Ask Marc-Andre Fleury about loyalty. It’s okay if you’re feelings were hurt by James Harrison’s decision to sign with the New England Patriots, but if you expect anybody in major professional sports to be rewarded for loyalty, you haven’t been paying attention.
Fleury was a model teammate and loved by fans and the media for 12 years. When he got knocked out with a concussion in 2015 he had a 2.29 goals against average and a .921 save percentage. He lost his job to Matt Murray and started one game in the playoffs.
The new coach, Mike Sullivan, may have been showing loyalty to Murray, who was his goalie in Wilkes-Barre Scranton, but that loyalty would have meant nothing if Murray hadn’t played so well.
Fleury mentored Murray and never complained publicly and was visibly uncomfortable skating around in San Jose with the Stanley Cup.
He didn’t complain when he started the 2016-17 season as Murray’s backup. And he didn’t complain after he permanently lost his job to Murray again after a loss in the 2017 playoffs.
What did Fleury’s loyalty get him? The Vegas Golden Knights’ pick from the Penguins in the expansion draft.
(I’ve always believed that Fleury was and will be a better goalie for the next few years. He’s given up four goals in his last 6 games since coming back from a concussion. But, that’s another story.)
The Penguins did what they thought was good for business and they won two Stanley Cups. So far, it was good for business.
Remember the loyalty Bobby Bonilla showed the Pirates when the Mets came calling after the 1991 season? The Pirates lost him in the Rule 5 draft and then made a trade with the White Sox to bring him back.
When he became a free agent, he went for the money and still gets a check for over a million dollars every July.
Smart move by Mr. Bonilla.
The Penguins don’t win their first Stanley Cup without Paul Coffey and Mark Recchi. They were both traded to the Flyers before the 1992 playoffs by Craig Patrick.
Followed by Cup number two.
The Steelers had no interest in keeping Rod Woodson around after the 1996 season. He was too old to play cornerback at 31.
He played seven more seasons, including four with the Ravens, where he won a Super Bowl ring. Do you think he felt bad about playing for the Steelers’ most hated rival?
Wayne Gretzky was traded by the Edmonton Oilers. Neither party in that deal allowed loyalty to prevent it.
And what about coaches?
Ask Dave Wannstedt about loyalty. He was a Pitt man through and through. Probably still is.
Pitt was 9-4 in 2008 and 10-3 in 2009. He was forced to resign after going 7-5 in 2010. He had the best three-year record since the glory days of Jackie Sherrill. Grew up in Pittsburgh. Said coaching at Pitt was a lifelong dream.
Wannstedt was probably the only accomplished football coach on the planet who wouldn’t be looking for some place better than Pitt to work.
Pitt still hasn’t recovered from the stupidity of that firing.
The coach they brought in to replace him lasted about an hour and a a half.
The next two guys never felt any loyalty to Pitt for giving them an opportunity and how long do you think it will take Pat Narduzzi to accept an offer to return to Michigan State if he gets one?
Would you expect him to turn the offer down out of loyalty to Pitt for giving him his first head coaching job?
So, if you’re a fan, do yourself a favor. Don’t expect loyalty from the teams or the players you root for.
Do you think James Harrison will feel the least bit guilty if he helps the Patriots beat the Steelers in the playoffs?
No player in any major sport should ever be loyal to any team. No fan or media fan boy should ever expect any player to show loyalty to any team. There’s not a guy on your favorite team’s roster who wouldn’t leave for a better situation and there’s not a guy your favorite team wouldn’t trade or cut.
There’s a good chance that, as you’re reading this, Harrison is thinking about how cool he looks in a Patriots’ uniform.