…so happy he has found his way back…

  • Fran Keene

    Dear Robin, 
    As a long time listener, to WBUR, I was disheartened, even dismayed, to hear your interview with Derek Sanderson (4/31). The interview suggested great naivete, in regards to the disease of Alcoholism, as you berated Derek’s team mates, doctors, etc. The times, and our knowledge of this disease have come a long way, from our awareness in the 60′s and 70′s. Your suggestion of blame is all too familiar, in this day and age, of individual’s inability to be accountable and take responsibility for one’s own actions. 
    As well, to celebrate Derek’s public recognition, as “cool” (you found it humorous that Bobby Orr did not make this distinction) was school-girlish, Those of us who are beyond adolescence are all too aware of the potentially self destructive and always disorienting influence of “cool”. Especially in the context of Derek Sanderson’s painful story, a celebration of “cool” seems utterly inappropriate.

    I am quite certain that you would agree that it is far more important, to achieve authenticity and honesty, with one’s self, than to seek the pretension of “cool”.

    Thank you for listening to me, as I do to you,

    Fran Keene

    • Fran Keene

      And, I will add that, to Derek’s credit, great courage and tenacity, he has achieved authenticity and honesty. This, in my opinion, is success!

  • Janet Stephen

    Derek Sanderson was one of my favorite players, I used to go to all the games with my cousins, as a matter of fact I am one of the spectators in  that picture showing Bobby Orr flying in the air, somewhere I have a copy of it, plus some great pictures of Derek that my niece took of him.  I am glad to see that he is doing so well now.

    Janet Stephen

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