By Adam Brady
There will be plenty of "last" moments in Teemu Selanne’s final season, and we’ve already seen a few of them – his last visit to Winnipeg, his last home opener, his last time wearing the Mighty Ducks sweater. And while it won’t make headlines, his last Face-Off Fest clearly meant the world to the close to 3,000 people who attended the event held exclusively for Ducks season ticket holders.
Selanne’s autograph table had by far the longest line of the night, stretching from the end of the Honda Center parking lot back toward the arena and forming an “S” that appeared to contain about 1,000 people.
To accommodate as many people as possible, fans are asked to get one thing signed and move on without asking to take a picture, but Selanne is far too friendly to stick to that rule.
Not everyone in that line got their moment with Teemu, as some undoubtedly left as it got closer to the scheduled end of the autograph session (8:30 p.m.). But those who stuck around got rewarded, as Selanne stuck around more than a half hour after his teammates had left for the night, making sure everyone there got an autograph.
One of the last women through the line said as she was leaving, "You're the best, Teemu!" and it's hard to argue with that. It's also hard to imagine other legends in their game being as cordial, as genuine with fans as Teemu continues to be. As he recently told a reporter, "I like to meet the people. I like to talk to people. It’s the way I was raised at home. It’s the easiest part of my job. To give a couple minutes to someone who wants an autograph, really it’s not a big deal.”
It was on display yet again throughout the two-hour autograph session that came with plenty of notable moments. Here’s a running diary:
6:31 p.m. – The first people in line are a group of women that camped out at 9 a.m. that morning to get their coveted spot. Teemu asks them what time they got there and when they tell him, he exclaims, “Are you serious?!”
6:32 p.m. – A woman gives Teemu a small purple teddy bear with the number 8 to sign. “I have one of these two,” he says. “Me and Paul.” Apparently there was a set made of those depicting him and former Ducks legend Paul Kariya.
6:35 p.m. – Teemu is handed an artistic canvas photo to sign and adds, “I love this picture.” This is also the first time of many this exchange occurs:
“Thanks for coming back, Teemu.”
“It’s my pleasure.”
6:42 p.m. – He sees in front of him a little boy in a blonde Mohawk, and is asked to sign a photo of him and the boy (in a similar mohawk) taken at last year’s event. “I like your haircut,” he says, and the boy grabs a handful of his own hair as if he’s heard it a thousand times.
6:45 p.m. – Teemu is asked by a teenage girl to say, “Happy birthday, Chris” as she shoots video of him from her phone. This is one of a half dozen times he’s asked to do this, and he gladly obliges.
In fact, pretty much every request of Teemu is met with his favorite word: “Absolutely.”
“Can I get a picture?”
“Can you sign one more for me?”
Later this is put to the test when he’s nearing the end of the two-hour session and is trying to quickly sign as many autographs as possible. A woman leans in and tells him she’s an 80-year-old grandmother and, “Is there any way I can sit on your lap?” He tells her he can’t do that because people are waiting, as do the Ducks staff working at the table. But she refuses to move on, and Teemu finally relents – resulting in this photo.
“I thought,” he says later, “I had seen it all.”
6:55 p.m. – A guy in his 20s asks, “Can I take a selfie with you?” and leans toward Teemu to take a photo with his phone of the two of them. I ask him if he’s ever heard the word “selfie” before, and he says he has not.
7:01 p.m. – Countless fans have thanked Teemu for playing one more year, but one fan takes it a little further. “Twelve more years, Teemu!” he exclaims. “Twelve more!” Selanne just smiles.
7:02 p.m. – One fan asks Teemu to sign a black Ducks flag with an orange permanent marker. But Teemu insists that it won’t show up well and goes with the silver Sharpie instead. “You know,” he says, “I have done this before.”
7:05 p.m. – He’s presented with a photo of his infamous fight with Brad Richardson of the Kings in the final regular season game of the 2011 season. “That’s a good picture,” he says.
7:10 p.m. – He’s asked for the first of many times when his restaurant in Laguna Beach – Selanne Steak Tavern – will open and gives the same answer each time: “Any day now.”
