Severely Sprained: Derek Sanderson jumped from the NHL’s Boston Bruins to a $2.6-million contract with the Philadelphia Blazers of the upstart WHA in the summer of 1972. The team lost seven games in a row to start the season but Sanderson, 26, was scoring – when he wasn’t sitting out penalties. In eight games he had three goals, three assists, 69 minutes of sanction. His final game, in Cleveland, in November, he came out of the penalty box, went for the puck and – let’s let him tell it himself, as he does in the 2012 memoir, Crossing The Line, written with Kevin Shea:
My left foot landed on a piece of garbage that somebody had thrown at me. I slipped and I could feel the pain go up my spine and right down my leg. Boom! I dropped like a stone. The left leg went out from under me and I kind of did the splits. My back took it all because I didn’t have my weight balanced. I couldn’t get up. I couldn’t move.
He doesn’t remember getting back to Philadelphia, but that’s where he ended up, at the Hahneman Hospital with a severe muscle sprain in the low back. The pain was “unbelievably bad.” Dr. Arnold Berman wanted to operate. Sanderson had only one condition: the doctor had to sign an agreement guaranteeing that if, post-surgery, Sanderson couldn’t play hockey again, Dr. Berman would personally pay Sanderson’s salary for life.
Second opinion: a week’s bedrest should do the trick.
A few days later, lying abed in his suite at the Latham Hotel, Sanderson (above) held a press conference. “In retrospect,” he says in his book, “I should have held my tongue, but my style was to say what was on my mind.” No athlete liked playing in Philadelphia, he told reporters, because the fans were all sourpusses – though only because the press was so negative. As for marriage, he said he was looking for a girl who was “independent, strong, confident, intelligent, witty, beautiful, understanding and sensitive.”
He was ready to play again in December, but by then Philadelphia had decided that they couldn’t afford his contract. Early in the new year, Sanderson was back in Boston, a Bruin again.