SI Vault
Mark Kram
March 16, 1964
Detroit's Gordie Howe not only is the game's finest player, he is an entire hockey team all by himself
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March 16, 1964

Howe: The Who, What And Why Of The Red Wings

Detroit's Gordie Howe not only is the game's finest player, he is an entire hockey team all by himself

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"His first pair of skates?" ponders Mrs. Howe. "Let's see. I believe he got a pair when he was about 6. A lady came to the door with a bag of clothes she was selling for 50�. I bought them, and Gordie jumped into the bag right away. He pulled out a pair of skates. They were much too big for him, but, I remember, he got four or five pairs of wool socks and got the skates on that way. From then on it seemed he was always wrapped up in hockey somehow. If he wasn't playing he was collecting syrup labels so he could get hockey cards. He got hundreds of them. We still have them put away upstairs someplace.

"He was a quiet boy," Mrs. Howe remembers. "The kids, because he was so big and clumsy, used to call him dough-head. Oh, how that used to make me angry. You know it means stupid, or someone who doesn't know anything. It used to bother him, but he'd never fight with the kids because he always seemed conscious he was so much bigger than them.

"He finished his eight years of grade school, but he failed two times in the third grade. He wasn't bad in school. He always tried. But the second time he failed, it took the heart right out of him. I remember seeing him coming down the street crying. I said, 'Sit down, Gordie, tell me what's wrong. Is the work too difficult? Don't you understand the teacher? Do you ask her questions about what you don't understand?' He said, 'No, ma, I don't want to bother her.' And then we both had a good long cry."

"He was the same when he got older," said Ab. "We were working on the job one day and it was a hot day. So at the end of the day Gordie comes by. The fellow I'm working with says, 'Ab, how about a nice cold beer?' I said sure and then I told Gordie, 'Here, son, go get yourself some ice cream and soda.' Later on we come back and there's Gordie sitting on the curb with the money in his hand. I said, 'What's the trouble?' He said, 'Aw, dad, I didn't want to go in there with all those people.'

"He hasn't changed too much since," Ab continues. "Once a girl was chasing him while he was playing baseball here during the off season. So they were parked one night out in front of the house, and the girl is telling him how much she thinks of him. Gordie, I can just see him, is squirming and then finally says, 'Well, if you like me so much, why don't you let me out of the darn car?"

Howe was 15 when he first left Saskatoon to go to the Rangers' tryout camp. He had never been away from home before, and he had never seen formal hockey equipment. "I didn't know how to put on the pads and protectors," he renumbers, "so I just dropped the gear in front of me and watched the others." When the others teased him about it, the miserable young Howe fled back to Saskatoon. While at home he was discovered by a Red Wing scout and sent to a training camp in Windsor, Ont., where Jack Adams first spotted him.

"It's been a long time," said Jack Adams when asked about Gordie Howe. Then slowly, as if rolling the memories over and over in his mind, he added, "There was this day in Windsor and it was the first day I ever saw him. He was a big, rangy youngster who skated so easily and always seemed perfectly balanced. It tickled me to watch him. So I called him over to the boards and said, 'What's your name, son?' A lot of kids that age choke up when they start talking to you but this one just looked you in the eye and said real easy like, 'My name's Howe, but I'm no relation to that Howe over there.' He was pointing to Syd Howe, one of our leading scorers. I then remember saying, 'If you practice hard enough and try hard enough maybe you'll be as good someday.'

"After we signed Howe for a $4,000 bonus," continued Adams, "he walked out into the hall. Later on I came out, and there he was looking kind of glum. I said, 'All right, Gordie, what's the trouble, something bothering you?' He said, 'Well, you promised me a Red Wing jacket, but I don't have it yet.' I felt like telling him: You want a hundred of them, go get a hundred of them. He was some kid. When he was 15, he was the best prospect I ever saw, and when he reached 17 he was the best pro rookie I ever saw. When he was 22 he was the best young major leaguer around. And now, well, he's the best hockey player anyone anywhere has ever seen.

They used to call him 'Power' on the club, and in practice a lot of the young players would just look at him sort of dumbstrucklike. During an exhibition trip when Howe was unable to play because of an injury, we lost at least $10,000 at the gate. The one thing that always thrills me about his game is the way he keeps doing the unexpected. You can never figure what he's up to. And you always figure when he's on the ice he will tie the game or win it. He was remarkable under pressure.

"In the dressing room before a big game he was always just as cool as he was on the ice. Why, no matter what the pressure, he could pass a cup of tea on a stick across to another player and not shake a bit. He was a cool article all right. In one important game I remember Howe had the puck in front of the goal and was toying with the goalie. I'm hollering, 'Shoot, shoot, Gordie!' It was late in the game and I believe the score was tied. Finally, he slips the goal in and we win. When he comes back to the bench I says, 'For God's sake, Gordie, what were you waiting for?' He says in that drawl of his, 'Aw, Jack, I knew I had him. I just wanted him to make the first move. I just wanted to be sure.'

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