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Humor him, I said to myself on that February morning in 1974 when my father phoned from Quebec City, where he was coaching the Boston Junior Braves in the annual International Pee Wee Hockey Tournament. Let his enthusiasm spend itself unopposed by my common sense.
"Do you know any college coaches who'd like to win about four NCAA championships?" my father had asked.
I said that he must have been out looking at the 16- to 19-year-olds in the Canadian junior leagues.
"No. This one's a Pee Wee," he said. "He just turned 13. His father says he might go to college if he doesn't turn pro. The boy could be the best thing since Orr." That sounded compelling, until my father explained that, no, the kid wasn't that strong or fast or possessed of a particularly hard shot.
"What can he do?" I asked.
"He's a genius at scoring goals."
I asked who he was.
"Wayne Gretzky," my father said. "Remember his name."
"Say 'hi' to Mom," I said, instantly forgetting the name but remembering what I thought was my father's curious use of the word genius.
It is now nine years and 11 months since I first heard the name Gretzky and looked at the snapshots my parents had taken in Quebec, pictures that show a thin boy with a fragile angularity of face. The only thing about him that bespoke athleticism was his seemingly too-large team jacket.