On October 15, 1989, 28-year-old Los Angeles King Wayne Gretzky breaks Gordie Howe’s points record (1,850) in the final period of a game against the Edmonton Oilers. Gretzky’s record-setting goal tied the game; in overtime he scored another, and the Kings won 5-4.
Gretzky had entered the game with 1,849 points. About five minutes into the first period, he tied Howe’s record by earning an assist on the game’s first goal. After that, he didn’t do much, and “almost didn’t play the third period,” Gretzky told reporters after the game, because “I got my bell rung a few times.” But when he came off the bench with three minutes to go in the game, his team down 3-4, he meant business. With 61 seconds left on the clock, defender Steve Duchesne shot the puck toward the corner of the goal. It bounced off winger Dave Taylor’s knee and slid across the front of the goal. Gretzky, who had set up behind the net (a part of the ice that many fans called “Gretzky’s office”), skated around and backhanded the puck past Oilers goaltender Bill Ranford and under the crossbar. The game was tied; the record was broken.
Gretzky had played in Edmonton for nine seasons and helped the team win four Stanley Cups, so the city’s Northland Coliseum was packed with fans. When he scored his goal, the sellout crowd erupted into a thunderous ovation that lasted for more than two minutes. The league stopped the game for a ceremony at center ice. Gordie Howe made a speech, and there were gifts: a 1.851-carat diamond bracelet (with diamonds spelling out “1,851” across its face) from his old teammates, a crystal hologram engraved with his picture from the Kings and a carved silver tea tray from the league. Then Gretzky himself took the microphone. He thanked the Edmonton fans, his parents and his wife, and he added: “Gordie is still the greatest, in my mind, and the greatest in everyone’s mind.”
Howe, who was 61, returned the younger player’s affection. “If it was, pardon the expression, some clown” who’d broken his record, he said, “it would have bothered me. But not Wayne.” By the time Gretzky retired at the end of the 1998-99 season, he held or shared 61 NHL records. In all, he scored 894 goals and tallied 1,963 assists for 2,857 points in 1,487 games. He’d broken Howe’s record for goals scored (801) in March 1994, in his 1,117th game. “You’ve always been the Great One,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told him that night, “but tonight you’ve become the greatest.”