One moment, hockey star Derek Sanderson was the highest paid athlete in the world, earning $2.65 million a year; a few years later, he was penniless, sleeping on park benches and begging for beer money. Crossing the Line is his long-awaited autobiography, a remarkably candid document in which the former "Big Bad Bruin" recalls his Ontario childhood; his eventful junior hockey career; his aggressive, often combative years in professional hockey; his dizzying descent into alcoholism and disastrous financial decisions; and his inspiring recovery. An almost unbelievable, yet true first-person story of recovery.
Crossing the Line: The Outrageous Story of a Hockey Originalby Kevin Shea
The autobiography of one of hockey’s first rebels and a beloved member of the “Big Bad Bruins,” this book shares how Derek Sanderson’s ferocious style helped lead the team to two Stanley Cup victories in the early 1970s. Living life in the fast lane, Sanderson grew his hair long, developed a serious drinking problem, and eventually found
The autobiography of one of hockey’s first rebels and a beloved member of the “Big Bad Bruins,” this book shares how Derek Sanderson’s ferocious style helped lead the team to two Stanley Cup victories in the early 1970s. Living life in the fast lane, Sanderson grew his hair long, developed a serious drinking problem, and eventually found himself out of the league and prowling the streets for his next drink. In this autobiography, Sanderson comes clean on his life in hockey, the demons that threatened to consume him, and the strength and courage it took to fight his way back. Today a successful entrepreneur and speaker, Sanderson’s incredible story is a must read for any fan of hockey.
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Crossing the Line
The Outrageous Story of a Hockey Original
By Derek Sanderson, Kevin Shea
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2012 Derek Sanderson and Kevin Shea
All rights reserved.
How did I screw up my life so badly?
My only dream was to become a professional hockey player. Everything I did, I did to play in the National Hockey League. Now, I was 31 years old. I should have been in the prime of my life. I had found the girl I wanted to spend my life with. I should still have been playing hockey. Four years earlier, I was the highest-paid athlete in the world, and yet there I was, being quickly escorted into the bottomless pit of alcoholism and drug addiction.
I tried to blame everyone else for my situation, but I had only myself to blame for the situation I found myself in. When you realize that for the first time, it's quite a wake-up call. No one put a gun to my head and told me to drink. I was bad and I was mean. I'm telling you, I was ugly mean. By that point, I didn't give a shit, no matter what happened.
Fuelled by drugs and alcohol, I flew to New York and what proved to be the start of a three-year binge that was the worst nightmare you can imagine; out of control with fear that I might never get off the merry-go-round. You drink to control the fear and the loss of respect. Really, that is all you have.
I slid slowly into the depths of a hell I could never have imagined.
* * *
It started with a good-looking girl, as it so often does. We were both drunk. I had just come from Dallas, and while I was there, I broke the cap off my front tooth. It was ugly. The girl was staying with friends and invited me back to the house. As we were heading there, she asked if I had any money. I gave her the last of the cash I had, which was about $1,500. She slid into the apartment before me and slammed the door. I could hear the click of the lock, with me standing on the outside.
It was late. I had no money and no place to sleep. The clothes I was wearing — the only clothes I had — weren't appropriate for a miserable New York night. I banged on the door for a long time. Through the locked door, she yelled, "Get away from here or I'll call the police!" There I was — no money, drunk and looking like hell. That was not the condition I wanted to be in when the cops arrived. I had one option — I hit the street.
I trudged over to Central Park and glanced around. There were a few people walking around, but the park was mostly quiet. The cold and rain made the night miserable, but I knew I just needed a place where I could close my eyes and drift away from my problems for a few hours. I saw an empty park bench and figured that was as good a place as any to spend the night. I grabbed a discarded New York Times and stretched out on the damp bench, pulling the newspaper over me like a blanket to keep dry and, hopefully, as warm as possible.
An old-timer came by, looked at me and shook his head. "You're obviously new at this," he sighed. "If you knew what you were doing, you would have wiped down the bench and then put the paper down before you laid down."
"Is there an art to this?" I asked facetiously.
"Yes sir," came the reply. "There actually is."
