It still stands as one of the most remarkable stories in sports.
And finally it hits the big screen. (Well, at least that large flat screen you probably have in your den.)
Mr. Hockey: The Gordie Howe Story will premiere on the Hallmark Channel this coming Saturday, May 4th.
Although the movie title is misleading because it does not include Gordie’s legendary 25 seasons with the Detroit Red Wings, it does focus on what Howe has said was the happiest period of his career. At least that’s what he told me in a 2003 interview.
And why wouldn’t it be?
Remarkably, in 1973 at age 45, a year after he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, Gordie was given the opportunity to play in the World Hockey Association alongside sons Mark and Marty with the Houston Aeros.
Talk about spending “quality time” with your kids.
Thanks to Colleen Howe, who became a tough negotiator when representing the interests of her family, the Howes collectively received a $2 million contract spread over four years. At the time she proudly called it “the biggest family package in the history of sports.”
How about the only family package in the history of sports?
Gordie probably would have played for nothing.
In the first season, seemingly after drinking from “the fountain of youth”, Gordie Howe was third in scoring with 100 points, 31 goals, and 69 assists, and was named the league’s most valuable player, a year before the award was named after him. Mark Howe was named WHA Rookie of the Year, and Marty was named the Rookie Defenseman of the Year. Led by the Howe clan, the Aeros captured the Avco Cup, the WHA’s equivalent of the Stanley Cup.
Howe later told a writer: “I got the love of the game back. That’s why I played so well. I felt like a kid again.”
The Howes would play four seasons in Houston, two more with the New England Whalers, and then one more campaign in 1979-80 when the franchise joined the NHL. Following the season, 52 year old Gordie finally finished his hockey career after playing in five decades.
On the ice, Gordie was a “helicopter parent” with his blades (stick and skates) moving at full speed.
As one of the most vicious and toughest players to have ever played the game, God have mercy on anyone who laid a stick or hand on one of his boys.
In one incident an opposing player lay on top of Mark and would not get off. Gordie skated over and politely asked the perpetrator to get up. When the fool wouldn’t do it, Howe slipped off his right glove, placed two fingers into the players nostrils and lifted him up by the nose.
Later Mr. Hockey told reporters: “A guy will always go where his nose goes.” And also, “Nothing can replace blood kin.”
Years later Gordie recounted to Windsor Star hockey writer Bob Duff a more alarming incident of familial retribution that occurred in the 1974 series between the WHA All Stars and Russia.
“I remember a Russian player slashed Mark in the ear and cut him open. The next shift when we were out together I had the puck and he was coming for me. I said, ‘Oh you want the puck? Well here it is’. I threw it in the corner and when he went to get it I broke his arm. After the game he had to shake hands like this.” Duff wrote that Howe reached across his body extending his left hand, still smiling devilishly at the memory.
Frankly, neither a TV miniseries nor a full-length feature could ever truly capture the story of hockey’s greatest player. However viewer discretion would be advised – there will be some violence.