The eighties, the nineties – those were the days. When life was a far simpler proposition and the hustle and bustle of the modern day was not quite upon us yet. I-phones, I-pads, laptops, the internet; modern technology may not have arrived, but, like past and present, there were still a bevy of superstars strutting their stuff in every arena of life.
Since the dawn of time, talent has gone out of its way to discriminate. In its indomitable, timeless mode, it takes no prisoners. You’ve either got it, or not.
That much has never changed. Needless to say, those of superstar status, with their imperious talents, showed us all the way forward.
They were the ones who inspired us with their actions, shining the torch of hope upon our dreams, daring our minds to wander from the drudgery of our everyday existences of the average, teasing us with the tantalising taste buds of desire that is fame and fortune, but, most of all, giving us hope that we too could, one day, become something special.
Deep down, though, there will always be the nagging suspicion eroding away at the confidence of the lesser lights of the world that they couldn’t light a match to the talents of such folk.
There has been many a star over the years. As always, some shone brighter than others and some for longer than others. And in one particular sport, there was a supernova that began to form, one that may never be matched again.
As early as 1979 – when he debuted for the Edmonton Oilers - it could be seen to be on the march, expanding its horizons ever so more broadly by the match. It was the year in which an 18 year old Canadian boy from Brantford, Ontario announced his presence to the world of Ice Hockey. That lad, Wayne Gretzky, wasn’t physically the biggest or strongest in the land, but that didn’t stop him from dominating the game for the best part of two decades.
Rarely in life does one person dominate a particular sphere as thoroughly as he did. This, though, came as no surprise to those that saw him in action. In Gretzky, they saw the future, a competitor that could, and did, take the game to new heights.
That he was not confined by the limitations of others only goes to provide a glimpse of the perfectionist in him. He was never one to indulge in such frivolous traits such as self-satisfaction, for, the great one - as he was, and still is known - relentlessly forged on in his quest to be all that he could be.
For, he had it all. Physical attributes became him, but unlike the majority, Gretzky was blessed with the intelligence and mental fortitude to go with the natural talent he was born with.
Pressure was something to be scoffed at. He handled it as only the truly great do. Not for him to go spiralling into a meltdown, freezing under the glare of the headlights that invite sweat-inducing realities to persist in putting unmanageable stumbling blocks in front of the weak and the meek.
And he was forever a target. How could he not be? After all, he was just that good that his foe regularly went in search of him, intent on damming his talent with the physical intimidation that is part and parcel of the great game. But his quicksilver mind was always one step ahead, allowing him to avoid the physical punishment that could dampen his ability to set up either himself or a teammate for scoring opportunities.
This allowed the steady hand of serenity that was his nectar to regularly sweep his undeniable talents across the icy arenas of North America as his sturdy mind traversed the rocky mountain tops of the wild wintery Canadian white-outs where he inevitably ended up surpassing all before him while letting his raging torrent of talent run free, blowing away with consummate ease the fleeting chances of his foe, creating a gale force performance, time after time, leading to a spellbinding tour de force of magnanimous munificence that was larger than life itself as it crystallized itself into a ever-expanding mane of self-styled excellence that emanated its way across the prairies of success, precipitating a twenty year span where he held the fortunes of his team – and the opposition’s - in the palm of his hand, leaving all before him spellbound by the soft velvet touch of his game day stick as it gently sifted its way harmoniously through opposition defences as his peerless talent soared towards yet another of his 849 career goal scoring crescendos.
Those heights simply couldn’t be matched by anyone else. So far ahead of the competition was he, that he is still the only player in the NHL history to score 200 points in a season. And, get this; Gretzky achieved this on four occasions.
Talk about the personification of greatness.
Nothing lasts forever, though.
And how does one escape the ravages of time? The simple answer is that none of us can, but in Gretzky’s case he called time to his stellar career on his own terms. Having spent the better part of twenty years dedicating his talents to the Oilers and, then, the Los Angeles Kings, he had held that much dreaded enemy at bay for what had seemed like an eternity. In the end though, at the age of thirty-eight, the hall of famer and holder of 1487 appearances in the NHL moved out of the playing ranks and into a team ownership role.
It is a record that is beyond compare, one that may well stand the test of time and see the name Gretzky up in lights for all time.
Yes, he was the greatest. Will he be surpassed in time as the greatest? Who really knows. What we can say for sure is that if the day comes when this becomes a reality, then it is going to be one truly freakish player that knocks the king off his perch.
Unlike the great Gatsby, Gretzky didn’t have to pretend to be someone else to make a difference. All he had to do was be himself, to turn up week in, week out and compete to his potential. This, he did.
Of course, he will forever be the great Gretzky.