Today is punditman's birthday, and it's a big one, just one day after that other Wayne's birthday: The Great One. Both of us were born in the same year, merely a day apart, and one thing in common is that both of us were destined to take up the good 'ole game of shinny (albeit with slightly different results).
Yeah, I remember the other Wayne. The kid from Brantford, who at age 10, scored 378 goals and 120 assists (still a record). For a few years, when I was but a child, I played in the MTHL "AA" in Toronto with and against many future pros, including some who eventually played with or against His Greatness. To my knowledge, I never faced the other Wayne but that's because he was soon playing way above his weight.
At age 12, the other Wayne was a celebrity, beleaguered by paparazzi every where he played. At age 12, I discovered that you could get the day off school by joining a walk-out student protest (and still make it to your hockey game that night). At age 14, the other Wayne played Tier II Junior; at age 14, I discovered Led Zeppelin, and other distractions. At age 15, the other Wayne played Major Junior A for the Soo Greyhounds; at 15, I discovered that I was a tennis player who could compete provincially, along with other distractions like water skiing, water pollution, and water pipes. At age 18, the other Wayne broke into the NHL; at age 18, I discovered the Grateful Dead.
The truth is, my competitive hockey (think contact hockey) ended in a nightmarish fiasco in which I hit the post on an open net while playing for my High School team in the final playoff game of the season. I can't recall who won; but the shame meant hanging up the skates for several years and deciding for a time that sports was nothing but a bourgeois distraction. Meanwhile the other Wayne began lighting up the NHL.
By then, I had long understood that the dream of taking over Sittler's Leaf captaincy had been nothing but childish delusion. The closest I would ever get to Bobby Orr was, when, as a 11-year-old, I got his autograph in the Boston Bruins dressing room. That was back in the day when they let kids into Maple Leaf Gardens before game time and when you and your buddy could take the subway downtown without parental overlords. The truth is my hockey dreams ended somewhere in puberty when the goalies got bigger, the defencemen meaner and the parents and coaches even more certifiably wacko (I recall one incident in which an opposing player from East York hurled his stick javelin-style over the boards at some parent. Maybe it was his Dad).
Thus as maturity took root (in some far off future, to be sure), I chose to temper my "jockness" with other interests and pursuits, not the least of which involved traipsing off to University in pursuit of co-educational distractions, beer, and...ahem...wisdom. Had I not done so, I would not have become the man of punditry that I am today.
So when you think about it, what a difference a day makes: A self-made multi-millionaire's remarkable talent and penchant for setting NHL scoring records wasted lining the pockets of the league's corporate fat cats when he could have hit 50 as an overly educated pond hockey and beer league enthusiast/tennis coach/blogger/editor/Deadhead/default entrepreneur with a much more rounded life.
It's a shame really, seeing "the best [talent] of my generation destroyed by madness..."* Then again, maybe the other Wayne has made peace with his misspent youth.
No regrets, eh.
* Allen Ginsberg: Ginsberg's epic poem "Howl", in which he celebrates his fellow "angel-headed hipsters" and excoriates what he saw as the destructive forces of capitalism and conformity in the United States, is one of the classic poems of the Beat Generation (Wikipedia).