Emotional Mess

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 2:04 PM ET

"To Glen, coach, general manager, mentor, a father ... just about everything you can think of ... other than my dad, nobody believed in me more or did more for me as a person and a player as you did, Glen."

Then he sobbed.

Messier was losing it sitting on the dais after Sather had spoken.

"Don't start now," Slats told him. "You have a long way to go."

You got the idea then that it might be the longest game in hockey history if the press conference was a preview.

As one writer quipped of the Messier banner raising/Oiler-Ranger game to follow the next night: "They might as well go straight to a shootout."

Sather laughed about the prospect of Messier holding it together in front of the fans.

"He'll have no chance," he said.

"It was painful for me to watch it," said Sather. "I feel bad for him. But that's Mark Messier. The emotion he has ... he's lucky to have it. It's part of what made him great."

His mom said she's never seen her son like this before.

"No, not like that. Can you imagine what he'll be like when they do this in Edmonton? That'll be the most special. All those Oiler teammates. They're still all good friends. His hometown ..."

His dad said he's only seen Mark this emotional "six times."

He was referring to his six Stanley Cups.

77-MINUTE CEREMONY

The next night No. 11 was raised to the rafters of Madison Square Garden, the world's most famous arena, in a ceremony that took 77 minutes. And for every minute Messier was out there, 18,200 fans stood, effectively making it the longest standing ovation in hockey history.

For the last few years of his career in New York much was written about a fading Messier's number being up. Now it is.

At 7:09 p.m., after the fans watched a video of his Ranger highlights, they watched Messier make his way past the current New York team lined up in the hall, before stepping on to the ice. By 7:12 p.m. he was crying already.

"Thank you for inviting me here for Mark Messier night, sponsored by Kleenex," said Mike Richter.

While there were many moments when Messier fought to control his emotions, there were only a few when he came close to being the emotional Mess he'd been the day before at the press conference.

At 7:51 p.m. he broke down in front of the microphone for the first time as he tried to tell the crowd what New York gave him.

While Messier battled the emotions, the crowd cheered.

At 8:02 p.m., he said his final words to the crowd: "Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!"

Tears ran down his face as his banner finally was raised to the roof - a three-minute procedure between 8:10 and 8:13.

Only in New York could you drag something out so long and still make it special.

MC John Davidson promised to "raise the banner as only New York can."

When Messier stepped onto the ice, he first raised one hand in the air and then two as the fans chanted "Messier! Messier! Messier!" for the first of many times.

The members of the 1994 Rangers Stanley Cup-winning team were then introduced, each getting a hug from Messier as they finished their trip up the red carpet.

Only three other numbers hang from the rafters of MSG - No. 1 Ed Giacomin, No. 7 Rod Gilbert and No. 35 Mike Richter - and all three were paraded to the ice.

Gifts were presented, including a fighting chair for deep sea fishing from the players. "Why would they present him with a barber's chair?" asked Giacomin of the bald Messier.

"Somebody actually said today, 'You played with Giacomin, didn't you?' " laughed Messier.

A painting of Messier from the New York canyon of heroes' Stanley Cup ticker tape parade and a cheque for $211,000 was presented to Messier's charity, the Tomorrow Children's Fund.

Adam Graves spoke for the 1994 team, saying Messier "made us believe the Stanley Cup was our destiny."

Richter called him "the most complete player ever to put on a pair of skates."

DIFFERENT BREED

Messier avoided much of the emotion of the day before by videotaping his letter to the Garden faithful. And the Ranger fans probably played their part, too.

Ranger fans are a different breed.

"Love you Mess. Devils suck," was one of the shouts from the crowd.

When Messier thanked MSG boss James Dolan there was a massive boo.

When Messier thanked GM Glen Sather, there was a massive boo, too.

Just when you thought it was time for the banner to be raised, Dana Reeves, the wife of the late Christopher Reeves came out and sang We Had a Moment to Messier.

Then Messier was asked to hoist the Stanley Cup for the seventh time in his career. Tears rolled down his cheeks as Messier held his two-year-old son Douglas as his banner was raised.

"Obviously it was outstanding," said Messier when it was over and the puck had been dropped for the game 90 minutes after it all began.

He said there was less emotion this day than the day before because it was at the press conference that he first had to use the "R-word."

"To say it in public, to actually say the words, brought on a lot of that," he said.

"There was a lot of emotion the last couple of days. And as the banner went up, there was a real flood of memories.

"It felt really good. It's hard to explain. It was the way it should be."


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