As thousands of loyal and grieving hockey fans gathered to pay their final respects to the legendary, Gordie Howe, at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit on Tuesday, there was one very familiar face who proposed a very respectful and fitting tribute. Howe's fellow NHL and hockey icon, Wayne Gretzky, wasted no time in suggesting that the National Hockey League should retire Mr. Hockey's iconic and dignified No. 9:
"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."
Gretzky, who had his famous No. 99 retired league-wide by the NHL, was the player who broke Gordie's previously-standing regular-season points and goals records during his own storied NHL career. He also developed a deep life-long friendship with Gordie off of the ice as well, going as far to refer to Howe as a second father. If there is one single person who possesses the clout to suggest that Gary Bettman and the NHL should retire Gordie's famous number, it's the "Great One".
Well, "What about the players who currently wear No. 9 in the NHL?", you might say. They will obviously have the "9" patch ceremoniously ripped off of their jerseys before the start of the 2016-17 season and forced to take a walk of shame. As funny and easy as that scenario may be to picture in your mind, I am of course jesting with that previous statement. During the 2015-16 NHL season, 15 players, including many "big-name" skaters, wore No. 9 every night when they took the ice , which can also continue and attest to the legacy of Gordie Howe.
Let's switch leagues for one second and look at what Major League Baseball did with Jackie Robinson's No. 42. MLB officially retired No. 42 league-wide in 1997, but allowed players who were currently wearing Jackie's number to continue wearing it until their careers were over. Mariano Rivera was the last to wear No. 42 until he retired in 2013. Major League Baseball is the only other league besides the NHL to officially retire a player's number league-wide.
It sounds like a simple enough solution doesn't it? Yes, yes it does. Would Gordie Howe care if another young and rising superstar wore his archetypal jersey number in the future? Probably not. As a matter of fact, Gordie would probably endorse it. Should the NHL retire No. 9 in a league-wide show of respect in the wake of the passing of the greatest player to ever wear that number, not to mention one of the greatest, if not the greatest, to every play the game of hockey? In both my biased and passionate opinion, yes.
I personally don't believe that if the NHL does indeed choose to retire Howe's No. 9 league-wide that it will take away from the legacy of other famous No. 9's such as Bobby Hull, Mike Modano and Maurice Richard. To be fair, both Hull and Modano chose the number due to Gordie being their childhood hockey hero, and while Howe's on-ice nemesis, Maurice Richard, may have been the first great to wear No. 9, most hockey fans will always associate the number with Howe.
We live in a world and society that is full of sadness, tragedy, and villains. Entertainment, and especially sports, helps us all to escape and divert our eyes and consciousness from the horrors and troubles of the world that we are constantly bombarded with everyday. We all need heroes and legends, and we should honor them properly.
Your move Mr. Bettman.