I cried. Oh, yes I did.
This morning I watched the jersey retirement ceremony of Mark Messier that took place in Edmonton last night before the game against the Phoenix Coyotes (who are partly owned and wholly coached by former Oiler teammate, and all-time Great One, Wayne Gretzky).
Sometimes you measure a man by the contents of his heart.
Messier was born and raised in Edmonton and he grew up playing all his minor league hockey there. I can remember talk about him when he was playing for the minor league teams, right before he was drafted by the Oilers in '79 to play for the new Edmonton Oilers as they were to make their debut in the National Hockey League. I have a particular memory of this, sitting in the cafeteria at school, talking to friends, between food fights.
Anyway, at 18, he was drafted along with Gretzky to play for the Oilers. They made their league debut at home against the Perennial Kings of the league, the Montreal Canadiens. Gretzky and Messier beat them almost single-handedly, and the league was abuzz with what was about to happen in Edmonton.
The rest is history, as Gretz and Mess lead the team to 5 Stanley Cup championships, amassing an astonishing pile of league records and awards, still standing to this day.
Messier had an intensity unparalleled even to this day. So many times, when the team came out from the second intermission, you could tell something bad happened in the locker room, and now the game BELONGED to Messier. He had this steel look, and he gave it to everyone sitting on the bench, as if to say, this game is now mine - get on my back, we're about to win. Now.
And when the opposing team got a look at the "Look", they pretty much knew it was Game Over. He never stepped away from dropping his gloves, tossing a well-placed elbow, skating through anyone in the way. There was an intensity there that has never been matched.
Many call him the greatest leader any team sport has ever produced. For good reason.
In addition to retiring his jersey, the city also named a major thoroughfare after him, honoring the little suburb where he lived with his family, and where his parents still live today.
If you're interested, you can look at the city ceremony here. And you can watch the 9-part video of the retirement ceremony here. There is also a photo slide-show of the ceremony here.