'Mr. Hockey' Gordie Howe Dies At 88 : The Two-Way Howe led the Detroit Red Wings to four Stanley Cup championships in the 1950s and was named MVP six times.
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Gordie Howe, Legend Known As 'Mr. Hockey,' Dies At 88

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Gordie Howe, Legend Known As 'Mr. Hockey,' Dies At 88

Gordie Howe, Legend Known As 'Mr. Hockey,' Dies At 88

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The man known simply as Mr. Hockey died today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED COMMENTATOR: And from the Hartford Whalers, representing all of hockey with great distinction for five decades, number 9.

SIEGEL: Number nine was Gordie Howe. That tribute was at the 1980 National Hockey League All-Star Game - his 23rd. What you're hearing is a standing ovation that lasted nearly three minutes. Howe died today at the age of 88. He was a fierce competitor on the ice. His generosity off of it endeared him to, among many others, legions of Red Wings fans in Detroit, where he played most of his career. Quinn Klinefelter of member station WDET has this remembrance.

QUINN KLINEFELTER, BYLINE: Howe played 32 professional seasons. He was named most valuable player half-a-dozen times, was in the top-10 in scoring for 21 consecutive years and, in the 1950s, led the Detroit Red Wings to four Stanley Cup championships. Bigger and stronger than most players and ambidextrous, Howe was an almost unstoppable scorer. He was also, in the words of one opponent, the meanest SOB who ever put on skates - a man who intimidated one player by lifting him completely off the ice by his nostrils. Yet the man who is perhaps the greatest hockey player ever was so self-deprecating he was reluctant to even say his name on a microphone.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GORDIE HOWE: Oh, I forgot (laughter). Yes, this is Gordie Howe, sometimes known as Mr. Hockey. And it's a name I'm very, very, extremely proud of. And now we - it means I have a double autograph. How I got it, I have no idea. It was put into print before I recognized it.

KLINEFELTER: Howe gained the nickname because, for many, he was hockey. There's even something called a Gordie Howe hat trick for a player who scored a goal, had an assist and got in a fight in a single game. Howe got in a lot of fights as a rookie. Then, Red Wings coach Jack Adams helped him channel his aggression, using it to make opponents back off a bit.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HOWE: In that one conversation, he molded me into the player I should be - hit and be like a dogcatcher. Anything that moves, run at it, so...

KLINEFELTER: At the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Howe remains an icon for the city and for players, like former Red Wings all-star Chris Chelios. He says Howe was a walking contradiction - a tough guy on the ice, a teddy bear off it.

CHRIS CHELIOS: Really a great sense of humor. He was never too serious. When things were going bad, he'd show up and try and lighten up everybody.

KLINEFELTER: Howe played for a quarter-century in Detroit before retiring briefly. Two years later, he was back on the ice, lured by the prospect of playing with his two sons in the fledgling World Hockey Association. In his mid-40s, an age when many pro athletes are in a broadcast booth or on the golf course, Howe took his new team to several championships and again was voted most valuable player.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED COMMENTATOR: Howe coming up on the right side. Howe over the line to his father - son to father. He hits it, he scores. Number 9, father Howe.

KLINEFELTER: When Howe began his career, Harry Truman was president. By the time Howe finally retired for good, Jimmy Carter was in the White House. Hockey Hall of Fame historian Phil Pritchard says Howe had every right by then to be a self-involved sports diva, but he never was.

PHIL PRITCHARD: I think, more than anything, he cares that you're a fan of his. And I think that that's what makes Gordie Howe, Gordie Howe.

KLINEFELTER: Despite a cascade of honors spanning five decades, Howe said there was still nothing that topped the simple joy he first felt as a boy lacing up a pair of skates and stepping onto a makeshift rink.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HOWE: I froze my nose and my hands and my feet. I'd come in - the cheeks would be - I'd be putting snow on my face, trying to thaw it out. I enjoyed the game that much.

KLINEFELTER: It's a game - players and fans, past and present - that loved Gordie Howe back just as much. For NPR News, I'm Quinn Klinefelter in Detroit.

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