Editor’s Note: LWOS is happy to add Larry Oakley to our hockey writing team. Larry is a long time freelance journalist and he will be submitting pieces to LWOS. Today we bring you a special work of his for his introduction to LWOS.
Prior to the Edmonton Oilers NHL hockey game on Friday October 1, 1999, special retirement ceremonies were held for “The Great One,” Number 99, Wayne Gretzky. Most hockey experts consider him the greatest hockey player of all-time.
The program that night contained 74 lines of my 99-line poem called, ‘He will always be The Great One’ which the Edmonton Oilers purchased from me for one publication run.
Over 30,000 programs were sold for about $10 a piece. People at the game were buying them by the box and each box held 30 programs.
The Edmonton Journal and Kingston Whig-Standard did a story about the poem and how the Edmonton Oilers cut the final 25 lines covering Gretzky’s career from the time he was traded from Edmonton until the day that he retired.
The complete unpublished 99-line version of the poem follows:
He will always be The Great One
The heroes of hockey each have a name,
They tell the story of our game.
Speed and power, heart and grace,
Became the Rocket, Flin Flon Bomber,
And a Leaf called Ace.
There was no name above the rest,
No player who was clearly best.
They shared the spotlight that comes with fame,
But a star was rising with a different name.
He was a Brantford boy, who played for fun,
And not yet known as The Great One.
At three years old he began to skate,
His father taught him where to wait.
In his backyard he built a rink,
There he showed him what to think.
He played with boys as big as men,
When he was six and they were ten.
The legend now began to grow,
In a northern land of ice and snow.
His childhood, it was about to end,
And his father would be his best friend.
But the boy still known as Walter’s son,
Would soon become The Great One.
At sixteen he played in Sault Ste. Marie,
To watch him play you paid a fee.
He was small and thin and frail,
Away from home, but would not fail.
They would test his heart and soul,
And make him pay to score a goal.
He feathered passes, swooped and soared,
And large crowds stood and roared.
His number, it was ninety nine,
It was unique, perhaps a sign.
Who is this? And what was that?
The experts asked, and began to clap.
He stood alone like the fiery sun,
And the London Free Press
Was the first to call him The Great One.
At seventeen he was a millionaire,
The Boy Wonder played the game with flair.
Though far away in Indianapolis,
At home, his name became a household word
To each and everyone of us.
When he went to Edmonton and the NHL,
The Oilers began to win and gel.
Though the doubters sang their same old song,
He knew that he would prove them wrong.
He followed a path made in his mind,
And slipped through creases, seams and time.
His long blond curls flowed from his head,
His game had magic and fire that spread,
Bull necked warriors played him rough,
To see if he was also tough.
They attacked him, but paid the price,
He left them standing, flat footed, on the ice.
When he created plays, hunched there, behind the net,
They knew he was the likes of which they never met.
The players stared in disbelief,
As he picked their pockets like a thief.
He would lift his team to take the cup,
And when they won he held it up.
For the silver chalice was his sole desire,
It was his dream and burned like fire.
And when the banner was hung above,
The battleground that he did love.
The crowd they cheered for more,
And before he left there were four.
When all of this he had done,
They said he truly is The Great One.
Suddenly, he cried, betrayed,
Not traded, but sadly sold away.
There was a Royal wedding first,
On one last joyful summer day.
He became a King, an ambassador for his sport,
Wore the “C” in St. Louis, and 99 in New York.
He had one last chance to play for Gold,
But voices whispered, he was growing old.
And when the battle went to sudden death,
And the crowd looked on and held their breath.
He sat watching in an unfamiliar space,
Someone else would take his place.
Perhaps he knew the end was near,
It must have been his greatest fear.
And when he left amid the tears,
He had been the best for twenty years.
Everyone watched his last farewell,
His friends were there to bid him well.
We all were sad to see him go,
He was the game, now we know.
He remains a hero, father, legend, boy and son,
Who played the game just for fun.
A man like this you seldom see,
His name is Wayne Gretzky.
Though he said, goodbye, my day is done,
He will always be The Great One.
LW Oakley is a freelance writer living in Kingston. He is the author of a successful outdoors book, Inside The Wild, which is available at the publisher’s website, www.gsph.com
Interested in writing for LWOS? We are looking for enthusiastic, talented writers to join our hockey writing team. Visit our “Write for Us” page for very easy details in how you can get started today!