A Weirdly Sporty Post: Remembering Gordie and his Biggest Fan

An early Sunday wake up call from my son left me scrolling Facebook at 6:30 in the morning. Before the coffee is done brewing, scrolling Facebook is Top Level Brain Function for me at that hour. First coffee, then frying bacon because, safety.

I clicked into the Memories Feed and was treated to the usual montage of pictures of PJ in various stages of fun, mixed in with the Angry Flyers Updates that permeate my feed during hockey season (those should be trailing off until the fall) and other random thoughts when I came across a news piece on the life of hockey great Gordie Howe, who passed away two years ago today.

Growing up a child of my father meant that Gordie Howe was mentioned in our home the same way one might talk about a family member. My Dad was a man of science, but he was just as much a man of sport, and Gordie Howe was his idol. I think my Dad would have run away to join the Howes the same way another child might have run away to join the circus. Although Howe was done with his playing years before I was old enough to stay up to watch a hockey game, I was treated to tales of his career, told with an enthusiasm that was almost like watching it happen. He was as talented as he was terrifying, as gritty as he was great. In our home, he was The Great One, no matter what fancy West Coast-style players may have glided into the game (ahemGretzky).

Gordie Howe was a talent for the ages, but the driving force behind his success was his wife, Colleen. She managed her husband (and later, her sons) with skill and creativity in a time when it was unheard of for a woman to be in such a role. They also raised four children, one of them growing up to be the one of the finest defenseman and classiest human beings to ever play for my beloved Flyers
(Shout out to Mark Howe).  Colleen was not merely his love, she was his equal, and a trailblazer, and his support allowed her to be that in a time when few women were. My parents enjoyed a partnership that was the non-athletic superstar equivalent, my Mom the equally valued brains and talent in their little empire.

One of the hallmarks of the career of Gordie Howe was its longevity. Howe had a career that spanned six decades. Six. Decades. To give it some perspective, I won't be six decades old for another 20 years, and 20 years is considered a career of length in the NHL. Six decades, long enough to have already become a legend before he hit the ice professionally with the children he raised while becoming a legend (you may need to read that twice). The latter decades may have been missing some of the jump of his earlier ones, but teams were well aware of the value in his presence and the skills that even age could not dull completely. My Dad was a workhorse as well, never content being at home during layoffs or between projects during his career as an electrical engineer. He knew he had value, knowledge and worth to bring to employers and did so into his 70's.

Howe was gritty, fearless, and calculated in the manner that every movement sent a message. He gave up being needlessly scrappy early in his career, allowing his skill to come to the forefront but still able to send a physical message when needed (a skill for the ice, not for the non-athletic arena of school and work, lest any weirdos want to take me to task). He was an ambassador to his sport in the comparatively brief time he was off the ice. He was an inspiration to many of the players I grew up watching, and to the kids those players produced. Even my cat, named for him, led a Gordie kind of life- she lived long (almost 19 years!), tough (ask any guest who came to our house), and skilled (gentle, patient and understanding of PJ in a way that belied her general nature).

Both my Dad and Gordie are gone now, and in that cruel irony of adulthood, I can see with clarity now just what lessons my Dad gave me having introduced Gordie into my lexicon, too late to thank either of them.

Check HERE for a fantastic piece on the life and passing of Gordie Howe by NHL.com

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