We’ve had athletes come to Arizona for the money when the Phoenix Suns and Arizona Diamondbacks were free-spending franchises bent on building fantasy teams.
We’ve had athletes come to Arizona for the chance to chase a championship when their respective franchises caught a wave of success – all four major sports teams have been to at least the conference finals or league championship series within the last decade.
We’ve had superstars -- Randy Johnson, Emmitt Smith, Charles Barkley, Brett Hull, Kurt Warner, Mike Gartner, even Steve Nash and Grant Hill to a certain extent – who have or will go to their respective Hall of Fames and have stops in Arizona carved on their busts.
Some had their greatest success here; others some just made a pit stop. It’s an exclusive list. But it’s not the most exclusive list.
That list has just one name, and the category reads: Players from whom the crest on his jersey and the place he lived meant more than anything.
And that list has just one name: Shane Albert Doan.
Doan made himself $21.4 million richer on Friday when he signed a four-year contract to stay in Arizona and more than likely complete his entire hockey career with one franchise, which for the last 16 years as been in the desert. That’s undeniably lot of money for a 35-year-old winger who is indisputably in the third period of his career.
But it can be argued that no one athlete has ever done more for his sport and his city than the captain of the Phoenix Coyotes.
Not just Friday, when Doan turned down millions of dollars from more well-heeled franchises with bigger fan bases where hockey is a way of life for a team that had been hanging by a piece of thread.
Not just Friday, when he looked at offers from Vancouver and Detroit and Nashville and Chicago, teams who have either won or are a piece or two away from winning a Stanley Cup, and opted to stay with a team that made a Cinderella run to the Western Conference Final last year but will be pick by many experts to miss the playoffs completely this year – if there even is a this year.
Not a soul could have blamed Doan if he walked away from all the nonsense, took his family back to Canada for the winter and explained that he just couldn’t do it anymore. How enticing the idea of just lacing up his skates and walking into a full barn every night with a fat contract and a star-studded lineup must have been?
In Phoenix, Doan has been expected to not only be the captain on the ice but the personal spokesperson and public relations director off it. If you don’t have a signed puck, stick jersey or shirt from Doan, you just don’t want one.
He is the talk radio and Sunday night TV guest. For the last five years, through four prospective owners, three playoff runs and every strategically placed rumor the Canadian media can invent, it has been up to the captain to answer the tough questions – many he didn’t have the answer to himself – and somehow keep his focus and lead his team to an average of 101 points over the last three years.
There have been many times when this franchise didn’t deserve Shane Doan. After being sent to the minors for no good reason 12 years ago, after being lied to by more owners and presidents and second-floor personnel than he can count, after living through more twists and turns than an Agatha Christie novel since the plane from Winnipeg touched down here in 1996, Doan had every right to throw up his hands. He had every right to say “Hey, I really gave it everything I have folks. I will always love Arizona, but enough is enough.”
But he didn’t. Even without a final deal in place. Even with the future still far from clear. Even then.
Doan and his family love Arizona, and it would be hard to uproot them from their sprawling ranch and close friends. But it’s about more than that, and he’s told you better than anyone else that it’s about the state, the Valley, the team and the fans.
He wants to eat at his favorite restaurants. He wants his skates sharpened by Stan Wilson, his jersey hung up by Tony Silva, his between-period interviews to be with Todd Walsh and to look in the stands and see so many fans he knows by first name.
Cal Ripken Jr. played every game of his ironman streak as a Baltimore Oriole. John Havlicek never wore anything but Boston green, Dan Marino never won a title, but never left Miami to chase one.
None of them had to endure what Shane Doan has gone through to stay home. For his smile, his honesty, his leadership and his stubborn, Alberta-born work ethic that demands he finish what he started, his place in Arizona sports history is secure.
Jerry Brown is a contributing columnist who appears every Sunday in the Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.