Sidney Crosby stepped up onto the dais at CONSOL Energy Center like he's seemingly done so many times over the last 13 months. He sat down next to Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Ray Shero, like he's done so many times over the last 13 months. He answered questions about his injury status from a curious group of reporters, like he's done time and time again.
And when he stepped down 20 minutes later, shaking hands with one cameraman as he left the room, it seemed almost like that guy was his last connection with the outside world. Like he was going away for a long time again, maybe to prison or on a long vacation. Crosby was walking back behind the curtain -- a curtain that represents all the frustration, cluelessness and confusion that's surrounded his head/neck injury since January 2011.
Neither Crosby or Shero told us anything new while at the podium. More "we'll keep working at it." More "I still have symptoms, but I'm feeling better." More "Sidney won't return until he's completely symptom-free."
It's the same thing we've heard for months, but now, it's even more confusing than ever.
He's seen team doctors. He's seen outside specialists from Los Angeles to Pittsburgh to Philadelphia. They've all consulted with Crosby, the Penguins, and each other. Yet at the most basic level, we don't even know if he has a concussion right now, let alone whatever else is going on with his neck.
One doctor, Robert Bray in L.A., said last week that he had a neck fracture, but the latest diagnosis from Dr. Alex Vaccaro in Philly on Monday is completely counter to that -- just a soft-tissue injury in his neck. Regardless of the severity, we don't know when Crosby suffered that neck injury. It could've been during his return attempt earlier this season, or it could've been a year ago.
Maybe that soft-tissue problem is what's causing the concussion symptoms. Maybe it's an actual concussion causing the concussion symptoms. We just don't know. We have no clue. The doctors don't seem to have any clue either, and they certainly don't have a consensus.
It's natural to think that the Penguins are hiding something. They've been dealing with this for 13 months, and they still don't have any concrete answers? That seems impossible, especially when he's seen a thousand different doctors over that time period. Surely the best doctors in the world have to know what's going on, but they don't. That's the frustrating truth of head injuries, and if we've come to know anything in the last year of this saga, it's this fact.
The Pens aren't hiding things. They're just as clueless as we are. So are the doctors. So is Sidney Crosby.
The one thing we did gain from this press conference on Tuesday night, unlike so many of the other press conferences we've seen since last January, is a glimmer of hope. There's the slight possibility here that Crosby doesn't have a concussion, and that this could all be something that's just in the soft tissue.
"It's something that I can work on," Crosby told us all Tuesday night. "I can come in and get my neck worked on and there's a pretty big possibility that could be causing some of the issues. I really hope that's the case, and hope that with some treatment it'll improve and that's hopefully the end of it. I think that being able to come in and work on that, and not just sitting around hoping to get rid of the symptoms."
"You're dealing with these symptoms and there's no magic to get rid of them, but if [the neck injury] is contributing, then I can obviously treat and work on over the next little bit and hopefully see those go away."
It's hope. Crosby's walking back behind the curtain yet again, and we have no idea when he'll emerge. But while we still have zero answers on what exactly plagues hockey's best player, he's leaving this time with the hope that answers could surface soon.
It's been a really frustrating 13 months for fans, media, doctors, the Penguins and Crosby himself, but it seems like now there's at least a chance that next time he steps to the podium, we'll start replacing questions with answers.