"I always tell kids, you have two eyes and one mouth. Keep two open and one closed. You never learn anything if you're the one talking."
Today, we mourn the loss of an icon of not just hockey, but sports as a whole. While we mourn the passing of Gordie Howe, a man who devoted his life to the sport of hockey, we celebrate the man who has long ago etched into the upper-echelon of hockey immortality.
When I was seven years old, I remember watching the Detroit Vipers open the 1997 IHL season in Auburn Hills. It wasn't any ordinary game - Gordie was playing. At 69-freaking-years-old, Gordie was playing. He took one shift. He didn't get a shot on net, but watching this man, a man who revolutionized the sport that I love, play during my lifetime is something I will never forget. 20,000-plus fans came out that night to watch the hockey icon take his final shift. "That was beautiful," Howe said in reaction to the ovation he received from the fans at The Palace.
When you think about icons in any sport, usually one-or-two names will pop up in your head immediately. Babe Ruth, Joe Montana, Michael Jordan, the list goes on. Gordie Howe is on a different level. There wasn't a "Mr. Baseball," or a "Mr. Football," however, there was a "Mr. Hockey." Players like Gordie Howe were the definition of what makes hockey great - Athleticism, skill, longevity, and most of all physicality. There will never be another like him.
It's a shame I never got to watch Gordie Howe in his prime. I think if you were to ask any hockey fan who they could witness play at the height of their career, the answer would be Mr. Hockey. Think about what Howe could do night-in, and night-out... He could score, play defense, act as a prominent leader, and most of all - beat the everliving-shit out of you. Hell, the man had a combination of plays named after him. A goal, an assist, and a fight. The Gordie Howe Hat-trick. More exciting than a true hat-trick, in my opinion. Fighting is something that is moving out of the game today, but back in Howe's era, fighting was just as much a part of hockey as scoring was. We've all seen the photo of Lou Fontinato's face after Gordie Howe gave him a true ass-beating. Spectators of the fight said Gordie's punches to Fontinato sounded like an axe chopping wood. That was vintage Gordie. A truly, gruesomely, beautiful individual. Mind you, Lou Fontinato was no cupcake hockey player. He was one of, if not the top enforcer in the league at the time. Gordie dismantled him.
"If you play a little rough, you get respect. And with respect you get just a little bit more space on the ice."
In his later years, Gordie was just as much of an icon as when he was in his prime. He was often found wandering around the Joe Louis Arena, in and out of the locker room, talking with players and anyone else that he crossed paths with. He was part of the team. He'd watch every game as if he was the most die-hard of die-hard fans. One of the great things about Howe is that he was just a normal man who loved playing hockey. He wasn't some flashy, overpaid, pampered superstar. In fact, he said it himself: "I'm really just a lucky old farm boy."
When I heard the official news on Howe's passing, I was sitting at the barbershop that I get my hair cut. WDIV reported it, and the shop went silent immediately. I looked up at the photo on the wall of Gordie Howe sitting next to Wayne Gretzky and had one hell of a time fighting back my tears. I never got to watch Howe play in his prime years, but over the past decade he's been an icon to me. His perseverance with his health conditions had been an inspiration, as I have lost family members who underwent exactly what he did. I'll never forget on his 88th birthday, watching Gordie on the television as a crowd of over 20,000 people sang him happy birthday. I'll admit - I cried. The man was loved and respected by everyone.
Let's go down the list of milestones Gordie Howe achieved in his historic career:
- Most NHL regular season games played: 1,767
- Most NHL regular season games played with a single team: 1,687
- Most NHL and WHA regular season games played: 2,186
- Most NHL and WHA regular season and playoff games played: 2,421
- Most NHL seasons played: 26 (tied with Chris Chelios)
- Most NHL and WHA seasons played: 32
- Most NHL regular season goals by a right winger: 801
- Most NHL regular season points by a father/son combo (with son Mark): 2,592
- Most consecutive NHL 20-goal seasons: 22 (1949–1971)
- First player to score over 1000 goals (WHA and NHL, regular season and playoff combined)
- First player to reach 1,500 games played in NHL history.
- Most times leading NHL playoffs in scoring (six times)
- Oldest player to play in NHL: 52 years, 11 days (no other player has played past the age of 48)
- First in Red Wings history in points, goals and games played, second in assists
- 23-time NHL All-Star
- 12-time NHL First All-Star Team
- 9-time NHL Second All-Star Team
- 4-time Stanley Cup champion (1950, 1952, 1954, 1955)
- 6-time Art Ross Trophy winner (1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1957, 1963)
- 6-time Hart Memorial Trophy – 1952, 1953, 1957, 1958, 1960, 1963
- Lester B. Patrick Award winner (1967)
- Lionel Conacher Award (1963)
- Hockey Hall of Fame (1972)
- 2-time Avco World Trophy winner (1974, 1975)
- Gary L. Davidson Trophy winner (1974)
- 2-time WHA All-Star
Detroit was recently voted as the greatest hockey city in America. How did we get here? There have been so many incredible players here to inspire kids to lace up their skates, but really it all traces back to the dividends that Gordie Howe paid to the city of Detroit, not to mention the rest of the hockey world, with his remarkable skill and personality. Howe revolutionized hockey culture, and inspired tens of thousands of people.
Gordie, you left us in the most "Gordie Howe" way possible: Fighting. The hockey world will never be the same without you, and today, we are all united as we reminisce what you have done for each and every one of us. Thank you, Mr. Hockey. Rest in greatness.