The news hit us like a ton of bricks. Muhammad Ali. Gordie Howe. Just like that, both men that we looked up to and admired are gone from our midst.
One cannot imagine a worse week for sports fans – in Detroit especially – as we lost “The Greatest of Them” in Ali’s death, and “Mr. Hockey” in Howe’s death.
They are both gone now yet they leave us with a multitude of memories and first-hand experiences of life and sport. Ali was a Benton Harbor, Michigan resident for decades, while training and in his retirement years, and Howe was Detroit’s greatest contribution to the game of hockey, winning four Stanley Cups.
While I never had the opportunity to meet Ali, he had plenty of friends and fans in Michigan. Former State Boxing Commissioner Stuart Kirschenbaum and the late manager/trainer Emanuel Steward likewise called him one of his own. Ali made plenty of charity appearances in the state (and around the world) and contributed to the Western Michigan community as a longtime resident.
Gordie was Gordie. What you saw is what you got. He was a superb goal scorer, a team leader and league most valuable player, an all-star, and a rough and tough player who could be nasty in the corners or anywhere on the ice. Howe was the greatest player of all time in my estimation and all-time greats Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr recently agreed.
Howe never scored 50 goals in a season nor tallied 4 or more goals in a single game yet he ended up as the second-leading scorer in NHL history. I was privileged to see him play at the old Olympia Stadium, the NHL All-Star Game in 1980 at Joe Louis Arena, and as a Detroit Viper at age 60 at The Palace of Auburn Hills.
I interviewed Howe on several occasions and saw up close and personal what a funny guy he was – good-natured, always ribbing you, yet friendly at the same time. I remember us crossing paths at a suburban Detroit book signing many years ago. He was signing his book while Yours Truly signed his. It was a great chance to chit-chat with Number Nine. I will never forget that day talking hockey with Howe. Here are some tributes to Mr. Hockey.
Statement from President Barack Obama:
“The list of hockey players who suited up in six different decades, including returning to the ice after being inducted into the Hall of Fame, is a short one: it starts and ends with Gordie Howe. But the list of kids who skated around the pond until dark, picturing themselves passing, scoring, and enforcing like Howe, dreaming of hoisting the Stanley Cup like him – that one comprises too many to count. Howe’s productivity, perseverance, and humility personified his adopted hometown of Detroit, to which he brought four championships and which he represented as an All-Star more than 20 times. The greatest players define their game for a generation; over more than half a century on the ice, Mr. Hockey defined it for a lifetime. Michelle and I send our condolences to his sons and daughter, his family, and his loyal fans from Hockeytown to Hartford to Houston and across North America.
Statement from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau:
“On behalf of all Canadians, I offer my deepest condolences to the family and friends of Gordie Howe, who passed away today at the age of 88. Gordie Howe was an incredible athlete who relentlessly pushed the limits of the game. His skill, toughness, dedication, and passion for hockey distinguished him as one of the greatest players in history. Throughout his five-decade long career, Gordie Howe won six Hart Trophies as the National Hockey League’s most valuable player, six Art Ross Trophies as the league’s leading scorer, and four Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings. Gordie Howe was awarded the Order of Canada in 1971, and was inducted into 11 different halls of fame. His records, accomplishments, and accolades are without parallel in the history of hockey. He was truly one of a kind. We will remember the legend, the man, and the many exciting hockey moments he provided to fans throughout his career. Skate on, Mr. Hockey. You will be deeply missed.”
Statement from Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch:
“Today is a sad day for the Detroit Red Wings and the entire hockey world as together we mourn the loss of one of the greatest hockey players of all-time. The Red Wings organization and the National Hockey League would not be what they are today without Gordie Howe. There is no nickname more fitting for him than “Mr. Hockey.” He embodied on and off the ice what it meant to be both a Red Wing and a Detroiter. He was tough, skilled, and consistently earned success at the highest level. His achievements are numerous and his accomplishments immeasurable. It is truly a blessing to have had him both in our organization and our city for so many years. He will be deeply missed.”
Statement from former Red Wings teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Ted Lindsay:
“I was very sad to learn today of the passing of my longtime teammate, and friend, Gordie Howe. Gordie really was the greatest hockey player who ever lived. I was fortunate to play with Gordie for 12 seasons with the Detroit Red Wings and I’ve known him for over 70 years. He could do it all in the game to help his team, both offensively and defensively. He earned everything that he accomplished on the ice. Beyond hockey, Colleen and his family meant everything to him. Gordie was larger than life, and he was someone who I thought would live forever. My wife Joanne and I extend our condolences to Gordie’s children — Cathleen, Mark, Marty and Murray — and his entire family and many friends during this time.”
Statement from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman:
“All hockey fans grieve the loss of the incomparable Gordie Howe – Gordie’s greatness travels far beyond mere statistics; it echoes in the words of veneration spoken by countless players who joined him in the Hockey Hall of Fame and considered him their hero. Gordie’s toughness as a competitor on the ice was equaled only by his humor and humility away from it. No sport could have hoped for a greater, more-beloved ambassador.”