A couple weeks after the Pittsburgh Penguins made Sidney Crosby the first pick of the 2005 draft (held later than usual that summer coming off a work stoppage that wiped out the previous season), and just days after his 18th birthday, the team brought him to Pittsburgh for a sort of orientation tour.
Reporters were notified when his plane was to land and invited to go to Pittsburgh International to get footage of his arrival and do a little interview session.
The group of us got some looks, and some people were asking what celebrity we were waiting for, as we milled about in a loose pack on the baggage level, midway between the bottom of two parallel escalators spitting people out from one level up — those who had just gotten off the tram from the gate areas.
Like spectators at a tennis match, we looked left and then right, watching to see which moving stairway the latest predicted Pittsburgh phenom would come down. The guys with the TV video cameras were especially on guard so as not to miss him.
In what now seems like the perfect foil, Crosby didn’t arrive on either of those escalators. For whatever reason, he and a couple of people from the Penguins organization walked past those escalators, past the security area a floor above us reporters to a farther escalator, one that came down toward us from behind.
Someone spotted him, and we all turned around, the camera guys scrambling to get their shot.
Crosby surely had been told reporters would be there, and he surely saw us. Yet watching him slowly descend, he looked oddly unaffected. He was dressed casually — jeans and flip-flops if memory serves — and looked straight ahead. The initial perception was that he was aloof.
But by the time he stepped off the escalator, and increasingly so as he calmly and thoughtfully stood in the midst of us in a corner behind the escalator and answered questions, it became clear that he simply was low key. And that he had a good poker face.
They are traits that have never left Crosby, who turns 31 today, Not after 13 NHL seasons, three Stanley Cups and so many other accolades. Off the ice anyway, the superstar remains approachable, grounded, and he still rarely shows a lot emotion publicly.
At the 2017 locker cleanout day, after the Penguins had just won their second Cup in a row, I asked Crosby if his upcoming 30th birthday during that offseason would be a freak-out moment.
He said it would not, and in so many words said he felt good in his skin and still young. He did offer that he had struggled some when he turned 28.
Why 28, I asked? He said he didn’t know, that it was just the first time he had started to feel a little older.
Crosby’s contract runs through 2024-25. If he keeps playing as if he doesn’t feel his age, the Penguins will have a lot of reasons to celebrate.
Happy birthday, Sid. You don’t look a day over 28.