Legends of Hockey - Spotlight - The Pinnacle - Gordie Howe
Spotlight
One on One Treasure Chest Pinnacle Legends Video

-- Playing With The Kids --

Gordie Howe flanked by sons Marty (left) and Mark (right) as members
of the Houston Aeros
(May 27, 2002) -- Gordie Howe entered the NHL in 1946 and, by the time he made official his retirement on September 7, 1971, had transcended hockey from a Canadian to a North American sport. He had played and dominated the NHL for exactly a quarter century, but arthritis in his wrists became too painful to continue. The executive job the Red Wings were offering him was far more appropriate for a 43-year-old than trying to struggle through another year of playing. Besides, he had a family to raise, and two of his boys, Marty and Mark, were enjoying excellent junior careers with the Toronto Marlies of the OHL.

Gordie with sons Mark and Marty
A funny thing happened, though, over the next couple of years, and things changed around the Howe household in ways no one could have foreseen. First off, Gordie wasn't happy. Immediately after retiring, he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, of course, but the Red Wing offer was less than it sounded, and certainly not more. Yes, he was working for the team and being well paid, but it was more in the capacity of goodwill ambassador than hockey man. He wasn't being consulted about player movement or the draft or coaches-rather, he was being asked to appear at this banquet or that golf tournament or the other public appearance.

A fateful call occurred in the spring of 1973. Fellow Hall of Famer Doug Harvey, who was working as a scout and assistant coach for the Houston Aeros of the year-old World Hockey Association, telephoned Howe. He called to say that his team was about to select son Mark in the WHA draft, a stunning revelation because Mark was only 18 and the NHL age barrier was 20. Everyone assumed the WHA would toe the line on this limit, but the new league thought it could win any court case preventing an 18-year-old from earning a living. The Aeros did, indeed, draft Mark with their first choice, and why not? He had just won a Memorial Cup with the Marlies and was one of the top young defensemen in the country. Later in the draft, the Aeros also selected Marty Howe, not as dominant a player, but Mark's brother and Marlies teammate.

Gordie and his wife Colleen.
(Mr. and Mrs. Hockey)
Gordie was amazed and delighted for his boys, but his own hockey mind was not altogether dead. Dormant, perhaps, but it was quickly waking up. Do you think the Aeros would like to sign three Howes instead of two, he thought to himself? And the more he thought, the more he believed. He talked things over with his family, flew down to Houston to see the city, and got medical clearance from his doctor who made clear Gordie was as fit as ever save for a few extra pounds he'd put on during the banqueting tours. He spent six weeks getting his 45-year-old body revved up again, but the happy ending almost fell apart at the last minute. The day before the Aeros opening game of the season, he hurt his back at a charity appearance and had to go o the hospital. Doctors put him in traction, and his appearance in the home opener the next night looked all but impossible.

Gordie being Gordie, though, the next morning he felt great. He checked himself out and went to the arena, dressed and played with his two sons, thus becoming the first hockey player to play with his boys. It took the legendary Howe only 21 seconds into his first shift of his first game to score a goal, with son Mark drawing an assist. Gordie scored a remarkable 100 points that season, led the Aeros to the league championship and was named the WHA's MVP. No, it wasn't in the NHL, but that was nothing that time couldn't fix. Six years later, now 51, the WHA and NHL merged, and there was Howe playing alongside his boys for the Hartford Whalers-in the NHL!

- Andrew Podnieks is the author of numerous books on hockey including the current The Essential Blue & White Book. He is also a regular contributor to Leafs.com and managing editor of A Day In The Life of the Leafs to be published in the fall of 2002.