Why even compare? Let each stand alone. A gut feeling is that Crosby's goal defined his game and his genius for blink-you-missed it brilliance, falls short of Henderson's in 1972 on cultural relevance.
A lot of people would draw the line at the politics of the time. It was also the difference between Caanada needing it and wanting it. We needed someone to score The Goal in Game 8 of the '72 Summit Series. The country's pride in just knowing only we knew how hockey should be played had been wounded by the robotic Russians. It meant that much.
Today, it was more like wanting to win since, well, it's better than whatever came next. Hockey is Canada's religion, but not a state religion. A loss to rival Team USA would have been a kick in the pants, no more, contrary to how U.S. writers have framed it. Within a day or two, the beer would have tasted just as good and the Rockies would have seemed just as tall, to borrow something Mordecai Richler wrote after '72.
Henderson's goal also brought Canada back into international hockey. People under the age of about 25 or 30 might not know this, but putting on the Maple Leaf was alien to the NHL stars of Henderson and Phil Esposito's era. They had never done it. There was no world junior championship for teenagers. Canadian players whose teams were eliminated from the playoffs did not go over to Europe to play in the worlds. The country passed on sending a hockey team to the two Winter Games in that decade.
They learned it all on the fly. Contrast that with Jonathan Toews, who Jeff Blair has noted has already won a world junior title, a world championship and an Olympic gold medal before his 22nd birthday.
The fear of the unknown extended to the Soviets and the communist system (remember, part of Esposito's famous rant was "we didn't know the Russians were gonna be this good"). That can never happen today when Roberto Luongo is having his crease crashed by Vancouver Canucks teammate Ryan Kesler, or Duncan Keith is defending a 2-on-1 with Chicago Blackhawks teammate Patrick Kane coming down on him.
Lastly, there was more of an urgency. In '72, Canada was 34 seconds from losing and all it embodied. The Soviets were poised to declare victory if it ended in a 3-3-2 tie after eight games. They had to score.
Today, there was a potential 12-plus minutes of overtime to win or lose, plus a shootout.
Not that anyone should take away from Crosby's goal, and with almost half the country watching, it will take on a life of its own. It surpasses Mario Lemieux's Canada Cup winner in 1987, for the simple fact one was at the Olympics and the other was in a made-for-Alan-Eagleson event.
Baby boomers who got to see both can make personal comparisons. Younger hockey lovers have to extrapolate.
What happened Sunday will live on forever, especially since the source was Sid The Kid. Some, such as the great hockey blog The 6th Sens, are joking, why did it have to be Crosby who provided such a defining moment? For already Crosby-saturated Canadians, it's like the Dallas Cowboys and New York Yankees teaming up to find a cancer cure. It's great, but you know you'll never hear the end of it.
Well, not to take too much of a straight-line view, but 22-year-old Sid the Kid had an opportunity the other all-timers never had in their prime. Knee injuries kept Bobby Orr out of the '72 Series.
Wayne Gretzky did not get a chance at the Olympics until he was 37. Gretzky was in his prime during at least two Olympic years, 1984 and '88. Who's to say what might have been?
In other words, Crosby buried his chance. That's what a legend does.
Still, there could only be one Paul Henderson moment. You also don't get many Sidney Crosby moments in this life.
- Sidney Crosby