On the occasion of his 50th birthday, I reflect for a moment on the life and career of Mario Lemieux, or Super Mario, as I came to know him. He’s the reason I started loving hockey, a combination of being in awe of his talent and loving the fact that he had a great nickname.

Don’t hold it against me, I was a kid (or relatively so). Besides, it shouldn’t matter why I started rooting for Mario Lemieux. The fact stands that he’s one of the primary reasons I started paying attention to a sport that has become more important to me, an American with American parents who was the first of his friends to pick up a hockey stick, than baseball or basketball. It’s right up there with football, and as a life-long fan of the Washington Redskins, that’s saying something.

As a Washingtonian, I’m supposed to hate the Pittsburgh Penguins, but I don’t. Aside from the fact that penguins, as animals, are awesome, my fond memories of watching Mario Lemieux play hockey in such dominating fashion keep me from ever truly learning to hate the black and gold team helmed by Sidney Crosby. In fact, because Lemieux holds a spot in the team’s front office, I don’t even dislike Sid The Kid. His successes are victories for Lemieux.


I was never a Gretzky guy. And I don’t want to hear about Mark Messier. To me, Mario Lemieux is the greatest hockey player I’ve watched. Am I biased? Probably. I didn’t get to see much of The Great One, nor the greats who preceded him. And I seriously dislike New York sports teams, regardless of the sport, so Messier will never get a fair shake with me.

And to think, Lemieux was nearly lost to cancer.

Early 1993 was rough for me. One of my sports heroes got CANCER and might DIE? It rocked my world. The fact that he was able to defeat cancer was just as inspiring as the announcement was disheartening. I didn’t know all the details of his prognosis – still don’t – and I probably wouldn’t understand it anyway. But what I do know is that he was able to overcome it, a mental association I’ve been able to hold onto as loved ones I talk to in my day to day life have been faced with cancer.

On this, his 50th Birthday, I wish Mario Lemieux good health and continued happiness. He played a large role in my life, despite never having met him. He gave me a love of hockey and hope that medicine can prevail over cancer.