DETROIT — Wayne Gretzky doesn’t have much say in these matters, but the man known as The Great One said Tuesday he would like to see Gordie Howe’s No. 9 retired by the NHL in honor of his idol, Howe, who died Friday at age 88.
Gretzky’s number, No. 99, is retired throughout the league. Gretzky wore No. 99 in honor of Howe.
“I’m pretty biased,” Gretzky said during the public visitation for Howe at Joe Louis Arena. “If I had my way, I would do it. But that’s for the league. I’m not involved with the league right now. But listen, whatever they choose to do is going to be very special because Gordie deserves something really special and unique.
“I don’t think anybody helped promote, support the game, the sport or our country better than Gordie Howe. He was proud to be a Canadian, proud to be from Saskatchewan. And I don’t think the NHL is going to overlook the fact of how important he was to the game, so I’m sure they are going to do something real special for him.”
Hundreds of mourners showed up in the early hours of the public visitation for Howe at Joe Louis Arena in downtown Detroit. The Red Wings set up the inner bowl of the arena almost like a church, with Howe’s retired jersey hanging at the center, where Howe’s children spent time greeting mourners who came to pay their respects.
The public visitation, which Gretzky, Al Kaline, Scotty Bowman and other Detroit dignitaries attended, was scheduled to last 12 hours — from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. — before Wednesday’s funeral, also in Detroit.
Howe’s retired No. 9 jersey was lowered to just above his casket, and the Stanley Cup banners he helped the Red Wings win in the early 1950s were lowered off to each side. Video monitors below the banners showed a streaming gallery of pictures, including some from the early part of his career in the 1940s, some from near the end of it when he played professional hockey with his sons, and some from after he hung up his skates.
For Gretzky, there was no chance he would miss this chance to remember his idol. Gretzky said that being asked by Howe’s children to be a pallbearer is one of the greatest honors of his life, along with meeting Pope John Paul II and lighting the Olympic torch in Vancouver.
Gretzky broke Howe’s points (1,850) and goals (801) records, and he said part of what made that special was Howe’s excitement about Gretzky setting new records — Howe was almost as excited as he would be if he were breaking the marks himself.
“He was everything to me,” Gretzky said. “He was a second father. He was a mentor. We played golf together. We did commercials together. We had a lot of time for each other doing things together.
“Now, had we played a lot against each other in the 1960s, we would have battled each other until the end. But I was lucky enough to be part of it today, and it was something that I’ll never forget.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.