December 10, 2009
During our Toronto jaunt this week, several people told us about a CTV special called "Sid The Kid vs. Alexander The Great": a comprehensive look at the Sidney Crosby(notes) vs. Alexander Ovechkin rivalry that served as a preview for a potential 2010 Winter Olympic showdown between Canada and Russian in Vancouver.
They also told us they didn't care for it. After watching the special via YouTube, we can understand why.
The nearly hour-long program makes a "who's the better player?" promise that it never keeps. It does an outstanding job covering the career arcs for both players and attempting to define their cultural impact; but it's not exactly concerned with anything they do on the ice beyond the hardware they've each collected.
There's more time spent with marketers from 2K Sports, Upper Deck and Reebok -- making this venture feel like a Trojan Horse for various sponsors -- than, say, asking Bill Guerin(notes) or Chris Clark(notes) why their respective teammates should be considered better than the other.
Those critical of the special are fans who wanted something more than what the program was aiming to do, which was present a slick summary of why Crosby vs. Ovechkin is the biggest rivalry in hockey and one of the biggest in professional sports. (Even if Crosby says in the piece that a "bitter rivalry is the last thing I really want" with Ovechkin.)
It's a glorious piece of Canadian hockey propaganda. YouTube wiz DayWalk3r has captured the entire program, and we've got all six segments here along with some analysis of how the producers pulled subtle tricks to portray Sidney as a scrappy saint and Ovechkin as a celebrity-craving rebel -- while failing to answer which one is actually the better player.
Thanks again to DayWalk3r for getting this together for all hockey fans to watch. Part 1 sets up the Crosby=humility and Ovechkin=rock star meme.
(Did they call Ovechkin "grunge?" Maybe they meant "grungy." We've never seen him wear flannel.)
Ovechkin is all clowning around, driving fast and pretending to sing in Capitals Jumbotron videos. Crosby doesn't get the rock music, but the swelling strings that represent artistry.
Ovechkin rides a Segway. Crosby? "The money and the fame haven't changed him."
Ovechkin's life is a one-man party. Crosby? "He's won a lot of awards. Accepted graciously. And always with a thank you for those you got him here."
This is the kind of Canadian over-romanticism of its hockey stars that triggers our gag reflexes. It's like in Stephen Brunt's terrific book "Gretzky's Tears" when he writes that Canadian fans would never dare go up to a player in a restaurant to ask for an autograph, as if it's some sort of hockey commandment to let the gods feast.
Part 2 covers their classic playoff battle last season and Crosby's Stanley Cup victory with the Pittsburgh Penguins, before dealing with the players' endorsements.
"You know you've arrived when you can get New York City to shut down Sixth Avenue for a joy ride."
Again, this segment and the follow-up set up the dynamic the producers are going for: Crosby as the humble Canadian hero, Ovechkin as the Russian celebrity.
Sidney is fiercely private and runs away from the spotlight ... unless he's posing shirtless for GQ magazine. Sidney supports grassroots hockey under the Tim Horton's brand name; Ovechkin is a fame-whore who does motion capture sessions on the Vegas strip for video games companies.
Part 3 reinforces this, while also covering their world championships history:
Ovechkin's endorsements and product deals are seen as the calculated moves of a player who craves the spotlight. Crosby is portrayed as a reluctant participant in the endorsement game when, in fact, that's part of his own carefully crafted image. Are the producers naïve or do they understand what they're doing here?
For example, the producers celebrate the fact that Reebok "allowed" Crosby to do publicity work in Nova Scotia; as if the prodigal son returning to the rinks of his youth hasn't been a standard marketing tool since the media first looked inside Walter Gretzky's house. They're attempting to contrast what's sold and what's "real," when actually they're dealing with two established brands.
Part 4 is a low point, covering their rookie seasons:
This segment whiffs on an essential part of the Crosby/Ovechkin mythos during their rookie seasons in the NHL, and it does so for the sake of manufactured drama.
The Calder was Crosby's to lose entering the season, and Ovechkin outplayed him while positioning himself as the anti-Crosby for his style and personality. Ovechkin beat him in goals and points; that the film treats the Calder ceremony like it was ever in question is cheap heat.
Part 5 offers a bit more balance for Ovechkin, highlighting some aspects of his fame beyond Zamboni rides in Manhattan and humanizing him a bit. Killer Don Cherry impression from Ovechkin at a Washington Capitals fan fest, too:
Now watch what they do here at the start of the final segment.
It's back to Ovechkin as the party boy, Crosby as all-business. They actually have the nerve to portray their Olympic camps as Ovechkin being the star of the Russian team while Crosby was "trying out for the team, along with 45 other players."
Trying out? What is he, Rudy at Notre Dame?
Surprised they didn't have Crosby working out in the mountains while
Ivan Drago Ovechkin trains in Moscow.
The final segment wraps it up:
Overall, it's a very comprehensive piece on the two stars, even if it superficially touches on their respective hockey talents. We've written about their archetypes, the impact and their perceptions many times before, and it was interesting to see some of those themes revisited and repackaged in this special.
But for those who want to scream about Canadian bias in coverage of Crosby vs. Ovechkin (and there's a Russian reporter who writes on this blog that has bellowed about it before), this is nearly an hour of proving that point.
This "us and against them" dynamic doesn't just exist during the run-up to the Olympics -- it's apparent every time Crosby is portrayed as virtuous where Ovechkin in dangerous; or when Crosby is shown as humble and controlled while Ovechkin is famed and chaotic. There are elements of truth in those labels, but the never tell the whole story.
It can be argued that they're both just being themselves, but it can also be argued that those "selves" have been packaged by savvy marketers into the kind of narrative eagerly adopted in these clips.
If you haven't watched them, please do: They're worth a look. You might like them, you might disagree with them, but there's really only one group that will hate this preview of Canada vs. Russia at the 2010 Vancouver Games: