Wayne Gretzky says he knows what Messier meant to Edmonton.
"I always kidded him that he was Edmonton's son and I was Edmonton's adopted son."
Gretzky says he looks around sports now and doesn't see it, doesn't see two stars on the same team with the same rapport he had with Mark Messier.
"You hear so many stories about the top players on the same team not getting along. You hear so much about the animosity between players on the same club. We never had one ounce of it," said Gretzky from Phoenix last night.
"Neither of us were ever jealous or envious of each other. If anybody else on our team scored three goals Mark was so happy for you that sitting around after the game you'd have thought he'd scored the three goals himself. He was always like that with me.
"We really pulled for each other. We were so competitive that we'd push each other in practice but we were making each other better. There was a real respect and friendship there.
"My big thing with Mess was how incredibly unselfish he was. He cared about nothing other than winning. He was never interested in individual accolades."
In a way, said No. 99, that's the way No. 11 retired yesterday.
"That's kind of the way Mess is as a person.
"He went out in his last game without a lot of bells and whistles. But I really think that's the way he wanted to go out."
Much was made during Gretzky's career about his idol being Gordie Howe. But Gretzky said more should have been made of Messier being the second coming of Gordie Howe.
"You'd never think you'd see another guy like Gordie Howe. And then along came Mark. He was like Gordie in so many ways. Mark and Gordie liked every single aspect of being an NHL player, from the road trips to the practices to the games ... every part of it. There wasn't one area they didn't love.
"When you think about it, Gordie Howe retired in 1980 and Mark was right there to take over.
"You never thought it would happen. Hopefully it happens again."
Gretzky looks back at his time with Messier and marvels.
"As smart as the scouting staff, the coaching staff and Glen Sather were, nobody is that smart to end up with the first two centres finishing 1-2 in all-time NHL scoring. That was a unique situation."
'IT WAS HORRIBLE'
Gretzky said when he left for Los Angeles and the Oilers ended up playing each other in the playoffs that same season was the one time in both their careers when it wasn't fun.
"It was horrible. That's the one time in my career I hated it," he said.
He said he always respected Messier for taking a run at him early in that series. It kind of delivered the message to everybody else on the Oilers that Gretzky was on the other team now.
"It was hard on me and hard on him."
Gretzky, who begins training camp today as head coach of the Phoenix Coyotes, says he hasn't offered Messier a coaching job despite the fact Oiler coach Craig MacTavish said yesterday he figured Messier would be a coach long before he expected Gretzky to become one.
"Mark's going to be down on Harbour Island as a hotel manager with that place he's building down there. He's going to take a step back and I think that's the right thing for him to do.
"I hope he's happy. It's hard to make that decision to retire."