When the NHL was ramping up its discipline against hits from behind some two decades ago, it was no less than Gordie Howe who offered his own version of common sense, hockey style.
“If I’m chasing a guy,” Mr. Hockey opined, “then how the hell can I hit him from the front?”
Hard to argue with that!
Gordie is 87 now and it appears that he still has a few elbows left , and maybe some hits from behind, for the Grim Reaper—and I don’t mean Stu Grimson.
Mark Howe, Gordie’s middle son, offered some words of encouragement for fans the world over of his dad.
“Dad has the will to want to live again and I’ve never seen a better competitor or fighter in my life,” Mark Howe told NHL.com the other day.
This will to live didn’t necessarily exist about a year ago at this time, Mark said. Gordie’s body had been riddled with a series of strokes, the last of which in October 2014 having done the most damage.
“We had seen something in dad that we had never seen before [at that time] and that was dad quitting. He didn’t want to partake in any physical therapy or eating, lost 35 to 40 pounds in six weeks and his life was basically going down the tubes.”
That was before Gordie was taken to Tijuana, Mexico to undergo some stem cell treatment in his spine. The trip to Mexico was necessary because such treatment isn’t available for humans in the United States or Canada.
The meteoric rise of Gordie’s health, attributed to the stem cell treatments, has been the subject of debate.
But what’s not debatable is that Mr. Hockey’s quality of life has improved substantially over the past 12 months.
We are lucky in Detroit. So many of our sports heroes are still around, even though we’ve lost our share.
Joe Schmidt, inventor of the middle linebacker position, is still in relatively good health at age 83 and is not living in seclusion.
We still have Al Kaline, who will be 81 next month. Al is no wallflower, either.
Dave Bing will be 72 tomorrow and his voice can be heard all over Pistons promos that the team’s marketing people pumped out this year.
And Gordie Howe, who isn’t just Detroit’s—he’s a North American treasure—is still mucking it up in the corners.
With social media and the Internet’s constant blasting of information and news updates, we are more exposed than ever to the passing of celebrities and former athletes. That’s why it can seem like our sports heroes are dropping like flies.
It’s that time of the year when we all are supposed to be thankful, so let’s have gratitude for who we do have left in our midst.
But of all the Detroit athletes mentioned above, it’s Gordie Howe’s health and well-being that’s been the most documented, the most discussed and the most intriguing.
Perhaps this is because that, at one time, Howe appeared to be ageless.
He was the George Burns of sports.
Someone once asked the entertainer/comedian Burns what his doctor thought of George smoking a cigar in his advanced years.
“My doctor’s dead,” Burns deadpanned.
Gordie Howe was never shy to dispense a wisecrack as easily as he was an elbow to the face.
At Steve Yzerman’s jersey retirement ceremony on January 2, 2007, I did some work for Fox Sports Detroit. My job was to corral special guests to be interviewed during whistle stoppages.
One of the targets was Gordie, and I spoke to him briefly before the game, giving him some instructions and letting him know that I’d be coming for him.
“Bleep off,” he told me, bursting into that big, Gordie grin.
It was a badge of honor that I still wear proudly to this day.
Gordie Howe told me to bleep off.
Moments after that epithet, Gordie spotted NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.
“Hey young man,” Gordie said, clapping Bettman on the shoulder. I half expected him to ruffle the commissioner’s hair.
And Bettman stood, wide-eyed, as Gordie regaled him with some comments, though sadly outside my earshot.
Maybe the best news that Mark Howe had was that not only is Gordie holding his own physically, but his famous personality has also returned.
“He’s getting around pretty well and he knows who you are,” Mark said of his dad. “I do a lot a lot of Facetime [communication] with him and he knows me. When he’s speaking, every so often it disappears so he does a lot of hand gesturing. Other than that, from where he was a year ago to now it’s just amazing how well he’s doing.”