I'm not sure what to do with this news today so I keep writing about it the way I always do when something rolls around in my head or my heart, unable to settle. The words somehow help me to make sense of the hard stuff.
Today we lost the man the world knows as Mr. Hockey, arguably the greatest NHL player of all time. But Gordie Howe was even more than that. He was also a great man. When my father was a rookie with the Detroit Red Wings, Gordie helped him learn the ropes of the big show and a lifelong friendship was born. The two of them won four Stanley Cups together and later in life, they joined forces to raise money for a variety of causes, and at one point carted the Stanley Cup around, collecting donations for Hurricane Katrina victims in exchange for photos with the coveted trophy of champions. That kind of thing was typical for Gordie, who never refused to give an autograph or pose for a photo, always remaining humble in his notoriety.
It strikes a chord when the world loses its great ones. I guess many of us thought Gordie would go on forever. After all, the man seemed super-human, playing pro hockey until he was in his early fifties, something that is unheard of. For me, it also strikes a chord because he is one of the dwindling number of hockey players from my father's era, an incredible time when there were no agents or unions and salaries were nothing like they are today. Most players had to work summer jobs to make ends meet, but they kept playing because they loved the game that much. It was a time when teammates double dated together, were best man in each other's weddings and named their children after one another. It was an era of long train rides between six cities, sometimes with the opposing team riding a couple of cars down the line. And it bred lifelong friendships.
Today, that hockey era lost its greatest ambassador in Gordie Howe. It makes me appreciate even more the characteristics of that long ago time when camaraderie, grit, determination and loyalty were a matter of course. Hockey fan or not, we can all learn from that era and from the way Gordie Howe lived, throwing the rule book about career longevity out the window and doing it his way, giving to others, being dedicated to his family, and remaining humble even when he was the best of the best.
Today we say farewell to the great Gordie Howe, just as we have to the others of his era who have gone before him. But we must remember that the best of that time and of Mr. Hockey can live on in all of us if we will choose to carry the figurative puck the same way they did.
God speed, Gordie. And God bless and comfort your family. You are already missed.