Rob Gronkowski’s departure from the New England Patriots offered a reminder: There sure have been some fascinating athletes to come through this region.
As such, NESN.com is taking local fans on a lighthearted trip down memory lane by highlighting 10 “charismatic characters” in Boston sports history. You know, those enthralling players with big personalities who captivated audiences for reasons beyond their on-field performance.
There always was a lot more to Derek Sanderson than his career with the Boston Bruins.
The hard-nosed center bounced around with five teams over the course of his 13-year NHL career, spending the majority of his time in Boston. Sanderson started out strong, winning the Calder Memorial Trophy trophy as the NHL’s Rookie of the Year in 1968 — just one year after Bobby Orr won it.
Sanderson signed what was considered to be the richest contract in professional sports history as of 1972 when he agreed to a $2.6 million contract with the Philadelphia Blazers of the World Hockey Association. But between a back injury and poor play, the Blazers wound up buying out the deal for $1 million and sending him back to the Bruins.
Sanderson, a key cog in the “Big Bad Bruins,” became a two-time Stanley Cup champion before he was 26 years old. By the end of his career, he totaled 202 goals, 250 assists and 911 penalty minutes.
But he was just as well known for his actions off the ice as his time on the ice.
Sanderson became a celebrity in Boston. He often could be seen in his Rolls-Royce alongside beautiful women with a drink in hand. From there, he opened a nightclub on New York City’s Upper East Side with New England Patriots receiver Jim Colclough and New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath.
The club didn’t pan out the way Sanderson had hoped, which sent him into a downward spiral of addiction to alcohol and drugs. He never was able to stay with any one team for more than two full seasons after leaving the Bruins.
But Orr knew Sanderson was worth more than that. Paying for his rehab, Orr was able to help Sanderson beat his addictions. Sanderson, commonly known as “Turk,” went on to work as a sports broadcaster and financial adviser for athletes, showing tremendous resolve in overcoming the lows that accompanied his highs as an NHL star.
Sanderson was full of, shall we say, interesting thoughts. In this 1971 interview about the thrill of winning the Stanley Cup, there’s, well, not much conversation about actually winning the Cup.
“I could be happy selling surfboards in Australia, being a bartender. I’d like to be a bartender. Something small, simple. I’ve got my own business. Have a few bucks. Just enough to get by.”
— Sanderson, in the above 1971 interview
“Derek was a guy you had to give the evil eye to once in a while to get him going.”
— Bobby Orr