Soaking up the love

STEVE SIMMONS

, Last Updated: 8:44 AM ET

PITTSBURGH -- Gary Roberts will tell you he is a little embarrassed by all the attention.

But just a little.

By the signs, the bracelets, the songs, the videos. All of it for him and about him. Some might call him a cult hero in Pittsburgh, but that would suggest he has a limited following. Folk hero may be the more accurate tab.

A folk hero for a hockey player who knows he is days away from the end.

"Deep down, I know this is probably the last time for me," Roberts said, talking about his career and the Stanley Cup. The last games of a remarkable hockey life.

A few years ago, a Christian organization in the United States began a religious campaign with the slogan: "What would Jesus do?" Or the initials: WWJD. The campaign was quite successful.

The hockey fans of Pittsburgh have seen Roberts for just parts of two seasons, but picked up on it, and altered the slogan to a different kind of religious appeal, asking the question: What would Gary Roberts do?

Or around here, that's known on signs and placards and advertising boards as simply: WWGRD.

You see that inside and outside the Mellon Arena.

That acronym may not seem like much to most of us but it has meaning here for those who believe in the Penguins and those who worship a 42-year-old veteran of all kinds of hockey wars.

There is a knockoff video which can be found on YouTube -- and what can't be these days? -- that stretches the legend of Roberts to extremes he has not known in the four previous stops of his NHL career.

It is all harmless hyperbole about a player who last night played just his 48th game out of 98 Penguins games this season. Some of the words from the video:

"Who would end the Iraqi war?

Gary Roberts, Gary Roberts

Gary Roberts does not sleep, he waits

Gary Roberts shaves with his skates

Gary Roberts could build Rome in a day

Gary Roberts ordered a Big Mac at Burger King -- and he got one."

Springsteen or Dylan it is not, but still it is somewhat remarkable under the circumstances.

There is nothing like this for Evgeni Malkin, nothing like this for Marc-Andre Fleury. Nothing like this for any of the Penguins not named Sidney, but from the moment Roberts got here a year ago at the trade deadline, something happened.

"Kind of crazy, really," Roberts said.

"The fans have been really good to me here. I haven't played tons of hockey so I'm just out there to bring some energy and create some scoring chances.

"The fans are nothing like I've ever seen before. It's flattering and a little embarrassing, because I haven't played a lot and haven't been a big part of what's gone on this year. I get a few jabs from my teammates because of it, but it's all in fun."

A regular sign at the Mellon Arena: Gary Roberts for President.

"President of what?" Roberts said, half joking.

Roberts did not dress for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final. Coach's decision. In the second game, he made some difference, most of the Penguins did not.

In Game 3, he played on a bunch of difference lines, at times with Sidney Crosby on the first line, occasionally on the power play and in the third period playing on the fourth line, making a huge hit that led to the winning goal by Adam Hall.

The other 40-year-olds in the series, Chris Chelios and Dominik Hasek of the Red Wings, either are not dressing or are not playing. Roberts still has a role to play and a punch line for radio hosts to ask: WWGRD?

Last season, general managers in Toronto and Ottawa tried desperately to acquire Roberts at the trade deadline, but neither could swing the deal.

Afterwards, John Muckler was fired in Ottawa because of it and John Ferguson was fired in Toronto, however unrelated to Roberts it might have been.

"They were both on my list of places I wanted to go," Roberts said. "I thought Ottawa would have been perfect. But look what happened to them. It goes to show, you never know."

Unless you ask the question: What would Gary Roberts do?


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