Jarome Iginla: Like No Other

 

It was July 2003 at the Valley Ridge Golf Course in Calgary, AB.

Wayne Gretzky and Mike Weir organized a charity golf event and invited local hockey hero Jarome Iginla and fellow PGA tour player Ian Leggett to play as well.

My friend had gotten tickets given to him by his dad and asked if I wanted to go. I didn’t think twice.

We spent most of the day trolling around the outsides of the gallery catching glimpses here and there of the high profile foursome.

Before the event I knew this would be a prime opportunity to get my Iginla jersey signed, so I brought it around with me that hot July day. We posted up on the 10th tee box way ahead of the players and got a great position along the ropes.

Iginla was signing autographs, as per usual, and making his way towards me and my buddy. Iggy signed my friends souvenir program. He then looked at my jersey, which was had folded and had the sharpie ready with the number 1 ready to be signed, and said, “Oh, I don’t sign those.”

My jaw dropped.

He promptly took a couple steps away in the opposite direction, turned around, smiled, and said, “I’m just messing with you. How’s your day going?”

If I wasn’t speechless before I was even more so now as Iggy just played a practical joke on me, signed my jersey and went on down the line, signing until he couldn’t sign anymore. I didn’t wash the jersey for probably 6 years until I felt the ink had set. I didn’t want to lose this momento.

This is my story of Iginla, probably unique for its specific situation, but most likely very typical for the type of interaction fans of the player had with him on a daily basis.

He is extremely unique. He always has time for his fans, and the autograph signing line is probably the best example of that. He would sign until there was nobody left and always sign before games – not something most players, let alone captains of high profile teams like the Flames, do.

There won’t be another Iginla in Calgary, it’s as simple as that.

I remember when the Flames traded Theo Fleury in 1999. I was sitting in section 108 with my dad, right behind the Flames bench. This was the first game after he was dealt to the Avs and a fan sitting probably 6 rows in front of us, while preparing to leave, absolutely lost his freaking mind. He exited his row and went down the glass, and started kicking the glass as hard as he could yelling expletives as loud as he could while wearing his white Fleury jersey. He then ripped off his jersey and threw it against the glass as well, and possibly over the glass (the memory is a little hazy). He was pissed off that the Flames had finally traded his hero, Theo Fleury. Fleury was, and still is, an icon in this city, but due to his history of substance abuse and his extra-curricular activities, he will never be looked upon the same way Iginla is – as a role model for pretty much everyone. That’s not to say Fleury hasn’t regained a lot of his status in the past couple years, but I think Iggy reigns supreme in Calgary and once he retires that legend will only grow.

And contrasting that reaction of anger with the reaction a lot of Flames fans had this past week – sheer happiness for Iginla.  It’s truly unique that a player can be so well loved that fans of his ex-team will blatantly say they hope he wins his cup in another city (Ray Bourque is the only other that comes to mind). I have talked with a lot of people that have expressed their desire that he wins in Pittsburgh. I’m sure sales of Iggy Penguins jerseys will do quite well.  

And then there is the debate about how a player is NEVER bigger than the team. But, in this circumstance, he was. He chose exactly where he wanted to go and even vetoed a trade to another powerhouse team, which he previously approved, in the Bruins, because he wanted to play with Crosby and Malkin. The deal the Flames had in place from Boston was substantially better than the one from the Pens, but Iggy had the last call, just like we assumed he did. He was driving the boat from the outset. He was bigger than the Flames and it was proved both in the fans reaction to the trade and the way he dictated the trade process.

The Flames got what they got for Iggy. There is little to no point debating whether it was enough at this point as both Kenny Agostino and Ben Hanowski, along with the 1st round pick, won’t show their true potential for a least a couple of years.

All we know is that Jarome Iginla gets his chance to lift the Stanley Cup, albeit with another team, and that’s what most people seem to care about right now. It’s sad it never happened in Calgary. It’s strange to see him in Penguin colours. It’s down-right bizarre to think of him anywhere but Calgary. But, like all good things, they have to end sometime. It was time to trade him away.

The Jarome Iginla era is over.

He will be missed both on and off the ice. 

 

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