I appreciated the advice from a guy who clearly had spent a few years living in the park.
"Hey, one more thing."
I glanced up.
"You'd be wise to find a spot under the bridge in the western part of the park. You'll be out of the wind and out of any bad weather. Get there about 4:30 or five o'clock, before it gets dark, and claim a spot. I'll tell ya now, you're gonna have to fight for it, but it'll be worth it."
I asked him if that's where he stayed. "No, I'm too old to fight for a spot," he shrugged. "But you'll be fine."
I thanked him for the advice, but he offered more of his experience.
"In the alley behind the big appliance stores, get yourself one of those cardboard boxes that they ship refrigerators in. Lean it up against a building. It'll keep out the wind. Eventually, your body heat will warm you up. The temperature drops pretty good some nights."
The next day, I found one of those cartons, and it became my new home. A discarded paperback was my entertainment. I ate out of dumpsters, stole and panhandled. It was sheer survival at that point. When it came to panhandling, I discovered that there was a pecking order; the veterans had their corners, and you didn't mess with their seniority or you'd suffer the consequences.
My sign said: "Just Sober. Help Me Out. I Want to See My Family." People handed me tens and twenties. I made $150 to $200 cash a day. I realized that if you really wanted to get out of living on the street, it was possible. For some reason, I knew I would get out of this predicament. I had family and friends, but I was too embarrassed to ask anyone I knew for help. My ego simply wouldn't let me, but I realized that I needed help.
The expression "Pride goeth before a fall" was appropriate for me, but no one knew me, so what did I care? I was anonymous for the first time in my life. My hair was really long and unwashed, I hadn't shaved for a while and my clothes were filthy. People walked by and didn't recognize me. It wouldn't have mattered to me if they did.
After a couple of days, I started to shake. I needed a drink. I had no money, so I figured I was out of luck, but there was a liquor store nearby. Desperate for a drink, I lingered outside, and then, as soon as the guy at the cash was serving a customer, I grabbed a pint of vodka from near the front of the store. I ran, and before he knew where I was, I was out of sight. The guys in the park later told me that the employees at the liquor store wouldn't chase you for a pint, but they would for a fifth. It didn't matter to me — a fifth was too big to run with anyway.
I was going back to steal another pint the next day when I noticed a guy sitting on a bench wearing a nice camel-hair topcoat. It was clear that he was on a two- or three-day bender. He had a couple of bottles of booze stuck in the pocket of his coat. When I noticed that he was asleep, I snuck over and reached into his coat to take one of the bottles.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" he barked, grabbing my wrist.
"Come on. Just give me a drink!" I begged. "We're both in the same spot."
"Get your own!" came the reply.
"Listen," I blurted. "Do you know who I am?" That was the stupidest thing I have ever said. That was the first and only time I have ever said that in my life. I was desperate.
"Yeah, I do," he said. "You're a drunk just like me."
Those words stung.CHAPTER 2
Mom, Dad and the War Years
There are many things I've done in my life that have left me embarrassed, but far fewer that I can admit I'm ashamed of. I have often veered off the path of good and right and have occasionally peeked into the darker sides of life.
Why are we the way we are? You and I can argue that until we are blue in the face. Are we products of our environment, or have our lives been predetermined through DNA? It's the nature-versus-nurture argument, and while we all have an opinion on it, who really knows the answer?
Because of some of the choices I have made in my life, some might question the way I was raised. I can tell you definitively that I had nothing but the most wonderful of childhoods. I had two parents who loved me unconditionally, who allowed me to be a kid but who taught me right from wrong and instilled strong moral values in me.
The times I strayed into life's darker corners were all conscious choices I made, and defied the values that I learned from my mother and father.
* * *
My cousin traced the Sanderson family back to Virginia. He discovered that the Sandersons were part of the Flagler family, a prominent family that settled in Florida. Flagler County is on the Atlantic coast of Florida and was named after a railway builder named Henry Morrison Flagler. My branch of the Sandersons must have been the poor side of the family.
The Sandersons remained loyal to the British crown, and when the American Revolution took place, they were told, "Grab what you can carry and get out," and sent north. My great-great-grandfather crossed the border into Canada and settled in Niagara Falls, Ontario.
