NEWARK, NJ The similarities between Tim Thomas and Curt Schilling are striking.
Both were playoff heroes adorned with awards and adulation. They were lauded as folk heroes in Boston after bringing champions to a sports city drunk on success. Both are highly intelligent individuals with interests well beyond the respective sports theyd mastered.
Both defined nebulous, vague terms like "clutch" and "gutsy" while overcoming odds in situations that couldnt possibly have harbored hopes for success.
Thomas was never supposed to make it after falling through the cracks of pro hockey and winding up in Finland as a goaltender as renowned for his love of cheeseburgers as his ability to stop the puck. Instead he became only the second goalie in NHL history aside from Philadelphia Flyers legend Bernie Parent to capture the Vezina Trophy, Conn Smythe Trophy and Stanley Cup in the same season.
Schilling has the bloody sock hero footage and the paeans written about him after he helped slay the Yankees in 2004. The Big Schill endured game-day surgical procedures on his ailing right ankle to Frankenstein his way through pitching a baseball game, and dominated the best teams in baseball on one leg.
Those feats of strength take the kind of fortitude, courage and determination that both Thomas and Schilling have in spades as they walked the walk of champions.
But unfortunately time doesnt stand still for sports heroes, and thats been the case for this pair of athletes quickly plummeting from grace.
The tragic part: their fall has been due to some of the same qualities that made them great in the first place.
Schillings 38 Studios video game company has been nothing short of a business nightmare.
He took tens of millions of dollars from the state of Rhode Island before working himself into a corner where he couldnt meet payroll or make loan payments back to the state that bankrolled him. The always-opinionated Schilling was finally at a loss for words for once in his life something that many of his teammates never thought theyd see out of the bombastic blowhard.
For Schilling, the video game company sprouted from the same outsized ego that brazenly proclaimed he was coming to Boston to end an 86-year curse.
Unfortunately creating a phenomenally successful video game in such a competitive market proved much more difficult than unleashing a 96-mph heater on the outside corner.
The sight of the outsized Sox pitcher rushing through long lines of media members while hurriedly refusing to answer questions about where all the money went is something nobody could have envisioned eight years ago.
But it all started with the belief that Schilling knows everything about everything.
By the same token, Thomas me-against-the-world mentality has long insulated him against the long odds and sure-to-be disappointing ending his career seemed headed for. He braved through the minors and Europe looking for a chance, and he finally got that in Boston.
The burning desire to prove others wrong pushed him to a pair of Vezina Trophies and four All-Star appearances in a career that had most recalling Johnny Bower.
But that isolated, self-involved view also erected a giant wall between the 38-year-old goaltender and the rest of his teammates.
That wall was constructed on harsh words while blaming defenseman for mistakes in front of his net that led to goals, or just plain bizarre behavior from an eccentric personality that at times seemed like hed have been more comfortable in a Michigan militia rather than serving brilliantly as a hockey playoff hero.
Now Thomas has uprooted his family from their full-time home in Boston for a sprawling property in Colorado near Colorado Springs that sources indicate has a bunker in case any wrath of God type stuff starts happening around the world.
His no-trade clause expires on July 1.
Thomas isnt in control of the situation for the first time in a long time as trade rumors swirl around him after a tumultuous 2011-12 season that saw him butt heads with ownership and management. Skipping out on the White House and using his Bruins bully pulpit for his own political agenda is something that scares the heck out of advertisers and sponsors. At a certain point, word came down from high that he needed to shut up, and he complied for the remainder of the season.
But Thomas isnt a guy that likes to be told he cant speak his mind, and the Bruins as an organization have tired of the bizarro world stuff their goaltender has concocted over the years.
So what does Thomas do when it appears his NHL address might change at 38 years old? He once again puts up his me-against-the-world blinders and sends out whispers that hes considering taking a leave of absence for the entire 2011-12 season.
Sure Ken Dryden once took a sabbatical and Dominik Hasek took off a season at 38 years old before playing four more years. (Hasek actually wants to return to the NHL next season.)
But dont be foolish: Thats not what this is about.
Is it a leverage play by Thomas so he wont be traded away from the Bruins?
Is it a threat so that the Bruins will only trade him where he wants to go?
In true passive-aggressive fashion hes not talking about it, just as he refused to talk about his politics when he started making big waves by refusing to take part in a team-wide photo opportunity with President Obama. The stubborn Thomas clearly believes hes been wronged, and hes going to do everything in his power to make life difficult for those he feels have wronged him.
Its impossible for Thomas to let slights brush off him or hide his true feelings when its colored each of his actions and words since January.
That dead-eye determination and unwillingness to bend is what made Thomas a sports savior for the Black and Gold in the first place.
But just like Schilling, what has made once made Thomas great is also proving to be at the heart of his undoing.
Both Boston sports legends were true larger-than-life folk heroes, but now theyre once again flawed human beings, staining legacies that were better left untouched.