Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady is well known for his seven Super Bowl championships.
He’s also known for his longevity.
After retiring in February 2022 following 22 years of football, Brady announced that he would be returning for season 23 in March of the same year.
As impressive as that is, especially in a physical sport like football, the soon-to-be 45-year-old Brady has a ways to go to catch Gordie Howe.
Howe played professional hockey for over 30 years before retiring in his early 50s.
Mr. Hockey. Gordie Howe. pic.twitter.com/kIYlK9VaDe
— The Hockey Samurai 侍 (@hockey_samurai) April 9, 2022
That mark is even more astounding considering that Howe was not a role player.
He was consistently one of the best right-wingers in the NHL, winning four Stanley Cups.
After retiring from the NHL, Howe signed with the World Hockey Association and played several more years alongside his sons.
When he finally hung up his skates for good, “Mr. Hockey” was the epitome of the sport to players worldwide.
This is the story of Gordie Howe.
Gordon “Gordie” Howe was born on March 31, 1928 in Floral, Saskatchewan, Canada.
When he was only a few months old, the Howe family moved to the town of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
A few years later, the Great Depression tore through North America, and the Howe’s were not spared.
Howe’s father, Ab, found work in construction and did everything he could to support his family and provide for his nine children.
— Hockey Hall of Fame (@HockeyHallFame) July 23, 2017
Meanwhile, young Gordie was about to embark on a rite of passage that has been a part of Canadian tradition for generations.
When he was roughly six years old, his parents bought Gordie his first pair of ice skates.
After that, Howe couldn’t get enough of the sport.
“Hockey was the only thing in his life,” Ab Howe said in 1964. “Any time of the year, any time of the day you’d see him with a stick in his hand. He’d walk along swatting at clumps of dirt or stones.”
However, contrary to his imposing nature years later, Howe wasn’t the most aggressive on the ice or off.
“Gordie was always such a big, awkward kid,” said Ab. “He was always so much bigger than the others. And always very shy.”
Howe was teased by his peers because he was growing fast and his coordination couldn’t quite keep up.
Nevertheless, he was determined to succeed no matter what it took, even if it meant practicing during brutally cold winters.
“I guess the coldest would be 50° below,” Howe said of Saskatoon. “A lot of times it would be 25° below.”
Howe’s Journey to the Pros
Howe’s love of hockey was evident. So was his struggle with school.
He performed poorly in school, and it wasn’t until years later that he was finally diagnosed with dyslexia.
During the summer months, Howe helped his father work construction.
He eventually dropped out of school to help his father full time.
By the time he was in middle school, Howe had found his coordination (he could score right or left-handed) and played youth hockey with the King George Athletic Club.
Today would have been the 94th birthday of Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe. This photo is from 80 years ago in 1942 when Gordie was 14 years old playing right wing with the King George Athletic Club in Saskatoon, SK. He played Goalie up until this season. pic.twitter.com/5HRN5VD5W7
— Matvei Michkov (@PK_Brewbban) March 31, 2022
He helped lead the team to a Provincial Championship in 1942.
Then, when he was 15, Howe was spotted by scouts from the New York Rangers and was invited to their camp.
While he was at the camp, the other attendees noticed Howe couldn’t figure out how to put on the fancy athletic equipment.
They teased him about it, and although Howe played well, he left the team and returned to Saskatoon.
While he was home, a scout from the Detroit Red Wings approached Howe.
Detroit signed him and added a $4,000 bonus.
Quick Stop in the Minors and a Big NHL Debut
After signing his contract, the Red Wings assigned Howe to their minor league squad, the Galt Red Wings in Galt, Ontario.
He was then promoted to the Omaha, Nebraska Knights and played outstandingly.
In 1946, Howe was brought up to the parent club in Detroit.
During his first game with the Red Wings, Howe was placed at right wing and made an immediate impact.
He scored his first NHL goal that night; he was only 18.
Of course, Howe didn’t just make an impact on the ice. He made a literal impact on the faces and bodies of his opponents.
While pleasant and still somewhat shy off the ice, Howe was a terror between the boards.
— Yesterday Today (@YesterdayToday9) October 30, 2020
He wasn’t afraid to mix it up and at one point his coach acknowledged Howe’s ability to fight, but also encouraged him to focus more on the game.
“The trouble is he (Howe) knows how to shade the rules,” said one player on the Chicago Black Hawks. “You do something to him, he won’t let on you got to him. But when you come out of the next scramble, you’ve got four or five stitches you don’t know how you got.”