My father, Harold, was one of seven kids born and raised in Niagara Falls. One of the moments that shaped his life came when he was 17 years old. He fell in love with a girl who dumped him for a guy with a '32 Ford because she didn't want to walk. My dad was devastated, so he quit school and joined the army. They gave him a uniform and, just to show her, he walked proudly past her house.
When he went home, he walked in the front door. His father saw him in uniform. "You stupid bastard! What have you done?"
"I enlisted," replied my dad.
My grandfather, who had fought in the First World War, punched my dad in the mouth and knocked him out cold. Seven weeks later, Dad was in England. The experience wasn't nearly as romantic as the posters had described. It was a whole different world.
My father never told me much about the war, but he was always proud to be a member of the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa. They played a key role in the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, and the regiment fought in almost every battle in the northwestern Europe campaign.
Dad was wounded in action. I asked him how, but he chose not to discuss it. "Derek, you won't understand. Someday, I may be able to tell you, but believe me, it's not what the movies portray."
Dad was recuperating in a hospital in Kirkcaldy, Scotland, a town on the northern shore of the Firth of Forth and the largest town between Dundee and Edinburgh. Kirkcaldy was just southwest of my mother's hometown of Dysart. Dysart had, at one time, been a coal harbour, but with no employment, the town was forced to merge into Kirkcaldy in 1930.
One weekend, my dad secured a pass, and he was told that when he returned, they were going to send him back out to the front line. He and his buddies, all wearing kilts, decided to go to the movies. They went to the first screening of the afternoon.
My mom, Caroline Hall Gillespie, was 17 and was an usherette at the theatre, using a flashlight to show people to their seats. When my father caught a glimpse of her, he leaned over to his buddies and said, "Oh my God, she's a beauty!"
He tried to talk to her, but she was having no part of him.
My dad was nothing if not determined. Hoping to introduce himself, he stayed at the movies all day and watched all five showings of the same film, but my mother avoided him. Unsuccessful by the end of the night, he returned to the base.
The next day, he went back and watched the same movie again! And again, he tried to talk to her, but she was afraid of the crazy Canadian soldier.
He stayed for all five screenings again, but this time, at the end of the night, when my mother climbed onto the bus to go home, my father also jumped on the bus and sat behind her. She refused to talk to him, but he was smitten and wasn't about to take her silence as an answer.
Dysart was at the end of the bus line. Mom got off the bus and the driver turned to my dad and said, "This is it. Out you go." My dad got off the bus and followed her home. She was scared. She ran up the stairs and her father came to the door.
When her father saw my dad in his uniform, there was immediate camaraderie. "How is the war going, son?" he asked.
My mother's father invited my dad into the house for a drink. My mother had to stay up and wait on the two of them. They drank port and told stories through the evening. When my father got up to leave, he asked, "Is it okay with you if I write your daughter? And will she write me back?"
"Son, she'll write you every day."
My mother's father made the promise for her ... and she had never even talked to this man!
My dad wrote her every day. After that weekend, he returned to the front and was wounded a second time. He asked to be transferred to Kirkcaldy to recuperate. When he was, he went over to Dysart. My mom was there, and she had fallen in love with him through his letters. To the end of her life, my mom laughed that she never met the man who wrote those letters. She never saw that side of my father again.
I asked my dad what was in those letters that made my mother fall in love with him. "Son, you don't know what you say when the shells are screaming in all around you. The sound is deafening and you can't shrink into a trench deep enough. You're scared, and you write some pretty amazing things."
* * *
My father and mother were married in Dysart by a local pastor. My mom's parents and her sister served as witnesses. Their honeymoon was getting the big bed in my grandparents' house for a couple of days before my dad had to leave to go back to the front. It wasn't long afterward that Mom learned she was pregnant.
A German bomb destroyed part of my grandparents' house and killed the family next door. With the war raging around them, my mom gave birth to my sister, Karen, in that house. Dad didn't get the chance to see Karen until she was nine months old.
After the war, our family, with my mother now expecting me, moved to Canada, back to my father's hometown of Niagara Falls. All her life, my mom retained a very thick Scottish brogue. Any time her sisters visited us, we could barely understand what they were saying to each other.
