I am not a hockey fan, at least not since the big, bad Boston Bruins of the early 1970’s. They were big and they were bad. Bobby Orr, Derek Sanderson, Phil Esposito, Johnny Bucyk, Wayne Cashman, Gerry Cheevers and more made watching hockey finally interesting to me. Prior to those teams, I was strictly Red Sox, Patriots and a huge Celtics fan.
I’ve been lucky enough to have seen some of the very greatest hockey players in the last 50 or so years. I’ve seen Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Hull. It would be difficult for me to pick the greatest of all. Except for one.
Gordie Howe played 26 years in the National Hockey League. Did you hear me? Twenty six years! He signed his first professional contract in 1946 at the tender age of 18 and didn’t stop playing professional hockey until he was 51. Name me one other athlete that competed at such a high level for so long. Go ahead, name one. I can’t think of one either.
I saw him play a number of times on tv and took great delight in booing him when he tore up my revered Bruins. I thought him a great but dirty player. Nobody could throw an elbow like Gordie. Of course, as a New England sports fan, it’s my job to hate everyone who’s not on one of my teams and Gordie made it easy to hate him. He was that good.
Twenty three times he was selected an All Star. Yup, twenty three, Michael Jordan’s number and he was probably as influential in hockey as MJ was in basketball. For Mr. Howe, a hat trick was a goal, an assist and a fight. Most hockey stars have enforcers on their team to protect and fight for them. Not Gordie Howe, he was a tough SOB who did his own fighting and did it well. Way back when, he knocked out Rocket Richard with a single punch to the head. You don’t see that from players today. That’s old school hockey.
Despite his toughness, he was a humble man. You would never know he was a super star if you if you met him. Quiet and graceful outside the rink, he was a leader in the quiet, let me show you how it’s done way that is so absent from professional sports these days.
I’m still not a hockey fan, but today, I bow my head and remember the greatness that was Gordie Howe. We’ll never see another one like him. Never.