For as long as I can remember, I have first and foremost been Mario Lemieux fan.
Long before Peyton Manning came along, or the Penguins lucked out with the Sidney Crosby sweepstakes, I was hooked on number 66.
I look back now and I realize that without Wayne Gretzky, maybe I wouldn't gravitate towards Lemieux quite so much. In my adament homerism of Mario Lemieux, someone had to play the bad guy, and Wayne was the perfect fit.
Mario was drafted by the worst team in the league, Wayne entered the league with the high flying WHA Edmonton Oilers.
Teams learned early on that you could beat the Penguins by slowing down Mario, Players learned early on that slowing down Gretzky meant a demotion back to the juniors or a fist full of Dave Semenko or Marty McSorley.
Gretzky played in nearly 1500 games, Lemieux played in just 900.
In the end I had to concede that Gretzky would go down as the Greatest to ever play the game, and Mario would be forever relegated to the "What If..." side of the debate.
As a tribute to Mario I intended to write that "What If" column but I chose instead to go the other route.
Instead, I'm celebrating the brilliant moments in Lemieux's career that that allowed him to go down as one of the greatest of all time, despite the fact that he was limited by injuries for most of his career.