Iggy's salt of the earth

ERIC FRANCIS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:34 AM ET

It was 11 1/2 years ago when a cub reporter from Calgary was dispatched to Kamloops to find out more about the man acquired to replace Joe Nieuwendyk.

Mere days from ending his junior career and signing a deal with the Calgary Flames to jump right into an NHL playoff game, 18-year-old Jarome Iginla was asked for a couple hours of his time over lunch.

"Let's go to Earl's," suggested the smiling Edmontonian while inviting his guest to jump into his dilapidated Jeep YJ. "They give us a discount there."

Such things are important when living on $90 per diem every two weeks.

Surprised and appreciative when told the meal would be taken care of, the polite teen reverted early and often throughout an hour of chit-chat to the aw-shucks type of humility he's still famous for.

Then came the million-dollar question. Knowing his junior team's next loss would start a whirlwind of activity where he would become an instant millionaire, had he thought about how he'd spend some of the money?

Reluctant at first to admit he'd pondered it at all, he finally fessed up:

"I want to pay for my mom to go back to school," said Iginla, raised by his mother and grandparents.

"She's always wanted to be a music teacher, and when she got pregnant with me, she had to put her schooling on hold."

It was as noble a gesture as it was believable. Clearly, this was a respectful young man whose head and heart were in the right place.

Then came the part Iginla is still uncomfortable with: Talking about himself.

Pressed on what he'd reward himself with, his wish-list proved simple.

"I'd like to get some bigger tires -- maybe some mags. I don't need a new car, I'll just fix up the Jeep a little bit -- there's no rust on it."

Fast-forward two years, following a season in which Iginla led all rookies in scoring with his first of nine 20-goal campaigns.

While pulling into the players' Saddledome parking lot, the same reporter looked up to see Iginla step out of a black Porsche Cabriolet. After being informed by the scribe he liked the new tires, a somewhat sheepish Iginla simply shrugged and flashed the grin fans have seen thousands of times from their captain.

Point being, yes, his tastes, tax bracket and toys may have changed, but the man who has become the face of the Flames franchise hasn't.

Almost a dozen years later, he still takes time for fans, charities and the media, brilliantly representing his team, city, country and family with integrity, humility and poise. Rare for a superstar.

At the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City he found and paid for a hotel room for four Calgarians who were sleeping in their car.

Following a Game 7 loss to Anaheim that ended the Flames' 2006 playoffs, Iginla pulled his car over to sign dozens of roadside autographs.

After answering a scribe's poorly-worded question sarcastically last year, he sought out the reporter and apologized immediately.

How fitting that the only superstar in sports whose class compares to that of Iginla's is one of the men he grew up idolizing: Wayne Gretzky.

A lot has changed in Iginla's life and the organization he spearheads, but the honest effort, answers and brilliance continue through good times and bad.

He's a husband and father of two courtesy of his high school sweetheart, he now owns the Blazers and his mother is a Calgary teacher who watched proudly last night as her son became the longest-serving Flame of all time.

He's earned those new tires, not to mention the respect of an entire city.


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