Tuesday, June 14, 2016

6.14.16 Hero of the Day: Gordie Howe

Bee-otch of the Day honors are awarded Monday through Thursday, Bee-otch of the Week is awarded Friday on Chuck69.com.



Name: Gordie Howe
Age: was 88
Occupation: legendary hockey player
Last Seen: in the Great Beyond
Awarded For: being eight notches higher than #9
I was planning to give Mr. Howe the honorary Hero of the Day on Monday, but I had to cover the Orlando massacre. I might be a day late, but it's still a good idea to pay tribute to a man who loved the sport he played and even more, the family he cherished.

Born in the tiny town of Floral, Saskatchewan, Gordie Howe was one of nine children. During the Great Depression, he helped his father in the construction business. When that trade went downhill, Gordie found a new love: hockey.

At the age of 18, Gordie Howe became a Detroit Red Wing. In his 25 seasons with the team, he won four Stanley Cups and led the team in scoring for several seasons. He retired from the ice in 1971 because of Arthritis, but returned only two years later to join sons Mark and Marty in the Houston Aeros in the WHA. Later, the trio joined the New England/Hartford Whalers, which merged into the NHL in 1979. A 23-time NHL All-Star, Howe officially hung up his skates for the final time in 1980. But in 1997, he once again laced up his skates and joined the IHL's Detroit Vipers for one game at the age of 69.

In his impressive career, Howe 2,421 games, scored 1,071 goals, 1,518 assists and 2,589 points total. Some of his records were broken by a man who idolized Howe growing up: Wayne Gretzky.

Howe was a true old-school hockey player, never wearing a helmet. He even needed brain surgery after getting severely smacked in the head in a 1951 game. There weren't many popular hockey players during Howe's time as a player, and it's due to the fact that the NHL only had six teams - Detroit, Chicago, New York, Montreal, Boston and Toronto - until 1967 when the league expanded. Maybe - and thanks a lot to his wife, Colleen, who was also his manager - that's why he was deserving of his nickname "Mr. Hockey".

While Howe only played one professional hockey game in my lifetime, I was happy to have lived not too far from him in the 1990's. He and Colleen owned a home on Old Mission Peninsula; they even listed their phone number in the phone book. During their time up north, they were generous by raising their time and energy to build a new hockey arena in Traverse City. Gordie even pulled a Tim Horton and slapped his name on a popular restaurant. Gordie Howe's Tavern and Eatery was loaded with memorabilia from Howe's years as a player and even had its own penalty box.

However, I had a great moment with Mr. Hockey myself. In 1997, I was in high school and Tuesday nights were my visitation with my mother. It was announced that the Hanson Brothers - the stars from the 1977 Paul Newman film "Slap Shot" and not the doofuses that did "MMMBop" - were in Traverse City to promote a comedy video. I remember the Hansons going into the room where Gordie and Colleen were sitting and pulling a Wayne and Garth by bowing to them. I was looking in, right behind Gordie as it all happened. A day later at school, my secretary came into my room and told me to pick up today's Traverse City Record-Eagle because I was standing close to Howe in the photo.

And this was the result:

(Bonus points to anyone who could find me in the picture.)

Not long after the pic was taken of my brush with #9, the Howes moved to Detroit to be closer with family and Gordie Howe's Tavern and Eatery closed for good when Howe sued his partners. Colleen died in 2009 from a form of Dementia and Gordie himself contracted the disease. A few years ago, Gordie was practically on his death bed when his family decided to send him to Mexico for stem cell treatment. Gordie's life took a dramatic turn for the better. He was helping his family with chores and even joining them on trips to the mall. However, his health was still frail, and reportedly, he told his family that he wanted to die. As the world said their final respects to Muhammad Ali last Friday, Gordie Howe died at the age of 88 in Toledo with his family by his side.

Tributes to Howe came from all over, even from Wayne Gretzky, who broke some of his records. On Sunday's NHL Stanley Cup Final, they even paid tribute to him despite the atrocity in Orlando.

In the rink, Gordie Howe was tough, bonking into his helmet-less opponents and giving them the works. Outside, he was a lovable family man whose life without Colleen was a lost one. My thoughts are with the Howes, knowing that Gordie was a great human being through and through. His visitation is at Joe Louis Arena today and his funeral will be tomorrow at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

Thank you, Gordie. You were a man of great skill and high class.

And Howe.

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