Derek Sanderson Didn't Always Smoke and Pray at the Same Time

Now 66, Sanderson revisits the days of being one of the baddest Bruins in town.

To write a truly complete autobiography, Derek Sanderson probably would’ve needed 5,000 pages. Among other things, the mustached former Boston Bruin, now 66, won Stanley Cup rings in 1970 and ’72, became the highest-paid athlete in the world, drove a Rolls-Royce, opened a bar with Joe Namath (and also invested in Daisy Buchanan’s on Newbury Street), did a lot of drugs, and eventually drank his way out of hockey and into disrepair.

His new book, Crossing the Line: The Outrageous Story of a Hockey Original, is co-authored by Kevin Shea and packs plenty into its 400 pages. Here’s the cover art:

derek sanderson

“I should be in jail or dead,” the long-sober Sanderson, who’s now a financial adviser, said last week. “By the grace of God … he protects fools and drunks.”

It’s fitting then that the front cover of Crossing the Line features a photograph of the then 24-year-old Sanderson in which he’s squinting, smoking, and mockingly praying. “Everybody in hockey at that time smoked in the [dressing] room,” said Sanderson, whose brand at the time was Export ‘A.’ “You could smoke two [cigarettes] between periods if you didn’t undo your skates.”

The, um, unique portrait, which today might cause an athlete’s publicist to spontaneously combust, actually first graced the cover of the January 1971 issue of Boston under the headline “The Beatification of Derek Sanderson”:

derek sanderson

The accompanying profile by Jon Klarfeld includes several gems. Like this:

Sanderson’s problems with hockey fans aren’t confined to those who don’t like him. His loyal rooters also cause him some degree of grief. “Bobby Orr gets all the mature fans,” he complains. “I get all the freaks.”

And this:

He rejects his swinger image, preaches against excess. “I don’t drink, myself. I’ve seen booze reduce people to vegetables. Cool guys and classy girls, I mean, getting really disgusting on booze.

“But not on marijuana.”

The pixie smile flashes, the bombs-away grin.

Do you smoke marijuana? “The Fifth!”

Do you think marijuana should be legalized? Again he takes the Fifth Amendment.

Sanderson leans forward in his chair again. “Hey,” he says, “put it in your story just like that. Then people won’t know whether I do or I don’t.”

The story behind the cover photo differs slightly depending on who tells it. What’s certain is that it was taken by photographer John van-Schalkwyk (who professionally went by John van-S.) at his studio on Washington Street, near the old Jordan Marsh building. The day of the shoot, van-Schalkwyk said, Sanderson was in no condition to be photographed. “When he came down to the studio, he was pretty drunk,” van-Schalkwyk said. “We couldn’t work with him. We drove him home.” The next morning, however, Sanderson was in better shape. On Day 2, he worked with van-Schalkwyk until at least the middle of the afternoon.

According to Sanderson, the money shot was actually a candid outtake, captured with Polaroid film after van-Schalkwyk finally granted his subject a smoke break. Sanderson said he was so happy, he put his hands together and sarcastically thanked God. According to van-Schalkwyk, the pose was planned. By who? He’s not sure. Maybe the art director. But he does vividly remember taking the resulting photo with a Hasselblad 500C camera loaded with Ektachrome film.

The picture ended up on the Boston cover, and to this day, Sanderson still signs copies of it. Currently, van-Schalkwyk is enjoying retirement in Nova Scotia. To his surprise, the publisher of Crossing the Line recently contacted him about licensing the Sanderson photo. And so a bizarre, almost 42-year-old portrait of a smoking, praying pro hockey player lives on. Thank God for that.