Hindsight being what it is, Brett Hull can't say with certainty he would have had the Hall of Fame career he had, or that his father, Bobby, would have had the Hall of Fame career he had, without Gordie Howe having the Hall of Fame career he had.
"To me, [Howe] was the embodiment of the game," Brett Hull said Friday. "He loved it so much that he played until he was 52 years old. He was my dad's idol. He was Wayne Gretzky's idol. He touched so many generations of hockey. He had the name 'Mr. Hockey' and it's very apt for him to have that, because he really was.
"I think [Detroit Red Wings owner] Mr. [Mike] Ilitch said it great today when he said the NHL wouldn't be where it is today without him."
The Howe family and the hockey world lost "Mr. Hockey" on Friday. Howe died at the age of 88.
A time of mourning was also a time of celebration and of storytelling. For Hull, his greatest story of Howe is one his dad told him.
"The story I love is when my dad first met him," Hull said.
It was at Maple Leaf Gardens.
"My grandpa took him to a game and he wanted to get an autograph, so grandpa ripped off a piece of his Export 'A' cigarette pack and gave him a pen and said, 'Well, go over there, he's not going to bite ya,'" Hull said. "So he went over there and got an autograph from Mr. Howe. He tousled his hair and he came back and was like, 'Wow, this guy is bigger than life.' That obviously had a huge influence on my dad."
Bobby Hull, now 77, went on to become one of the greatest players in hockey history. He scored 610 goals in 1,063 NHL games and 303 goals in 411 World Hockey Association games. He played his last nine professional games with Howe on the Hartford Whalers in 1979-80.
Brett Hull came into the NHL six years later and would go on to score 741 goals in 1,269 games. He won the Stanley Cup with the Red Wings in 2002.
"For me, being able to go and play for the Detroit Red Wings, an Original Six team and win a Stanley Cup, and sit around the dressing room and have Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay come in and sit down next to you and talk to you, it was really surreal for me," Hull said. "It was a little different for me because I grew up with my dad being who he was, so I took it for granted being able to meet all these great people and athletes.
"I almost felt like I had known them prior, but I can imagine just some young kid in that dressing room not only having Steve Yzerman, Chris Chelios, Brendan Shanahan, Sergei Fedorov and Igor Larionov in there, and all of a sudden in walks Gordie Howe and he sits down and starts talking to you like he's known you his whole life. It was really special."