Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The day Wayne Gretzky broke his non-crying promise to Mark Messier


You know the Edmontonian phrase "Everyone knows where they were when Gretzky was traded?" Well, I have no idea where I was twenty years ago Aug. 9 to be exact and it's a disappointment that ranks right up there with sleeping through all of 9/11 (eventually I heard a radio report about the collapse of the twin towers as I bought a Dairy Milk bar hardly a flattering portrait of my lifestyle back in 2001 that I wanted freeze-framed for posterity). Nope, I can only presume that I was doing the usual ten year-old things, like building a fort out of sofa cushions or finding tattered porn in the ravine, but I have no recollection of when I first heard about the trade.

Oddly, I remember reading a small story (Terry Jones in Sun?) rumouring of Gretzky's departure a few days before it happened and feeling outraged at the idea, probably as much for the article being the one bum note in what I presume would have been a 120-page 1988 Stanley Cup Champions sports pull-out section at the time.

The press conference itself serves as a demarcation point in Oilers history in which anything during and after that point involves a lot of crying, and the city's sense of civic pride arguably (at least to people that don't like hockey) took more groin shots than the 1990 Cup was worth.

Kurri and Messier were to leave shortly, with guys like David Oliver and Shayne Corson serving as less glorious replacements on the first line, and team owners from then on would never hesitate to remind fans how their city and rink were inadequate in the new era of the NHL, threatening to move the team from time to time. And now, every summer, not unlike a goth teen "cutting" in her room, Edmontonians have to read about their city being a bad destination because it's really cold and inhospitable for hockey players and their wives (of course, it's all overblown, but "is Edmonton good enough?" has been a regular feature every off-season, even before Chris Pronger). The Gretzky trade kick-started the darkest, often most hilarious, era in Oilers history, marked with inadequacy and failure, and it dovetailed rather nicely with my teenage years.

People have often pointed out that the Gretzky trade/sale was great for hockey, that moving the game's poster child out of a small, Northern outpost allowed the league to grow in new, untapped markets in the US. But of course, I kind of hate these people. What do I care about Phoenix or Florida as hockey markets, except as vacation opportunities to catch Oilers games at liquidation prices? I'm kidding, but then again, I'm not kidding at all I don't think the league has been run very well.

In the meantime, for those of you that want to relive the day in which Peter Pocklington sold off the game's greatest player for 1/4th of Rick Dipietro's contract, the NHL Network is revisiting the trade on a new program, A Day The Game Changed, airing Wednesday night at 7pm (Mountain).

23 comments:

ryanbatty said...

I was 9 when Gretzky was traded. I remember clearly where I was and who told me. I thought it was a joke, why would the best player on the planet be traded? I sat about a foot in front of the TV and watch the news just in shock that my favorite plater was no longer an Oiler.

Hard to believe it was 20 years ago.

matt said...

Tattered porn in the ravine? Did you grow up in Red Deer?

mike w said...

Tattered porn in the ravine? Did you grow up in Red Deer?

Why? Was that your tattered porn?

I thought it was common knowledge that all ravines in the 1980s had tattered porn.

DMFB said...

I thought it was common knowledge that all ravines in the 1980s had tattered porn.

One of the great benefits of having your sexual awakening in the digital age was not having to root through poison ivy for faded pictures of tits.

Having said that, poison ivy never stored your request for "faded pictures of tits" for mom and dad to stumble upon later.

mike w said...

There's a generation of men Googling "torn, weather worn, collage-y pictures of naked women" just to get the old feeling back...

Doogie2K said...

Hell, I found a beat-up old Playboy calendar on the sidewalk of my subdivision on the way to the bus just a couple of years ago. I think it was 1996...

Anyway, the NHL can fuck right off with this asinine commemoration. This was The Day the Music Died, for Christ's sake. The spark for the second wave of salary escalation. The spark for a new round of southern expansion. The Point of No Return for the dismantlement of the NHL's last dynasty. The day that lining some douchenozzle's pockets became more important than winning the fucking Cup.

I need to go lie down now.

marriedtotheoil said...

My "Sport and Society" class in college devoted an entire lecture to "Trading Gretzky and Canadian Identity". It was a bit strange to sit in a Pennsylvania auditorium while an American basketball coach and a Dutch sociologist droned on and on about Canadian Identity and hockey. They clearly only knew what was in the Ken Dryden book they'd assigned, and attempting to expand on it was not terribly successful.

I left with the impression that everyone in Edmonton was terminally depressed ever after and had to go back to banging rocks together for fun, their senses of Canadian identity shattered forever.

mike w said...

My "Sport and Society" class in college devoted an entire lecture to "Trading Gretzky and Canadian Identity".

Seriously? Interesting. I wasn't exactly Johnny Jasper Avenue in the 1980s, but I sense that the beer commercial idea of hockey/Canadian identity thing was very played down back then. Someone can correct me if I'm wrong, of course.

