Mike Modano, the highest-scoring American-born player in the history of the National Hockey League and the face of the Dallas Stars even after he signed to Detroit for a final season, stifled a sob as he bade farewell to those who shaped his legendary career, which included 12 70-point seasons, eight NHL All-Star Teams and one Stanley Cup.
"I thought I'd get through the first sentence," he said, chuckling and wiping away tears. "It looks easy on paper."
"You wonder what this day would be like, and it feels pretty overwhelming. I look back at 21 years with one franchise, and I think that's what made me most proud of everything," he said, his voice breaking.
Friday afternoon, at a press conference at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Modano was presented with his Dallas Stars jersey -- its number, 9, retired -- as he officially retired from the NHL with a one-day contract with the Stars for a symbolic $999,000. Though women at a "celebrity waiters' luncheon" screamed in a conference room next door, and the bass line of "YMCA" throbbed through the walls, Modano was wistful.
"You think you can play this game forever, but it's obvious things don't physically match up anymore," he said.
He described his trepidation about coming to a city where few knew the first thing about the sport. "We knew going in it would be a tough sell, enticing people to come to the games," he said. "The speed, the grace, the finesse of the game."
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It wasn't easy, he says, when the North Stars of Minnesota became the Stars of Dallas in '93. But, he said, "I think we did a good job."
Finally, he thanked his mother and father, who were both in attendance. But he didn't get much further than that. He pressed his hand against his forehead and was silent. His mother got up, walked to the stage and took his hands in hers. She got up on stage and hugged her son. Modano's father followed. The audience applauded.
"I think that's it," he said. "Thanks, everybody. You've all meant a lot to my life and my career, on and off the ice.
"I couldn't have drawn up any better ending than to be home in Dallas."