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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.
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.
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.
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.