Thursday, January 27, 2011

Gretzky at 50 - why do we care?

Wayne Gretzky is not dead. He's 50. So are Jari Kurri, Guy Carbonneau, Mike McPhee, Hakan Loob and Walt Poddubny, but there was no blanket media coverage of their 50th birthdays like there was for Gretzky yesterday. I know he's the Great One and all, but come on, it was his birthday. We went through all those same interviews, accolades, restrospectives and highlights 12 years ago when he retired, and they'll be in the can for his inevtitable passing, which - God willing - won't be for another 30 years at least. On a deeper psychological level, the fuss is probably less about Gretzky than it is about the passage of time, and how old it makes the rest of us if Wayne Gretzky is 50.
At 52, I'm Gretzky's chronological peer, and frankly, it's encouraging to have someone of his stature accompany me into the early stages of geezerhood. You want old? My great grandmother, of whom I have fond and distinct memories before she passed at 97, was born in 1873, which means I personally knew someone who probably knew someone who fought in the Napoleonic Wars. Age is a matter of perspective. Fifty is old if you're 20 but young when you're 70, and if we're going to measure our own mortality by the age of retired hockey players, Gretzky hitting 50 is a lot less jarring to me than the fact that Terry Harper turns 71 today and Jean Beliveau is seven months shy of 80.
Any way you measure it, happy birthday, Wayne, and many happy returns. Sorry I didn't get you a present.


  1. That is the finest Walt Poddubny reference I have read in years.

  2. We care that Gretzky is 50 because he was a remarkable player, perhaps the greatest hockey player ever. He generated interest in the NHL in markets that one would never think to put an NHL team. 20 or 25 years ago, would you have imagined that states like Florida, Texas, or Arizona would be home to an NHL team? Gretzky's dominance of the game increased ice hockey's popularity from coast to coast across the United States.