Eighty-eight years is a good long time to be on this planet. Thirty-four years is an incredible amount of time to be a professional hockey player. But, then, there’s a reason they called Gordie Howe “Mr. Hockey.”
Howe died this morning at age 88, at his son’s home in Ohio after several years of declining health, but he’ll be rightly remembered as one big, tough motherfucker who could score just as easily as he could kick your ass—the progenitor of the “Gordie Howe hat trick,” or a goal, an assist, and a fight in a single game.
One generation will remember Howe as the ambidextrous winger who racked up six Hart Trophies, six Art Ross trophies, and four Stanley Cups with the Red Wings in the 50s and 60s. Another generation will remember him for how he played on forever, first with Houston and then Hartford in the WHA and for one last season in the NHL. That last year, the 1979-80 season, Howe become the only NHL player to play alongside his sons, Marty and Mark—Howe turned 52 years old that season, and he scored 41 points.
Howe held all the NHL’s relevant scoring records until Wayne Gretzky came along, an absurd feat considering the relative offensive eras in which the two played. Gretzky idolized him as a kid; Bobby Orr said he was the greatest player ever.
Howe played in parts of five different decades, a mark that will never ever be broken. His sheer talent and longevity forced him into the wider American public consciousness at a time before hockey players were able to do that; he is of course a hero in his hometown of Saskatoon.
Gordie Howe was not merely a relic of hockey’s past, but the connecting thread between eras, from the Original Six through the postwar dynasties through the first round of expansion through the challenge of and eventually merger with the upstart WHA. He was a part of it all. There won’t ever be another like him.