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The Key Man Is Sharper
Jack Falla
February 18, 1985
In his sixth NHL season, the Oilers' Wayne Gretzky is better than ever, but he still hasn't reached his best
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February 18, 1985

The Key Man Is Sharper

In his sixth NHL season, the Oilers' Wayne Gretzky is better than ever, but he still hasn't reached his best

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Throughout the Super Bowl, Gretzky has been taking phone calls, some concerning his planned purchase of a Junior A team, probably the Hull (Que.) Olympiques. "You've got to have some fun with your money," he says, though he adds, "I'm usually a low-risk guy. I'm happy to turn $100,000 into $150,000 instead of trying to turn it into $4 million."

Gretzky estimates he has seven to 10 more years in the NHL, and he rules out the possibility of staying in the game as a coach or G.M. "What I do is instinctive," he says. "I feel my way down the ice. I see where I want to go, and I go there. How could I coach that?" But he can see himself as an owner.

In the meantime, he's perhaps doubling his $1 million-a-year playing income—his contract with Oiler owner Peter Pocklington extends through 1999—with endorsements and the commercials he does for Travelers Insurance, Canon cameras, Titan hockey sticks, Nike sportswear, William Neilson Ltd., a chocolate company, Mattel toys and his own General Mills cereal, Pro Stars. It's no wonder he has all those sources of outside income, because he's undoubtedly the most recognizable and well-liked hockey player in history. A study of public recognition and popularity in the U.S. of 110 sports personalities was made last April by Marketing Evaluations/TvQ. In it, Gretzky ranked only slightly below the average for all athletes in familiarity, 37% vs. 44%, which is astonishing considering that hockey is popular mainly in the Northern states. And he's well above the average in Q rating (a measure of how well he is liked by those familiar with him), with a score of 23, compared with the average of 14.

But what's not to like?

Besides making corporate pitches, Gretzky is a spokesman for several charities, including the Canadian Association for the Mentally Retarded, for which he and Joey Moss have just completed a national television spot. Joey, 22, a victim of Down's syndrome, works as the Oilers' clubhouse boy, a job Gretzky helped him get, but which he keeps on his own.

"Wayne really loves Joey," says Habscheid. "If anyone ever did anything to Joey, Wayne would go crazy." The relationship lends credence to Gretzky's assertion that he looks forward to someday "getting married and having kids."

He also looks forward, according to Lowe, "not just to breaking more records but to someday taking his place with the almighties, the immortals—the Howes, the Béliveaus, the guys who led their teams to repeat Stanley Cups."

The Great Gretzky is very much with us, but the Kid is a kid no longer.

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