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Gordie Howe: A Thank You To The Hero I Never Yet Always Knew

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Like many hockey fans, I was deeply saddened and blindsided by the passing of Gordie Howe. Despite never watching him play the game that he came to define, his legendary impact on the sport of professional hockey was not lost on me. Here is my thank you letter to the one and only, "Mr. Hockey".

Dave Sandford/Getty Images

What can I say that hasn't already been said more eloquently by someone else? What can I write that hasn't already been written about in a more timely matter? What impressive numbers and statistics can I post that haven't already been posted a thousand times before? How could I even possibly begin to try and encapsulate the life and career of one of the most iconic sports heroes of all-time, especially when I never actually saw him play a single minute of the game he revolutionized and embodied?

The simple answer is that I can't do all of those things. And thankfully, I also don't have to. To even the most casual sports and/or hockey fan, the life, death, and legend of Gordie Howe transcends all need for explanation and validation. Some of us were fortunate enough to be alive and conscious during Gordie's playing days, the rest of us (myself included) are only able to look back and relish in the achievements and contributions that "Mr. Hockey" had not only with the Detroit Red Wings, but also in the game of hockey itself.

So why did the world and my entire stream of consciousness seem to come to a screeching halt at 8:32 am on Friday morning when I received a text message from a friend informing me that Gordie had passed on? Like I said, I never saw Howe play a single game in my life, as a matter of fact, his last NHL appearance occurred four years before I even took my first breath on this planet. Even more strange, I was not born and raised in Michigan. Why in the world was I feeling like my childhood hero had just died?

Because he did.

And this is not only because I am a proud and die-hard fan of the Detroit Red Wings, but also because I am a proud and respectful fan of the greatest and most passionate game on earth, hockey. And Gordie Howe represented everything that is good and respectful about the great game of hockey, both on and off of the ice. Gordie was the greatest to ever play for the Red Wings and arguably the greatest to ever play in the NHL.

You would be hard-pressed to find a more passionate and dedicated fan of the Detroit Red Wings who was not born, or ever lived in Michigan, as myself. Saving money and taking time off of work to travel Detroit to see Red Wings' games is my own personal version of going to Disneyland. The feeling of walking through the doors of the Joe Louis Arena for the first time at age 28 is an emotion and an experience I will never forget, and I thank Gordie Howe for that.

My first time at JLA 2013

My first time at "The Joe": 2013

And when the Red Wings travel to play in Nashville (where I currently live) every year, and I find myself going to games, having drinks, cheering, chanting, high-fiving, and making friends with other Red Wings fans, not only from Detroit, but from all over the country and world, I thank Gordie Howe for that.

The feeling I get every fall and winter as I eagerly await to get home from a stressful day of work so I can crack open a cold beer, throw on my red and white jersey, and let go of all my worldly concerns for a few short hours while I watch a Red Wings game, I thank Gordie Howe for that.

So despite the fact that I never got to shake his hand and take a picture with him where he jokingly throws an elbow at my head (sigh), or stand up and loudly cheer in unison with 15,000 fellow Wing-Nuts after he scored the game-winning goal, I will be forever grateful and respectful for all that Gordie Howe did during his 88 years of life. There may be a "Great One" and "The Next Great One", but there will only ever be one "Mr. Hockey".

Thank you Gordie. God's hockey team just got their captain.