Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky: A legendary bond
When it came to No. 9 and No. 99, the bond between Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky spans most of Gretzky’s life.
“The Great One” noted to ESPN that he initially met “Mr. Hockey” when he was about eight or nine years old, the first of many instances in which the two legends crossed paths.
Gretzky volunteers as much time and time again: he believes Howe is the best hockey player of all-time.
“I’m impressed by Crosby, Ovechkin, Stamkos, Toews -- those guys do such great things for our game today,” Gretzky told ESPN in February. “But Gordie Howe is the greatest player who ever lived. There’s not even a question about it. Imagine scoring 20 goals at 50 years old? Jonathan Toews might be the greatest athlete in the game today. He’s not playing at 50 and he’s not scoring 20 goals. Nobody ever will again. It’s a fact.”
One of their early meetings spawned this iconic image, via Sports Illustrated’s Vault:
It was far from the last, however, as the two became intrinsically linked as Gretzky eventually passed Howe for the NHL’s all-time points lead.
They even apparently ended up recreating that photo:
Remarkably, Howe and Gretzky crossed paths on the ice during Howe’s incredibly lengthy, one-of-a-kind playing career:
October 1946: Gordie Howe makes NHL debut.— x-T-Hup - Mattias Ekholm Beard Appreciator (@thupka1982) June 10, 2016
January 1961: Wayne Gretzky is born
February 1980: Howe and Gretzky on opposing All-Star teams.
Gordie Howe played against Maurice Richard and Wayne Gretzky. Think about that.— TJ (@Wpgtjross) June 10, 2016
Gretzky noted on the Dan Patrick Show that people sometimes feel disappointment when they meet their idols, yet Howe lived up to lofty expectations.
Wayne Gretzky told us the other day that he was in a lobby with Gordie Howe and Ali. "One of my personal favorite sports moments."— Paul Pabst (@PaulPabst) June 10, 2016
In this great Sportsnet interview, Gretzky explained the rather simple way that Howe became his favorite player. He also steadfastly sticks to his belief that Howe was the greatest.
“Don’t look at this as I’m breaking your records, look at it as the game’s changed,” Gretzky said when explaining why he asked Howe to be on hand for some of those record-breaking moments.
More than a few people from around the hockey world either agree or at least understand the argument.
Gordie Howe was before my time, but he was my boyhood hero's boyhood hero. Even Gretzky said he was the best.— Adam Watt (@AdamJWatt) June 10, 2016
Sorry, Gretzky lovers. But the truth hurts. Orr/Howe or Howe/Orr were the GOATs. You gotta hit or be hit in hockey, and Wayne did neither.— Bob Ryan (@GlobeBobRyan) June 10, 2016
In the grand scheme of things, those debates aren’t particularly important. It seems pretty clear that Howe and Gretzky formed a bond that transcended the sport, and they knew it.
Update: Gretzky posted this two-part statement on Twitter:
Unfortunately we lost the greatest hockey player ever today, but more importantly the nicest man I have ever met. (1/2)— Wayne Gretzky (@WayneGretzky) June 10, 2016
Sending our thoughts and prayers to the Howe family and to the millions of hockey fans who like me loved Gordie Howe. RIP Mr. Hockey. (2/2)— Wayne Gretzky (@WayneGretzky) June 10, 2016
More on “Mr Hockey.”