head count

March 29, 1950, more or less: a cartoonist’s impression.

Gordie Howe was in Toronto this week, helping to raise money and awareness for two worthy causes: the Gordie and Colleen Howe Fund for Alzheimer’s and the health sciences centre at Baycrest. At 84, Howe was meeting people and chatting, but not talking to the media. His eldest son was, Marty, and he discussed his dad’s brain and the toll it’s paying for a long career in hockey. As the family has already disclosed, Howe senior suffers from “mild cognitive impairment,” which includes memory loss and trouble finding words. Such is the strange place in which hockey finds itself these days that the question of the day was whether the family plans to donate the senior Howe’s brain for scientific study after his death. As reported in today’s Globe and Mail, the answer from Marty was a no, um, not something we’ve really talked about so far.

“I’m sure there were multiple concussions,” the younger Howe did volunteer. “You play 32 years of hockey at that level and things are going to happen.” Specifically he mentioned the night of March 28, 1950, when Howe almost lost his life in a playoff game against Toronto. Howe’s description of what happened is in his 1995 memoir And … Howe!:

Teeder Kennedy’s stick caught me under the right eye and scraped the eye. It also broke my nose and cheekbone. And that’s when I went into the boards and had the serious concussion. Complications set in and I had trephine surgery to relieve fluid on the brain.

So that’s one. Marty Howe also recalled (two) that when he and brother Mark were playing with their dad in New England in the WHA, a teammate icing the puck hit Gordie in the back of the head and concussed him.

A further few, from the archives: in January of 1961, against Toronto, Howe was reported to have suffered a “mild” concussion (three) when he collided with the Leafs’ Eddie Shack — that and a gash over his right eye that took ten stitches to close.

In October of 1964, in an exhibition game against a team combining players from two of Detroit’s farm teams, Howe suffered a “slight concussion” (four) after he was “knocked groggy” skidding into a goalpost.

March, 1965, in a time before quiet rooms and concussion protocols, Detroit was playing the New York Rangers. From The Reading Eagle:  “Howe, who spent eight minutes of the first period unconscious after a collision with teammate Parker MacDonald, came back to assist on two goals.” (Five.)

No date on the next one (six), involving another meeting with MacDonald, this one at practice. From And … Howe!:

In the drill I saw that Parker and I were going to collide, so I fell to the ice and Parker tried to jump over me. He’s not much of a jumper and he accidentally kicked me right in the temple. Now I experienced a condition I never felt before, I knew where the bench was, but I lost sight of it. I couldn’t focus on it. I headed for it, but missed the gate by
about three feet, and banged into the boards.

In 1969, Boys’ Life ran a Stan Fischler feature under the headline “Hockey Is For Tough Guys — Big and Small.” It ended up with Gordie Howe and how, at 41, he still got such a kick out of playing the game:

Howe could be playing in the big leagues until his sons, Mark and Marty, develop enough skills to join their father on the Red Wings. Would Gordie ever discourage them because of the rough and tumble that caused him a concussion, broken legs and the loss of several teeth? Not a chance of that. What Howe says speaks for the kids in Princeton, Lynn, and Minneapolis and all points east, west, north and south.

“Hockey,” says Howe, “is a man’s game.”