As an old hockey fan from the 70s, I will be watching this one.
NBC Sports Films’ first project, “Center of Attention: The Unreal Life of Derek Sanderson,” a one-hour documentary that chronicles the remarkable life of former NHL star and two-time Stanley Cup Champion Derek Sanderson. Center of Attention will premiere Monday night on NBCSN, following Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Chicago Blackhawks.
Narrated by Boston native, Primetime Emmy Award-nominee and star of Mad Men John Slattery, Center of Attention followsSanderson’s journey from humble beginnings, to becoming the highest paid athlete of his time, only to eventually end up homeless, broke and addicted to drugs and alcohol. Through interviews with former teammates, coaches, friends, rivals, andSanderson himself, viewers get an inside look into his eccentric and reckless life that ultimately features a fourth act fitting of a Hollywood screenplay, as Sanderson is able to get clean and become a respected financial adviser for top athletes.
In his book Crossing The Line, Sanderson said of his life: “In the span of an extraordinary life, I made the National Hockey League, won two Stanley Cup championships, became a trendsetter, gained celebrity status, became a millionaire, descended into addiction, was homeless, almost died, asked for salvation, kicked booze, drugs and cigarettes, climbed back from the wreckage, met an amazing woman who gave us two great sons, taught kids about the evils of addiction, was a broadcaster and now advise athletes about their finances. That’s a lot to pack into one life!”
Center of Attention features interviews with eight members of the Hockey Hall of Fame, including Sanderson’s teammates Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, Rod Gilbert, Gerry Cheevers Brad Park, Bernie Parent and coaches Harry Sinden and Emile Francis.
In the glory days of his playing career, Sanderson was a national sensation. He won the Calder Trophy, as the NHL’s top rookie in 1967-68, and was a two-time Stanley Cup champion before his 26th birthday. Off the ice, the man known as “Turk” was an iconoclast who went into the nightclub business with Joe Namath, was regularly seen with beautiful women, drove around town in a Rolls Royce, and was quoted as saying his pregame meal was “a steak and a blonde.”
In 1972, Sanderson left the Bruins and the NHL to sign with the Philadelphia Blazers of the World Hockey Association. His $2.65 million contract made Sanderson the highest-paid professional athlete in the world at the time, but within months, poor play, a back injury and his lavish contract led the Blazers’ owners to buy out Sanderson’s deal for $1 million.
At age 27, after making it back to the NHL, Sanderson’s drinking increased and he developed an addiction to drugs.Sanderson ended up broke and homeless, at one point sleeping on a bench in New York City’s Central Park. By 1978, when he was 32, his hockey career was over.
In 1980, after more than a dozen trips to rehab, Sanderson was able to get clean and start a new life. He was hired by then Mayor of Boston Ray Flynn to serve as a drug and alcohol awareness speaker at Boston area schools, worked as a lead television analyst for the Boston Bruins, became a financial adviser, and started a sports group to help protect athletes from themselves and from those who could take advantage of them.