Met Wayne Gretzky
A Brush With Greatness
by Seamus Gallivan
most of us, greatness is a carrot on a stick that's too far stuck. But
on an unsuspecting corner - for an unforgettable moment - I held greatness
in the palm of my hand.
packed peninsula of Pinellas County faded further as I drove over Tampa
Bay on the Howard Frankland Bridge, and the sight of Raymond James Stadium
due northeast said that the mainland of Tampa proper was within reach.
A generous baker's dozen of fog lights flashed frantically around the
stadium into the clear late January sky - it was the eve of Super Bowl
35, and the sub-tropic town was turned upside down.
cookie-cutter voice of "The Animal" - the idiotically named
local sports radio station - said that the place to be was the Cuban
Club in Ybor City, site of the NFL Player's Association Party. I knew
Ybor would be the hotspot anyway - the bar-laden 20-block strip is a
booming boozefest every weekend - so I breezed through downtown bound
for Seventh Street. The madness was magnified by the fact that this
was all going down at the same time as Gasparilla, Tampa's own mini-Mardi
Gras that celebrates the right to drink and be immoderately merry in
the middle of the street. After a pit stop for some Guinness tallboys,
I cruised into my clandestine Ybor free parking spot, an abandoned collision
shop at the foot of the strip, and geared up for some good time gawkin'.
the Cuban Club was a line of limos and assorted call cars surrounded
by three-piece suits and four-figure call girls. It was a dapper scene,
and with the finest clearance rack shirt, shorts, and sandals, and pockets
full of beers, I was happy to bring down the class of the whole affair.
I stood among some of the toughest nails around, from Daunte Culpepper
to Hacksaw Jim Duggan - surely Jimbo was somewhere inside. Even a few
of football's pretty people were on display - Dan Marino appeared to
have a fresh perm and manicure, and the home team's loudest jackass,
Keyshawn Johnson, was standing chin up and chest out as if he had any
clout. The thrill of elbow-rubbing wore off quick as the local yokels
stroked "Me-shawn's" erroneous ego, the overrated receiver
throwing his arms up to the chanting of his name. That was about all
I could stand - I flew the coop in what turned out to be one of the
greatest-timed departures of my life.
the next corner, I looked down the block and immediately froze still.
Walking straight at me, unflanked, was one Wayne Gretzky - only the
greatest hockey player who has ever lived! Growing up idolizing Mike
Ramsey, I knew to stand tall and hold my ground when the Great One was
drawing near. But he wasn't trying to get around me - he approached
me with a indifferent look that suggested he had no idea that as a little
tike I used to stay up way past midnight to watch him play on a tiny
black and white TV in my room, the next day in the street trying to
pull off the new moves I learned. It was a once in a lifetime moment
- I had to say something.
decades of adoration, the best I could come up with was, "Wayne,
can I shake your hand?" He looked beyond me as he obliged, like
I was some scrub rookie on a team he'd just swept in the first round
of the playoffs. And just like for that rookie, it was still a thrill,
a rush that made me want to jump into the air in celebration, even though
I'd really accomplished nothing.
kept walking, content that I'd had my moment without pestering the guy.
But after a few steps, I turned around to see that the man was still
flying solo! I began to turn around, dreaming up exciting scenarios
of a night on the town with the Great One, full of V.I.P. rooms, crazy
old-time hockey stories, drinkin' out of the Stanley Cup, and all kinds
of knee-slappin' laughs. But just then, and just like in the old days,
there came that salty goon Marty McSorley, with a bunch of no-good goon
buddies, ready to break up any nonsense that any schmuck like me or
Kenny Linseman tried to draw number 99 into. I wisely retreated.
I'll always have that moment, and I'll always bore my friends with it.