The ageless wonder
By Larry Schwartz
Special to ESPN.com
"As Louie [Fontinato] got next to him, Gordie turned and hit him flush in the nose. Knocked him dead cold. Smeared him. . . . They admire Gordie because he symbolized one thing in the game of hockey. He was tough. He was resolute. And he gave better than he took," says broadcaster Bill Mazer about Gordie Howe on ESPN's SportsCentury show (Friday, September 3, 9:30 p.m. ET and Sunday, Sept. 5, 8:30 a.m. and noon ET).
Howe, who won six MVPs and six scoring titles in the NHL and played until he was 52, was voted No. 21 among North American athletes of the 20th century by SportsCentury's distinguished 48-person panel.
A month ago, Howe suffered a cut to an ankle and it had been affecting his performance. But the 35-year-old right wing didn't look wounded while killing a Detroit penalty in the second period against Montreal tonight.
Teammate Billy McNeill took the puck inside the Red Wings' blue line and headed up ice, with Howe trailing and yelling at him to keep going. After getting inside Montreal's blue line, McNeill passed to Howe, who immediately fired. His black dart of a shot never got more than an inch off the ice and whistled through the narrow gap between goalie Charley Hodge and the right post. Mr. Hockey had scored his 545th goal, breaking his tie with Maurice "Rocket" Richard.
The fans in Detroit's Olympia Stadium gave their hero a 20-minute standing ovation. The goal itself left Howe, who had been feeling the pressure in his chase to pass The Rocket, feeling more relieved than elated.
"Now I can start enjoying life again," he said after Detroit's 3-0 win, looking at the mob of reporters and photographers who had been chronicling his every move.
Odds 'n ends
Howe's fight with Fontinato in 1959 was the most memorable of his many bouts. The Rangers' tough guy suffered a broken nose and his entire face needed considerable repair.
When Howe retired - for the first time - from Detroit in 1971 after 25 seasons, he far outdistanced the runner-up in all three major scoring categories. His 786 goals were 232 more than Bobby Hull had scored, his 1,023 assists were 300 more than Alex Delvecchio had tallied, and his 1,809 points were 590 more than Jean Beliveau had notched.
Howe finished in the Top 5 in scoring in the NHL for 20 consecutive seasons (1949-50 through 1968-69).
He was first-team all-league right wing 12 times and second team nine times.
His wrist shot was timed at 114.2 miles per hour.
Howe's career high in assists in the NHL was 59, during the season he turned 41. It was the only time he had more than 50.
Led to believe by Detroit management that he was the highest paid player on the team, Howe didn't find out until late in his career that it was a lie and that he had been grossly underpaid for most of his career. He was deeply hurt when he learned that three teammates were making more than him.
In 1972, Howe had his jersey No. 9 retired by the Red Wings and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
In 1997, at the age of 69, Howe became the first to play professional hockey in six decades when he took the ice for one shift for the Detroit Vipers in the International Hockey League.
Growing up in Saskatoon, the Howe family was poor. Gordie's father Albert earned 40 cents an hour working for the city of Saskatoon during the Depression.
Albert was somewhat brusque in his recollection of young Gordie: "He was clumsy and backward and bashful. That's why I never thought he'd amount to anything."
At 14, Howe played on five hockey teams.
At 16, a year after the Rangers rejected him, the Red Wings signed Howe for a $4,000 bonus, Detroit coach Jack Adams said. Howe played a season (1944-45) with the Galt junior team in the Ontario Hockey Association and then a season with the Red Wings' Omaha farm team in the U.S. Hockey League before reaching the NHL at 18.
He married Colleen Joffa of Detroit on April 15, 1953. They have four children: Marty, Mark, Cathleen and Murray.
Howe once told an adolescent Wayne Gretzky that the youngster had two eyes and one mouth and that the best advice he could give him was to keep the two open and the one closed.
Toronto's King Clancy once said, "They ought to bottle Gordie Howe's sweat. It would make a great liniment to rub on hockey players."
Howe said he played the game "not to get revenge, but to get respect. It would make me very happy to be remembered with respect."