In February of 2007, I had just switched jobs.
I went from being part of a popular FM morning show back to sports radio, where I had started eleven years earlier.
Shane Doan of the Phoenix Coyotes had been a frequent guest/friend of our FM morning show. He'd come on once a week and talk about everything from the one NHL player he didn't get along with to what he preferred to read on the toilet. He was a great sport, playing along with our morning antics. Heck, he even became a fan of the show.
Shortly after I switched jobs in February, I covered a Coyotes game against the Anaheim Ducks. The Coyotes were cruising, up 4-1 late in the second period. I figured I'd go down after the game, listen in on Coach Gretzky's press conference and then go say hello to Doan, who had just signed a new five-year contract worth $22.75 million, in the dressing room. After a win, everybody would be in a good mood. This was going to be great.
Uh, not so fast, Marotta.
Chris Pronger scored with :05 left in the second period to pull the Ducks to within two goals. Then in the third, during a 2:21 span, Dustin Penner and Pronger scored to tie things up at 4-4. The game headed to overtime, and 1:53 into the extra period, Teemu Selanne beat Curtis Joseph to lift Anaheim to a completely improbable 5-4 win. It was a crusher for the Coyotes, who had just lost their fourth straight game during a stretch where they dropped 19 of 24 games. In other words, the joyous dressing room that I thought I'd be visiting would more resemble a funeral, only with body odor.
As per usual, Doan stood in front of his locker and faced questions from the media about a soul-crushing loss. He did so with class and respect. After the hordes moved away from Doan's locker, I made my way over to say hello.
I shook his hand, said something to the effect of "man, that was a tough one tonight." We spoke for a few minutes, and I told him I'd let him get on with his evening. I turned and walked away, and after a few steps I heard, "Vince, by the way, congratulations on your new job."
I was floored. I joked that I should be congratulating him -- after all he was the one who had just signed a multi-million dollar deal while I took a pay cut to go work for Clear Channel.
That's how Shane Doan is. He's not one of the nicest athletes I've ever met -- he's one of the nicest people. Along with all that niceness comes a serious case of loyalty.
Last Friday, the Coyotes announced that Doan, who was highly-coveted in the free agent market, had spurned more lucrative offers to stay with a franchise with a still uncertain future. The Coyotes are going into their fourth season without a real owner. Doan is banking the rest of his hockey career on the hope that Greg Jamison will finally strike a deal to purchase the team from the National Hockey League. It is by no means a certainty.
"If I thought there was hope that this could work here, then I was going to come back here," Doan said at his press conference. "In the end, I think there's hope and that's really what this comes down to."
This basically makes Doan the most loyal athlete in the history of organized sports on this continent. Seriously, can you think of anyone whose career has faced a more defined crossroad? Doan could have been hockey royalty in a hotbed market like Vancouver, Detroit, New York or Philadelphia. He could have made a lot more money in Buffalo. But because there's a shred of optimism that Jamison will make the deal happen, he's still here.
Think of it this way...would you get married if your potential spouse informed you ahead of time that there's a real possibility they might just pick up and move a couple of years into it? Of course you wouldn't. And your friends and loved ones would steer you away from the situation if you were presented with it.
Phoenix sports fans, the same ones that went from worshiping Steve Nash to loathing him the moment he orchestrated a trade to play for the hated Lakers, would understand if Doan left town. He's been overly patient in this process, waiting three-and-a-half months to make his decision. And yet, he stayed. He stayed in a town that's a punchline among hockey pundits (and Canadians -- they're not necessarily the same thing) with a franchise that, forgive the pun, is skating on thin ice.
There's always discussions circulating among sports fans about who would be included on a city's Sports Mount Rushmore.
If you're in Phoenix, and you have one of these discussions without including the name Shane Doan, you're doing it wrong.