January 28, 1963
Howie Young's ferocity toward his fellow man led to standing ovations in Detroit and suspensions by his team and the NHL office. "My job," he once said, "is to get my shoulder into somebody." While patrolling the blue line for the Red Wings in the early 1960s, Young would hurl himself at opposing forwards like a human tsunami. His crunching checks and seat-of-the-pants style helped spark Detroit to the Stanley Cup finals in 1961. Two seasons later he shattered the league mark for penalty minutes, with 273 in just 64 games.
The smiling visage that graced SI's cover, however, belied a tortured soul. Young says he drank nearly every day for 12 years, until he bottomed out at 27. Indeed, he was hung over when he posed for SI after a morning practice. "On the bench I would say, 'Please God, just get me through this game,' " says Young, now 60. "Then it was, 'Hey, God, just get me through this period.' Finally, it was, 'God, just get me through this shift.' "
The Red Wings finally gave up on Young and dealt him to the Chicago Blackhawks in 1963. Later that season he was exiled to a minor league team in Los Angeles, where he began to act, appearing as a marine in the 1965 Frank Sinatra movie None but the Brave. His descent reached its nadir, however, on a May evening in '65, when a besotted Young was hauled off by police after breaking into his own apartment. That night, alone in a four-by-six-foot jail cell, he vowed to get off the sauce. Two days later he joined Alcoholics Anonymous, and he says he has been sober since.
Young returned to the Red Wings in 1966, and over the next nine years suited up for nine teams in five leagues. After that he drifted, washing dishes in Oklahoma, digging ditches in Phoenix and making a brief comeback, at 48, for a minor league team in New York City. Five years ago Young finally found a home in Thoreau, N. Mex., a predominantly Navajo community two hours west of Albuquerque. There he and his third wife, China, share a two-acre ranch with nine cats, two geese and a quarter horse named Big Red. Hockey's former enfant terrible is now a mild-mannered bus driver for the McKinley County public schools.
For two years Young has been drumming up funds to build a rink for the community. His dream is to nurture the NHL's first Navajo player. "These kids are such natural athletes," he says. "All I've got to do is bring the ice, and they'll do the rest."