I’ll be honest with you. I didn’t know who Patrick Marleau was. I do now. And you should know about him, too, because Monday night the 41-year-old forward set a record by playing in his 1,768th regular-season National Hockey League game. And what makes that feat even more impressive is the previous standard-bearer was “Mr. Hockey” himself, Gordie Howe.
Back in 1997, Marleau found his way to San Jose, after the Sharks drafted the forward from the frozen ponds of Saskatchewan in the second round. With the exception of brief stints in Toronto and Pittsburgh, he’s called the Silicon Valley home for 20 of his 23 seasons. And, during that time, he’s played an integral role in helping hockey flourish in that central California high-tech hub.
Though his durability has been extraordinary — he’s one of only three NHL players to play the full 82-game regular-season 11 times — his ability to put the puck in the net also has made him a Shark favorite. Marleau’s resume includes 566 goals (second only to Alex Ovechkin among current players) and 1,196 points. Though he’s never gulped champagne or beer from Lord Stanley’s cup, he has had two Olympic gold medals draped around his neck while playing for Team Canada.
As impressive as Marleau’s longevity is, the three-time All-Star would have to play nearly five more full seasons to eclipse Howe’s professional hockey record. See, Mr. Hockey also logged 419 games in the World Hockey Association, a high-caliber, spin-off league that featured several stars who were lured away from the NHL in a salary bidding war. And if you tack on Howe’s 157 Stanley Cup playoff games and 78 WHA postseason contests, his total balloons to a mind-boggling 2,421 — 458 more than Marleau’s combination of regular- and post-season games.
Amazingly, Howe played his last NHL season with the Hartford Whalers in 1979-80 at age 51. And this wasn’t just some gimmick. Though he skated fewer shifts than he did in his prime seasons with the Detroit Red Wings, Howe still managed 15 goals and 26 assists in 80 games.
Marleau’s achievement prompted me to look at games-played records in other sports. They are impressive, too.
Pete Rose is not only baseball’s hit king, but also its games king with 3,562 regular-season contests spread over 24 seasons. Remarkably, Charlie Hustle played more than 500 games at five different positions (second baseman, left fielder, right fielder, first baseman and third baseman). He also participated in 67 post-season games.
With 382 regular-season appearance over 25 seasons, kicker Morten Andersen is the National Football League’s all-time leader. Known as the “Great Dane” because he hailed from Denmark, Anderson also played in 11 playoff games. Kickers occupy seven of the top 10 spots on the list, not surprising considering they play positions not subjected to the repetitive collisions that shorten the careers of every-down players. George Blanda, the old war horse who divided time between quarterback and kicker, is fifth on the list, with 340 regular-season games over 27 seasons. Blanda was 48 years old during his final season in 1975, and it should be noted his final nine seasons with the Oakland Raiders were spent mostly as a kicker.
To me, the most impressive name on the list is Jerry Rice, who ranks eighth with 303 regular-season games in 21 seasons. He caught 1,549 passes in his career and also ran the ball 87 times. Add the number of plays in which he was targeted (that stat wasn’t compiled the first seven years of his career), and it’s mind-boggling to think he could be that durable, particularly in an era when the rules did not protect pass-catchers the way they do today. Rice also played in 29 postseason games. His record number of receptions, yardage and touchdowns make a strong case for him being the greatest football player of all-time. And that case is buttressed when you factor in his longevity.
Speaking of GOATs, when Tom Brady plays his fifth game for Tampa Bay this fall, he will move into seventh place, leapfrogging quarterback Brett Favre, kicker John Carney, Rice and kicker Phil Dawson. Tom Terrific turns 44 on August 3, so it’s doubtful he’ll seriously challenge Andersen’s mark. But Brady has other games-played records that may never be challenged (10 Super Bowls and 45 post-season contests).
The NBA regular-season record belongs to Robert Parish, the Boston Celtics center who played 1,611 games in 21 seasons. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is second at 1,560 games, but when you add in each man’s playoff log, Kareem narrowly edges Parish by two games.
I also took a gander at records for our regional teams. With 221 games (plus 21 more in the post-season), wide receiver Andre Reed holds the mark for the Buffalo Bills. In addition to being the Buffalo Sabres leading goal scorer, Hockey Hall of Famer Gilbert Perreault also appeared in a franchise-record 1,191 games, 21 more than runner-up Craig Ramsay. Jody Gage suited up 653 times for the Rochester Americans, breaking the previous mark set by Dick Gamble by 84. Interestingly, both Amerks wore No. 9, which the team has since retired. Estel Crabtree, a Rochester Red Wings star in the 1930s, wore his team’s flannels a record 934 times, while also establishing marks for hits (1,041) and runs batted in (542). Given the changing nature of minor-league sports, it’s highly unlikely any player will hang around long enough to challenge either Gage or Crabtree.
As far as our NBA roots, Basketball Hall of Famer Bobby Wanzer is the all-time games leader for the Rochester Royals with 508 regular-season appearances, and 34 more in the playoffs, including seven in the 1951 Finals, when the Flower City hoops team defeated the New York Knicks for the championship.
Rochester’s Abby Wambach finished her illustrious soccer career in 2015 with 255 international matches, or “caps” as they are known, putting her in seventh place, 99 behind all-time leader and fellow American Kristine Lilly.
Best-selling author and nationally honored journalist Scott Pitoniak is the Rochester Business Journal sports columnist.