99 is 46
When I was about 18, I was over at a friend’s house. His dad was sitting there reading the paper, and my buddy and I were watching what passed for “sports news” on television back in those days. A Wayne Gretzky highlight reel came on, showing the young WHA phenom, a mere 17 years old at the time.
“Hey dad,” said my friend, “That guy is younger than me.”
His dad peered around the newspaper briefly to have a look and said, “Yeah? So what the hell have you been doing with your life?”
A few months later, Oct. 10, 1979 to be exact, I found myself in the old Chicago Stadium, watching the season opener between the local (to me, at the time) Blackhawks and the Edmonton Oilers. It was Edmonton’s first game in the NHL after the merger between the league and the WHA, and it was Gretzky’s first game in the NHL. He was just 18.
The Hawks won 4-2, and Gretzky picked up the first of his 1,963 NHL assists and his 2,857 NHL points.
I’ve mentioned in this space before that I am a bit of a packrat. I tucked that ticket stub away, not because I saw it as anything special at the time, but just because that’s what I do after I come home from a hockey, baseball, football game or a concert. Throw the stub in a box. Must be close to a thousand of them now.
A few years ago, I was rummaging through the box just to see what was in there, and I came across the Gretzky stub. Wow, I thought. This is really something. I hadn’t really thought about it much at all over the years, the fact that I had seen The Great One’s first NHL game and had held on to the ticket stub.
I don’t collect autographs at all, but I thought it would be cool to get the stub signed and display it in a frame in my office at home. I’ve got framed and signed Dale Hunter and Rod Langway prints on the wall in there, and that’s it. I’ve never been an autograph seeker, but I decided long ago I would make an exception in the cases of Gretzky, Gordie Howe and Bobby Orr.
Wayne down, two to go.
Gretzky signed my ticket stub minutes after his Phoenix Coyotes edged the Capitals 3-2 on New Year’s Day. I can lose my job for soliciting autographs, so I went through channels and had someone with authority handle it for me. He brought it back and handed it to me and said, “It doesn’t look like my handwrirting, right?”
Yesterday was Wayne’s 46th birthday, hope it was a good one. The Yotes’ shootout win over Colorado couldn’t have hurt any.