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Despite the accolades, Gretzky's still as humble as ever

Nov. 22, 1999
By Michael J. Happy
SportsLine Staff Writer

TORONTO -- Truth be told, it had become Wayne's World years ago.

 
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Long before now, the Hockey Hall of Fame already was loaded with tons of Wayne Gretzky memorabilia: everything from milestone pucks, sticks and sweaters -- not to mention the half-dozen or so trophies, including the Stanley Cup, with his name engraved all over them.

Still, on the day he was to officially become a member of the Hall -- sort of like telling the Pope he's Catholic -- Gretzky continued to be truly humbled by the fact he belonged among his childhood heroes: Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull, Maurice Richard and Jean Beliveau.

"Today's a real highlight for me," Gretzky said. "As I've told a lot of people already, it's kind of the icing on the cake."

A mammoth cake -- one that has been baking for more than 35 years, when The Great One first laced up a pair of skates and wobbled onto a backyard rink on Varadi Avenue in Brantford, Ontario.

Back then, Gretzky often visited the Hall with his father, Walter, and while walking past the many exhibits, dreamed of playing in the NHL. But the young Gretzky never dared to hope he would achieve hockey's highest honor.

"I would come down here for hours, look at the pictures, the old hockey sweaters, the old hockey sticks," Gretzky said. "There were no interactive games back then. The Hall of Fame was, you stood there, you read and you absorb everything that was part of the Hall of Fame.

"I don't think we ever think we're good enough at that age to think that we're going to be in the Hall of Fame. But there's no question that I would stand there for hours, hoping that one day I would get a chance to play in the NHL."

Gretzky got his chance to play all right and then broke nearly every scoring record during his 20-year career. He also won four Stanley Cups, nine Hart Trophies, two Conn Smythe Trophies and had more career assists (1,961) than any other player has points.

"I put my heart into every game," Gretzky said. "I felt that I had never done enough. If I had three goals, I wanted five goals. If I had seven points, I wanted eight."

One glance at the new Gretzky exhibit at the Hall pretty much sums up how much he wanted to achieve. Visitors there will find about a half-dozen showcases stocked with everything Gretzky and, among those cases, numerous side items -- such as the net into which he scored career goal No. 802, breaking the record held by Howe.

But while others pay homage to him and his accomplishments, Gretzky remains unimpressed with himself.

Said Gretzky: "I probably miss the game more than the game misses Wayne Gretzky."

Based on the record attendance at Monday's media briefing with Gretzky and the two other inductees -- former referee Any Van Hellemond and former chairman of the Hall Ian Morrison -- nothing could be further from the truth. Gretzky was, and still is, the NHL, until somebody can wrest the title from him, which he is certain will happen.

Wayne Gretzky looks at one of the many cases in The Great One's exhibit in the Hockey Hall of Fame. 
Wayne Gretzky looks at one of the many cases in The Great One's exhibit in the Hockey Hall of Fame.(AP) 

"There was Gordie Howe and then along came Bobby Orr," Gretzky said. "Bobby Orr retired and then along came Guy Lafleur. We always have these great star players that will carry the torch and push the league to new levels."

When Gretzky called it quits last April, his emotions peaked at new levels as well -- both highs and lows. But Gretzky said he finally is at peace and looked the part as he donned his new blue blazer with the Hall insignia embroidered over the left pocket.

"It's tough to compare today with the last game, because the emotions were so high, from so many different directions," Gretzky said. "By that I mean, I was really understanding of where my emotions were and that it was time to retire. And yet I had a lot of other people that were trying to influence me to stay on and continue playing.

"Today, all our emotions are on the same page. Everybody's just excited that I'm part of the Hall of Fame."

He did it his way

Outside of losing in the Stanley Cup Finals as a member of the Los Angeles Kings in 1993, Gretzky claims to have few regrets about his career. In fact, he has only one wish remaining.

"That I can come back and play again like I did when I was 20," he said.

Since that's not going to happen, Gretzky, 38, promised he wouldn't pull a Lafleur and attempt a comeback after his induction into the Hall.

"I wish I could still play," Gretzky said. "But I said this before: I'm only going to retire one time and I'm officially retired."

Who's next?

Gretzky is the first member of the Edmonton Oilers dynasty to be inducted into the Hall. But he doesn't think he will be the last.

Among the other Oilers players Gretzky hopes will join him someday are Kevin Lowe, Paul Coffey, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri and Glenn Anderson.

"The list just keeps going," Gretzky said. "As a friend and a teammate, I hope they all get in."

Dressed for success

Morrison, who entered the Hall in the "Builder Category," called the day one of the biggest thrills in his life. It meant so much to him that he planned to show up for the induction ceremony dressed in full Scottish digs.

"There's no greater honor for a father than to escort his lovely daughter down the aisle when she got married," said Morrison, who has Scottish roots and played a major role in getting the current Hall opened at the corner of Front and Younge streets in 1993.

"I've had that honor four times, and four times I've worn my kilts and my Scottish formal outfit. And I'm going to equate the honor of doing that with the honor tonight. So when you see me in my kilts, don't fall over."

Gretzky didn't fall over in his chair when he heard Morrison's plan. But Gretzky couldn't help but comment.

"Thank god I'm Polish," he said.

Happy anniversary

For Van Hellemond, whose illustrious career featured calling 18 consecutive Cup Finals, his induction was made even more special because it fell on the 27th anniversary of his very first game, at Chicago Arena.

"I'm anxious," said Van Hellemond, who was obviously uncomfortable in the spotlight. "I'd rather be calling the seventh game of the Stanley Cup Finals. But it's a great way to celebrate my first game."