Crosby will make you pay

BILL LANKHOF -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:32 AM ET

He doesn't mug puppies. He hasn't mixed a steroid cocktail and the only points he has shaved are a few out of the NHL record books.

He is Sidney Crosby and if the NHL plays this right it could just have the most saleable commodity in the sports world -- a media-savvy athlete with boy-next-door looks and manners that harken to the days of The Beav and Wally Cleaver.

Crosby came to Toronto yesterday for a two-day session of glad-handing, autograph-signing, promotion and advertising -- a whirlwind tour that leaves you with the notion that the guy has more price tags hanging from him then Minnie Pearl had on her trademark hats.

"This is like waiting for the queen to arrive. I'd have a better chance of robbing a bank downtown than getting a nickel out of here," said Gordon Lau, awed by the security surrounding Crosby's appearance at an autograph-signing at Frameworks, a sports collectables company near Dufferin St.

Yesterday was less about Sidney the hockey player than it was about Sidney Crosby Inc. Earlier in the morning he had unveiled his new line of apparel in a tightly-controlled media-event at a Mississauga Reebok store. Today, he will be shooting a commercial and there's a photo shoot for an advertising campaign.

Such is the life of the modern-day sports superstar. The only numbers gaudier than the ones he puts up on the scoreboard are the ones on the bottom line of his contract. And that kind of monetary commitment comes with expectations. Suddenly he no longer can be just Sidney Crosby the hockey player.

"I'd get prints and designs at home and sit at the kitchen table with my parents talking about colours," Crosby said. "It's the last thing, I'd ever as a hockey player expect to be doing."

The result is his SC87 signature line including everything from sweat pants to skates to women's wear.

"Lots of companies wouldn't respect the opinion of a hockey player when it comes to a clothes line," Crosby said.

Sorry Sidney. But you're going to be a billboard for everything from jockstraps to perfume. Your opinion counts on everything this side of what constitutes a good shave. And that's nothing a couple years and a bit less peach fuzz won't change.

The clothes line slogan is "I Am What I Am." There was a comic book character named Popeye who used to say that before giving the bad guys a black eye. Which is kind of funny considering that if you stuck a pencil holder in his pocket Crosby would look more like Bay St. geek than a superhero. Appearances can be deceiving.

ORCHESTRATED

Somehow I can't see Gordie Howe discussing the merits of vermilion over blush pink with Mark Messier but in these modern times all things are orchestrated in the interests of maximum profit and time management.

Media were limited to one question -- and told it should be about the apparel. But a couple hockey of questions slipped by Sidney's minders. Sidney thinks a 200-point season is possible. Maybe. His biggest honour was being named captain of the Penguins. And, oh yeah, he is not saying how much Reebok is paying him.

At Frameworks, Lau and his 10-year-old daughter Taylor won a Sun Media on-line contest that scored them autographs and a quick hello from Crosby, who was whisked in the rear entrance. Fans waited to pay $870 for a framed, autographed photo. "It's a little like getting ready to meet the pope," one fan said.

Organizers show Crosby where to sit and promise his handlers they'll keep the line moving.

Time is money. "It snowballs," explains one of his agents on why talking to Sidney is, ahem, well ... not encouraged.

So what's it all about, Sid?

"It's part of sports now," Crosby says of the commercialism. "I've always seen being a professional would include dealing with stuff like this. You have a chance to bring a smile to a kid's face. But there's also the business side."

He spends most of the summer at home. As hockey's fuzzy-cheeked ambassador he is clinging to maintain control of his life and trying to keep it from being over-run by guys in three-piece suits.

"As far as outside expectations I know what my limits are and I do things within those limits. I do these things as much as I need or should," Crosby said.

"If it gets to be too much it's time to look myself in the eye ... at the end of the day, I'm a hockey player. That has to be the main focus."

Gordie couldn't have said it better. Maybe everything hasn't changed after all.


Photos