My father carried a lot of demons with him from serving in the war. He'd say, "War is never a good thing, but they were the proudest four years of my life because I went through it. Thank God I made it." Yet if I tried to pry information about the war out of him, he'd say, "War is an ugly thing, son. You don't understand it unless you go through it. Maybe when you're older I'll be able to tell you."
He never did.
Whenever we talked about his war service, he told me, "I fought that war so you would never have to. They told us it would be the last."
My father was awarded five medals for his service during World War II, but he kept them hidden away. I was around 18 when my mother first brought them out. I could never figure out why Dad didn't talk about the medals. My mom said, "You have no idea what your father's been through."
A few years ago, my father joined a group of veterans in returning to Europe. My mom convinced him it would be good for him to go, have a few beers and tell stories with fellow veterans. He said, "Son, I'm going over to Germany. The last time I was there, they were trying to kill me!"
He thought that was the funniest thing.CHAPTER 3
My dad enlisted in 1941, and after four years overseas, he returned to Canada with my mom, my sister, and me on the way, and the family needed a place to live. Towards the end of the war, Wartime Housing Ltd. built more than 30,000 houses to ensure that returning servicemen would have a place to live. These were cookie-cutter one-and-a-half-storey homes priced to make them accessible to veterans. The houses were assembled all in a row, and were intended to be temporary, but an awful lot of them are still standing today. Our little wartime house at 1267 Stamford Street in Niagara Falls cost my parents around $4,000. I lived there until I was 18 years old.
I was born Derek Michael Sanderson in Niagara Falls on June 16, 1946, very much loved by the greatest mother and father a kid could ever want.
After the war, my dad got a job in the Kimberly-Clark plant, where they manufactured feminine hygiene products. My father was mechanically inclined and could fix anything. He was great with machinery. By simply looking at things, he could tell you how they worked. He tinkered with anything mechanical. In fact, he made great toys for Karen and me. He was always down in the basement, working away on something.
My dad worked his butt off his entire life — weekends plus any overtime he could get. He had a tremendous work ethic, and took a lot of pride in putting in a good day's work. His philosophy was that anything worth having was worth working for, and if something was easy, everybody would do it.
One day, the management at Kimberly-Clark dropped a bombshell: they told the employees they were closing the plant and moving to Toronto. I can remember my dad telling my mom.
"Do you want to go?" she asked.
He hemmed and hawed. "Well, Derek's just going to start junior and I think we've got to talk." The two of them discussed the move and, unbeknownst to me, my father turned it down and took a job in quality control at the General Motors plant in St. Catharines. He gave up his seniority and four weeks of vacation a year so we could stay in the area while I was playing junior! He made a huge sacrifice for me.
Excerpted from Crossing the Line by Derek Sanderson, Kevin Shea. Copyright © 2012 Derek Sanderson and Kevin Shea. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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Meet the Author
Derek Sanderson is a retired professional hockey player who was a key member of the two-time Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in the early 1970s. Known as “the Turk,” he was the NHL’s rookie of the year in 1968. He lives in Boston. Kevin Shea is an editor for the Hockey Hall of Fame. He is the author of numerous books on hockey, including Lord Stanley: The Man Behind the Cup, Over the Boards: The Ron Ellis Story, and Toronto Maple Leafs: Diary of a Dynasty, 1957–1967.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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As a big Bruins fan during that era, I thoroughly enjoyed the book.
My non-reading husband can't put this down, he is reading and remembering games Sanderson has played. Although he isn't a fan of Sanderson - the book is immensely enjoyable.
Very interesting and compelling story about a unique individual who had his best years (unfortunately too few) in Boston. Sometimes repetitive making it long, but a good read nonetheless
I'm just an old time hockey fan, when players had broken teeth, scared faces, and learned their craft on outdoor ponds. Sanderson was one of those colorful characters on the ice with the Bruins, a rebel to Bobby Orr's greatness. The Bruins were fun to watch in those days, and Sanderson was the mustaschioed, long haired bad boy that ignited a fans interest on the ice!