Happy Birthday Wayne

10/08/2018 Posted by admin

The above picture was takenin March, 1989 at the Edmonton International Airport. That’s me, in the background (grey cap, grey & red coat). I had just met my idle Wayne Gretzky and couldn’t have been more elated. Although, 15 minutes earlier I was the grumpiest kid on earth.

My family was taking a trip to Edmonton to stay at the mall and catch an Oilers game. I couldn’t wait, I was so excited to stay in one of the rooms, go to the waterpark, hit fantasyland (now Galaxyland) and ofcourse, go watch my OIlers take on Gretzky and the Kings. I’d been to Oilers games before and had the chance to see Gretzky play, but this was different. It would be the first time I’d see him in a different jersey.

Problem was, our plane was just a little late and the shuttle that ws suppose to take us to WEM was gone. We’d have to wait an extra hour for it to return. I was so angry, I sulked like the 11 year old that I was. How could this be happening already? My trip from heaven seemed to be starting off you know where. Sitting in this airport for an hour was going to cut into my trip time and I was not pleased about it.

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But then, something amazing happened. A man walked through the empty baggage are in a fur coat. Yes, it seemed odd that he had a fur coat on, but that wasn’t what struck me. The blonde haired man looked very familiar. In fact he looked exactly like, Robbie Ftorek. It was. The coach of the LA Kings was standing there right before my eyes. The next moments are a blur, but between my mom and me, my autograph book was found and a suddenly shy 11 year old boy was asking this amazing figure to sign my book.

He did it without hesitation and then said, “If you wait around the players will be coming thru.”

“Even Gretzky?” I asked with pure amazement.

“Yes,” said Ftorek.

I couldn’t believe it. Was it? Could it? Is there even a chance it was true. Well, I quickly found out that it was.

The Great One didn’t check luggage or if he did, somebody else was getting it for him. The man just walked about normally. Brisk and with purpose, but just as you would if you are trying to get on your shuttle to go to the hotel. I was in awe. There he was. No helmet or skates. No sweater or stick. Just Wayne.

Quickly we tried to grab his attention by calling for him and for a minute it seemed like he would never stop. When it seemed as if this moment was about to end with just a sighting, he did what he always does. He stopped, turned and smiled. He was going to sign my book!! I don’t remember what he said. I can’t recall watching him sign. The overload in my mind was too much. The Greatest One had stopped for me. Nothing else mattered for the rest of the trip. Nothing.

Fast forward ten years. Its 1999, February. Gretzky and the Rangers are in town to face the Oilers. Normally a who cares, but with rumours swirling that Wayne is to retire at seasons end, this game will prove to be Gretzky’s last in Edmonton. His final act in a place that he had created so many wonderful scenes. I don’t remeber who won or lost. Can’t tell you who scored or was in goal. All I remember was the booing that the hometown Oilers got if the took the puck from Gretzky. What a scene.

After the game my brother and I went downstairs and were able to hang outside the visitors locker room. Normally its a ghosttown under there. TV production people, print reporters and some family and friends. Its a restricted area, so its hard to get there and really, there isn’t much point. This night however was diffferent. It was crammed. Absolutely packed. It had a rock concert feel right before the big act hits the stage. Everyone was waiting, hoping, seeking to catch a glimpse of Wayne.

As he emerged from the locker room, the crowd began to shout his name triumphantly, but the Great One looked exhausted. Surrounded by 4 RCMP officers they shuffled their way thru the crowd. As he went by, close enough to touch, I felt a moment of sadness. This is his life. Always surrounded. Always being pulled at. Always the focus. Is it wrong that I compare him to Jesus? It just felt like this glorious leader was done and being walked by the masses towards the end.

As he moved slowly forward thru the crowd, he made his way toward the bus. Now, there is usually a roped off area near the bus where a few fans are allowed to gather to get autographs and such from visiting players. Same deal this night. And take a stab at who stopped and signed autographs for the fans. As tired as he was. As emotional as it had to be. The man still stopped and did what he always does. Amazes us.

Happy Birthday Wayne.

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