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
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.
genius at scoring goals."
I asked who he
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.