Howe is Seriously Injured but Detroit Wins Stanley Cup
Each year he played in the NHL, Howe improved.
Detroit just missed out on winning championships when they lost in the Stanley Cup Finals in 1947-48 and 1948-49 to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Then, in 1949-50, the Red Wings and Howe put together a 37-19-14 regular season.
Howe, along with teammates Ted Lindsay and Sid Abel, finished in the top three of the league in scoring that season and were dubbed the “Production Line” by the local press.
Detroit's Production Line. Gordie Howe, Sid Abel, Ted Lindsay pic.twitter.com/sVqZu1vkoj
— The Hockey Samurai 侍 (@hockey_samurai) April 17, 2022
Detroit then faced off against Toronto in the semifinals.
During the first game of the series, Howe collided with Maple Leafs’ Ted Kennedy and was rocketed into the boards.
The collision caused serious injuries to Howe’s head and face, and he was immediately hospitalized.
Due to the severity of the injuries, Howe missed the remainder of the playoffs as the Red Wings finished off the Maple Leafs and then displaced the New York Rangers to win their first Stanley Cup since 1942-43.
Scoring Leader and Cup Winner
Howe returned to the Red Wings in 1950-51 and the public braced themselves to see if he would be the same player he was before his injury.
He returned better than ever and led the NHL in goals (43) and assists (43) for 86 total points.
Howe repeated the feat in 1951-52, leading the league once again with 86 points.
That season also saw the Wings beat Toronto and the Montreal Canadians in the playoffs for their second Stanley Cup title in three years.
Ted Lindsay, Gordie Howe and Alex Delvecchio of the Detroit Red Wings in the 1950s. pic.twitter.com/l1W4Lhzo9c
— Old Canada Series (@oldcanadaseries) September 29, 2020
In 1952-53 and 1953-54, Howe led the league in points with 95 (a first in NHL history) and 81 points respectively.
His accomplishment of also leading the league in goals and assists in 1950-51 and 1952-53 put Howe in rare company.
Only five other players have matched the achievement in NHL history.
Detroit won the Cup again in 1953-54 and repeated in 1954-55.
During the 1951 season, Howe married Colleen Jaffa.
The two would eventually have four children and Colleen acted as her husband’s agent.
Meanwhile, Howe continued pounding in goals while pounding away at opponents.
It eventually became a running joke in the Detroit locker room that Howe had pioneered his own version of a hat trick.
Yet, the “Gordie Howe hat trick” wasn’t three goals scored during a game.
Oct 11, 1953: Gordie Howe scores the first "Gordie Howe Hat Trick" of his NHL career with a goal, an assist and a fight in the first period of a 4-0 win over the Maple Leafs. #BestOfDRWvsTOR. pic.twitter.com/FOE3dRyUz9
— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) April 2, 2020
Howe’s version was a goal, an assist, and a fight.
However, it has been noted that this occurrence only happened twice during his career.
No matter the game, Howe was also known for being cool as a cucumber.
“In the dressing room before a big game, he was always just as cool as he was on the ice. Why, no matter what the pressure, he could pass a cup of tea on a stick across to another player and not shake a bit. He was a cool article all right,” said his coach, Jack Adams.
In 1956-57, Howe led the NHL in goals (44) and points (89).
— The Hockey Samurai 侍 (@hockey_samurai) July 18, 2022
He did it again in 1962-63 when he had 38 goals and 86 total points.
All the while, Howe continued to take a beating and never chose to wear a helmet to stave off injuries.
“I had 50 stitches in my face one year,” said Howe in 1964. “That was a bad year. I only got 10 stitches last year. That was a good year.”
By this point in his career, Howe showed no signs of slowing down and he was widely regarded as one of the best players in the NHL, if not the world.
At the end of the 1962-63 season, Howe was awarded his sixth Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP.
This came after receiving the award in 1952, 1953, 1957, 1958, and 1960.
While Howe was winning scoring accolades and MVP awards, the Red Wings regularly went to the playoffs.
Unfortunately, they would lose in the Stanley Cup Finals in 1956, 1961, 1963, 1964, and 1966.
As the 1960s continued, Detroit would find it difficult to crack the postseason, especially after the 1967-68 season when the NHL went from six teams to 12.
In 1968-69, Howe was entering his early 40s but still achieved a career-best 103 total points.
