mr. elbows at 85

IMG_2331 - Version 2At some point this afternoon during Detroit’s game with Chicago at the Joe Louis they’ll be singing “Happy Birthday” to Gordie Howe, who’ll be there, on the day he’s turning 85.

If we can’t all be there for that, maybe what we can do join with the pride of Wawota, Saskatchewan, to say, “Hi, Mr. Howe, my name is Brooks Laich, and on behalf of the Washington Capitals we’d like to wish you a happy 85th birthday and many more years of health and happiness.”

That’s from a short video that was making the rounds last week as NHL players including Dion Phaneuf, Kimmo Timonen, Ryan Smyth, and Teemu Selanne — “You’re da man,” he said — stepped up with their happy returns of the day.

A few stray Howe notes on the day:

• As a boy growing up in Saskatoon, Howe caught sturgeon in the South Saskatchewan River, right behind the Bessborough Hotel, where they’d pay $10 a fish at the kitchen door. Also, in eighth grade, playing for King George School, he once scored 14 goals in a 15-0 win. He also added an assist.

• The headline on the front day of The Detroit Free Press the day after an 18-year-old Howe made his NHL debut against Toronto: “Goering Kills Self.” He — Howe — played on a line with Sid Abel and Adam Brown, who helped him score a goal in a game that ended in a 3-3 tie. The Leafs’ Bill Ezinicki helped him get into his first fight.

• In 1963, on his 35th birthday, the Red Wings beat Chicago 4-2. Howe, noted a reporter, “slipped away from his convoy, Eric Nesterenko” to score a goal and add two assists.

www.gordiehowe.com is the place to satisfy all your Howe souvenir needs, whether it’s a doubly signed unframed photograph of Howe with golfer Jack Nicklaus (US$999) or an autographed Red Wings’ sweater (US$599). Also available on the site is a gratis list of Howe’s nicknames, which include Mr. Power, Mr. Hockey®, The Great Gordie, Mr. Elbows, The King of Hockey, and Number 9.

• If you’re scoring at home, you may have had Howe’s career facial stitch-count at 300 — or as a newspaper put it in 1972, “enough to sew your average couch.” There’s no consensus on this, though. Other accounts put it at 500, of which 300 were to the face (“you have to peer closely to see their delicate tracery,” noted The Edmonton Journal in 1971). gordiehowe.com says 500, all of them in the face.

• In March of 1959, celebrating Gordie Howe Night ahead of a game with Boston, the Red Wings presented Mr. Elbows with an Oldsmobile station wagon. Inside were his parents, who’d flown in from Saskatoon. In Howe’s 13 years in the NHL, it was the first time his father Albert had seen him play.

• In 1964, Robert Rosenthal, 20, sued Howe for $25,000 for punching him in the mouth. Rosenthal, a Black Hawks fan, said Howe’s fist cut his lip, which needed eight stitches, and got infected, and swelled up to three times its usual size. He told a Chicago circuit court that he’d been humiliated, embarrassed, and held up to public ridicule. Howe said he’d punched an abusive fan “a good one” as the Red Wings were leaving the Chicago Stadium after a 5-4 win. Judge John Sullivan dismissed the suit. “On the basis of the evidence you’ve given me,” he told Rosenthal, “any judge in my opinion would find Mr. Howe not guilty, since you admitted you provoked him.”

• The Hallmark Channel has made a movie for TV about the return to hockey Howe made in 1973 at the age of 45, coming out of retirement to play with his sons Mark and Marty for the WHA’s Houston Aeros. Mr. Hockey: The Gordie Howe Story debuts May 4, with Michael Shanks in the lead role and Kathleen Robertson as Howe’s late wife Colleen.

• Asked in 1983 what he thought of the state of the game, Howe, 55, said this: “Not enough sacrifice, not enough discipline, not enough guts.” And this: “Take off the helmets and the face masks. Those things are turning mice into elephants.” Also: “I see everybody carry their sticks five feet over their heads now. My stick was always on the ice because it’s the only place you can handle the puck. The only things I kept high were my elbows.”

• From The Evening Independent in 1972:

There was the time not long ago that Gordie Howe had a distinct dislike for anything yellow. It made him see red.

He’d gladly sign autographs, but if you shoved a yellow legal pad in his face and asked for his signature, he’d refuse the request. “I’ve never been connected with anything yellow in my life,” he said yesterday. …

Howe’s own war with yellow took on other proportions. When he saw the proof of his book, Gordie Howe: Number 9, the color of the cover was yellow. The publisher should have known better. An indignant Howe raced to the printing plant. “I got them to change it to white. Yellow? Never.”

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