Every thing about the NHL pre-Gretzky trade felt like very small potatoes.

garnet said...

Tattered Porn is actually a weed common to many parks and other open spaces. Especially near schools for some reason.

Kirsten said...

I was two months and two days old. I was probably drooling and/or puking on something.

I don't know why the NHL continues to try to have NHL teams in the south. I can see having one in Florida for the snowbirds...maybe, but as for the rest? The American south doesn't give a shit about anything that doesn't have to do with cars, guns, or football.

DMFB said...

I left with the impression that everyone in Edmonton was terminally depressed ever after and had to go back to banging rocks together for fun

If you replaced "banging rocks together" with "stabbing each other," you wouldn't actually be that far off.

Steve said...

Jesus...David Oliver played on our first line?

mike w said...

Jesus...David Oliver played on our first line?

Yes.

It's all horribly true!

Black Dog said...

If you're ever in Sudbury in the woods by Cambrian College and you stumble on a bag of porn that would be mine, by the way.

70s porn.

Thick bush in the thick bush, as it were.

When Gretzky was traded I was working as a summer student, driving to a site in a truck with a buddy. We couldn't believe it.

jamestobrien said...

C'mon, Kirsten. We also love steak and country music.

Love your description of your lifestyle during 9/11. Kind of reminds me of "Shaun of the Dead" - buying drumsticks whilst oblivious of a zombie Armageddon.

Vic Ferrari said...

BDHS said:
When Gretzky was traded I was working as a summer student, driving to a site in a truck with a buddy. We couldn't believe it.


I'm not sure I follow, this is when you found the bag of porn? A big day indeed.

When I was about 10 years old I found tattered porn by the railway tracks. I feel like we've bonded, mike, like we've been living paralell lives. If I find out that you like titties, puppies and beer ... it's gonna freak me out!

Bruce said...

Anyway, the NHL can fuck right off with this asinine commemoration. This was The Day the Music Died, for Christ's sake. The spark for the second wave of salary escalation. The spark for a new round of southern expansion. The Point of No Return for the dismantlement of the NHL's last dynasty. The day that lining some douchenozzle's pockets became more important than winning the fucking Cup.

D2K: Well said. They are selling it as "the trade that changed the fortunes of the Kings". 20 years ago the Kings were perennial losers playing half-assed hockey in a half-full building before half-interested patrons, whereas today they are ...

Ironic that Gretzky himself wound up in a similar situation in one of the Sun Belt "markets" sparked by the "growth of the game".

NHL Network can indeed fuck right off with this asinine commemoration, but the other day I watched that very network as they showed a "classic series" featuring Oilers-Jets in '85. It was an hour show but it lasted a little longer than that as I kept hitting the 15-second rewind button on my PVR to review various moments of Gretzky genius, which I found were still making me gasp even after all these years. (Highlight reels are all well and good, but for context game action footage is where it's at.) Fortunately the 9.9 years he spent in Edmonton were the very best of his astonishing career.

By the way, "douchenozzles" is definitely plural.

Kirsten said...

C'mon, Kirsten. We also love steak and country music.

My bad, I forgot those two. I associate both those things with Wisconsin, though. California and the south are two very different animals.

Doogie2K said...

By the way, "douchenozzles" is definitely plural.

It was intended to refer to Pocklington, specifically, but you're right, the collective sense is probably more accurate as a general statement.

Lord Bob said...

On September 11, 2021, are we going to have to hear some talking heads about how the Twin Towers going down was a good thing because it spread western democracy to non-traditional markets like Afghanistan and Iraq?

I was one and a half when Gretzky was traded, so my memories aren't the most poignant. But, bizarrely enough, I do remember where I was when I learned Gretzky was traded: one of my toys as a youngster was a really shabby Oilers doll with '99' on his back. I remember sitting on the couch and talking to my dad about it and my dad telling me that Gretzky was the greatest hockey player who ever lived until he was sold to California by a meat packer.

My dad was a Leafs fan but my memory (I was, like, five, mind you) is that he was still choked up about it.

marriedtotheoil said...

"I was two months and two days old. I was probably drooling and/or puking on something...."
"I was one and a half when Gretzky was traded, so my memories aren't the most poignant...."


Aww geez, I feel old now. *grin*

The sport and society class I mentioned earlier was my first exposure really to the Oilers and their franchise history, ironically. The class itself was ungodly boring (Dryden was the best book; something called "Freedom for Catalonia" was definitely the worst--I would have greatly preferred some tattered porn) but reading about the loss of Gretzky made me feel a bit of kinship as a Red Sox fan. Little did I imagine I'd be screaming my lungs out during games wearing a Horcoff jersey so many years down the line...

Doogie2K said...

Well, I was five weeks from two, if that makes anyone feel any better.

Black Dog said...

Vic - that was actually my job as a student - porneologist - we discovered and recovered tattered porn all over Northern Ontario