He was also part of a trio called “Production Line 3” along with Frank Mahovlich and Alex Delvecchio.
The Wings couldn’t quite get over the hump and were beaten by the Chicago Black Hawks in the 1970 quarter-finals.
Howe was still soldiering on, but a problematic wrist injury proved too much to bear.
Gordie Howe and the Red Wings playing Buffalo in the 1970s. pic.twitter.com/agMgF4YrX5
— Old Canada Series (@oldcanadaseries) September 28, 2020
He retired after the 1970-71 season and was offered a job in Detroit’s front office.
During his NHL career, Howe held league records for most assists, goals, and points, as well as for number of games played.
He also passed Maurice “Rocket” Richard’s all-time scoring record.
Not long after his retirement, Howe was honored as a member of the Order of Canada and had his jersey number 9 retired by Detroit.
Additionally, Howe was inducted into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame and the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Howe was humble, but he did appreciate all the accolades and awards won throughout his career. He soon decided he wasn’t finished playing hockey.
After being retired for two years and being courted by the New York Islanders as their head coach, Howe decided to return to the ice.
The World Hockey Association began play in 1973 and Howe’s sons, Marty and Mark, were signed by the Houston Aeros club.
Almost on a whim, Howe enquired with Houston’s management to see if they would be interested in signing him as well.
It didn’t matter that the elder Howe was in his mid-40s.
The prospect of “Mr. Hockey” playing for their team was too good to be true.
Gordie Howe, Houston Aeros. Sam Houston Coliseum. Houston, TX 2/27/1974 pic.twitter.com/frIc4kVWZ5
— The Hockey Samurai 侍 (@hockey_samurai) November 14, 2021
Howe got surgery to repair his wrist, signed a contract with the Aeros, and suited up alongside his boys.
That season was like a dream.
Howe scored 100 points, won the inaugural WHA championship, and was named the league’s MVP.
Mark Howe was named the WHA’s Rookie of the Year as well.
A year later, Gordie Howe scored 99 points and won a second WHA title.
In 1975-76, he scored 102 points for Houston and 68 in 1976-77.
After the 1977 season, Howe and his two sons signed with the New England Whalers of the WHA.
Playing with Gretzky and Retirement #2
In his two seasons with the Whalers, Howe scored 96 points in 1977-78 and 43 points in 1978-79.
He was a member of the WHA All-Star team in 1979 that played a three-game series against Russia’s Dynamo Moscow.
The coach for the WHA squad put Mark and Gordie Howe on the same line along with Edmonton Oilers phenom Wayne Gretzky.
During the first game of the series, the trio scored seven points and another three in the second game.
Following the 1978-79 season, the WHA folded, and the Whalers became the Hartford Whalers as one of the NHL’s expansion teams.
Howe stayed with the organization and played in all 80 games, scoring 15 goals, dishing out 26 assists, and totaling 41 points.
By the end of the 1979-80 season, Howe was 52 years old and had played hockey in five different decades.
— Mike Commito (@mikecommito) March 12, 2021
He would hang up his skates after the season ended.
In 32 years of hockey, he had 1,071 goals, 1,518 assists, and 2,589 points.
All marks would later be surpassed.
However, it took until 2021 for Patrick Marleau to beat Howe’s record of 1,767 NHL games.
Howe won four Stanley Cups and two WHA championships, led the league in scoring five times and in total points six times, and won the NHL MVP award four times and the WHA MVP award once.
Retirement and Death
After retiring, Howe stayed active in hockey and in performing charity work.
In 1997, the 69-year-old Howe announced he would be suiting up for one game with the Detroit Vipers of the International Hockey League.
That gave Howe the distinction of playing professional hockey in his sixth decade.
A few years later, he watched as his son, Mark, was also elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2011.
In 2009, Colleen Howe passed away from complications of dementia.
Just a few years later, Howe himself was diagnosed with dementia and his health began to deteriorate.
He suffered a stroke in 2014 and was cared for by his children.
— Harjit Sajjan (@HarjitSajjan) June 10, 2016
Then, on June 10, 2016, Howe died at the age of 88.
His legacy is such that he has been called the greatest hockey player ever by Gretzky (whose nickname happens to be “the Great One”).
“You’ve got to love what you’re doing,” Howe once said. “If you love it, you can overcome any handicap or the soreness or all the aches and pains and continue to play for a long, long time.”