7:15 p.m. – This was one of my favorite parts of the evening. A man in his 30s hands Teemu a photo of the two of them from an event and says it was taken in 1997. “You haven’t changed at all,” the man says to Teemu. “You either,” Teemu lies.
A few seconds later, after the man has left the table, Teemu turns to me, points to my notepad and says, “By the way, that was ’96.” I ask him how he knows that, and he calmly replies, “Because I know, Adam.”
7:25 p.m. – An extremely excitable middle-aged woman looks like she’s about to jump out of her skin as Selanne signs an item for her. As she walks away, she yells to her friends, “I didn’t pass out! I remembered how to breathe!” and they exchange high-fives.
7:30 p.m. – An adorable little girl in a Ducks t-shirt and a black-and-gold tutu is asked by Teemu, “How old are you? Are you 4?” She nods her head. “I knew it,” he says. “You look like a 4.”
7:45 – A girl takes a picture of just Teemu with her iPhone, and he clearly wasn’t ready for it. “Take one more,” he says, and smiles wide for this one.
7:55 p.m. – One woman who has met Teemu many times, leans in and almost breaks down as she says, “Thank you for all these years. Thank you for your incredible athleticism. We all adore you.”
7:58 p.m. – Ask Teemu and he’ll tell you he’s autographed virtually everything you can imagine (including an airplane once), but this might be a first. A woman lays on the table a folded up shower curtain and after he signs it, she unfolds it to reveal it’s a painted image of her playing goalie in a Mighty Ducks uniform. As I take a picture of it, Teemu says, “That is awesome!” and grabs his own iPhone to take a picture of it himself.
8:01 p.m. – A couple with two little boys approach, and the woman points to the youngest boy in her husband’s arms and say, “My little one, his name is Teemu. I talked my husband into it.” I ask him if he has a lot of people tell him they’ve named their children after him, and he says not a lot. “It’s usually dogs or cats,” he says with a laugh.
8:20 p.m. – The effect Teemu has on fans differs according to age. A kid who had to be no older than eight walks up to the table and calmly says, “Hey” to Teemu, as if he’s greeting one of his buddies on a skateboard. Literally 30 seconds later, a woman in her 40s can’t stop giggling as she says hello to Teemu and hands him something to sign.
8:25 p.m. – An older gentleman tells Teemu how long he’s been waiting in line by saying, “It was worth the four hours.”
“Oh my God!” responds Selanne. A minute later, two women tell Teemu they’ve been “waiting forever” and he calmly says, “I’m sorry.”
8:30 p.m. – This is the point where Teemu is technically supposed to stop signing and head home, but he keeps going, trying to move as many people through the line as possible.
8:31 p.m. – Two four-year-old twin boys come to the table, each saying the same thing one-by-one: “You’re a good player!” I told him he should reply “I know” when he hears that, but he just laughs.
8:35 p.m. – A woman inexplicably hands Teemu a pink My Little Pony to sign. He doesn’t even flinch.
8:38 p.m. – Teemu is told he can wrap things up. He stands up to look at a line that still has at least 50 people in it and says, “Let’s keep going a little.”
8:40 p.m. – A man in a Saku Koivu throwback t-shirt gets a jersey signed, and as he’s walking away says, “I love you, Mr. Teemu.”
8:43 p.m. – At this point, every Ducks player has headed home, and Teemu is signing as fast as he can for each person, somehow still looking up and smiling at each one. He’s truly earning the nickname, The Finnish Flash.
8:47 p.m. – Several fans say, “Thank you for staying late” to Teemu at this point, and to a few he jokingly replies, “I have nothing else to do.”
9:05 p.m. – Some 35 minutes after all the rest of the Ducks had exited, Selanne signs the final autograph of the night, ensuring that everyone who waited around got something signed and got their few moments with Teemu.
For some, it’s the first time they’ve met him. For others, it’s one of many times. And though it may be their last chance to get that close to him, it’s likely a moment they will never forget.
And the more you watch him, the more you realize he recognizes that as well.
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