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Biofile Gordie Howe Interview

By Scoop Malinowski

Status: ‘Mr. Hockey.’ NHL right winger with Detroit Red Wings (1946-1971) and Hartford Whalers (1979-80).

Ht: 6-0 Wt: 205 pounds

DOB: March 31, 1928 In: Floral, Sask.

Hockey Inspirations: “My brother Bernie was a tough defenseman. I remember grabbing his bag and dragging it through the snow when he was going overseas during the war. The late Alf Pike who played for New York. What he did with me…I was with the New York Rangers camp and then I was sitting there looking at everybody. Then he just grabbed my arm and said, ‘Let the kid here eat or he’ll starve to death!’ So he took me in line and let me eat. Then he was really nice because he, from there, drove me over to camp. And the way he dressed is the way I dress today. I was watching him – I found a hero who helped me. Ab Welsh was another one. I asked for an autograph at the old City of Saskatoon rink. I walked in there – I must’ve said the right thing – he took me in the room and all the players signed my program. He said, ‘Do you play?’ I said, ‘Yes sir.’ That’s when he went to the back room. He gave me his stick – an old three-piece stick – I’d never seen one before. I slept with the stick. So what bothered me more – was the autograph. What it meant. I said, ‘If I’m going to be a total hockey player then I better learn how to write.’ So the signature I’m using now is the one my mother picked out. So it’s like a legacy every time I write. It’s like a legacy toward my mom.”

Nicknames: “Mr. Hockey. Power – Jack Adams called me Power. I don’t know why.”

Favorite Movies: “I like westerns.”

Early Hockey Memory: “Early memories, yes…I went to Regina, Saskatchewan – the first time I had ever been on the road – and scored three goals against Regina. And the memory was nice getting the goals, but when I read my name in the paper – ‘future NHL star’ – that was a very, I would say, fond memory. I was about 13. Those are the days that maybe got me thinking it was within reach. That basically, the little things in life are what really set you up. That one write-up in the paper – what the media can do for you. That got me thinking. I went out and practiced. I shot all summer long and all winter long. I think that one motivational write-up was probably one of the two things that gave me the idea that I could play in the game. (Did you save it?) No. Dang it!”

First Job: “Damn good questions…oh yeah, it was delivering papers for the grocery store on a bike in sub-zero weather. I was in King George School, Westmont School, age 9. Third grade; 35 cents a day.”

Favorite Meal: “Probably fish.”

Favorite Breakfast Cereal: “I like them all. I like oatmeal. I ate oatmeal so much I had hives (laughs). And I didn’t realize that it was the best thing I ever did for myself.”

Favorite Ice Cream Flavor: “All kinds.”

Pre-Game Feeling: “Depends on who I was playing against. I recall one time – (son) Mark used to go to games with me – I mean, he used to like to dress like me and go to the game and everything. He asked me a question. I said, ‘Mark, please give your dad time to think. I’m trying to think of how I’m going to get somebody for forgettin’ me last week!’ That’s preparation for the game. I can think of when we left the door of the dressing room to walk to the rink. Over the door there was a big, red sign and all it said was, ‘We supply everything but guts.’ And that gave us a high tone. We had a bunch of feisty guys – we gotta do this, we gotta do that. One time (linemate) Sid Abel told us Phil Esposito was making a fool of the team. Somebody hit him! So I went and I took the job in my hands and when he came across center ice, I hit him. And during the conversation – it was really funny – he mumbled. I said, ‘What’d you say?’ He said, ‘To think you used to be my favorite (laughs).’ So there are comical moments that come with a lot of seriousness.”

Greatest Sports Moment: “Lacing the skates on with (sons) Marty and Mark (with Houston Aeros of WHA in 1973). There’s no doubt in my mind. It was something I had given up – that was in my mind in the years in Detroit – when I retired in 1971. So when I did that in the back of my mind I had given up any hopes. Because I knew the kids had enough talent to make it. And could I hang on long enough? Obviously, I couldn’t. I had a couple of years rest. Things got a little stronger. The wrist got stronger. They got a lot better, too. Once I learned I could play a couple more years with the kids – that’s a highlight. You can always say Stanley Cup and different things. Playing with my sons was something I really wanted. And when it came my way – it was supposed to be one year – but it turned out seven years.”

Most Painful Moment: “When they took my knees out. And they gave me two brand new knees. Total replacement on knees. That’s the most severe pain I ever had. But I think you always think of the time – moments are funny. When I retired the first time (1971), my mother (Katharine) had just died. So that was very much in my mind, too. So you want total painful moment – when I retired I was giving up something I love and I had already lost somebody I loved. That was a tough one. She had always hoped that I would give up the game before I got seriously injured. And I was thinking about it at the time, but I had just too much in me to leave the game. Losing Stanley Cups. There’s so many. The painfulness in the loss of a game by doing something silly – that’s real painful. The only time I ever lost sleep when I went home was when I was directly responsible for the loss of game – that used to really bug me. That’s why maybe some of the guys couldn’t understand me sometimes. (They said) ‘You led the league in scoring, you came back to training camp wondering if you’re going to make the club.’ Well, that was my attitude. I wanted to do something to catch the eye of somebody. Maybe get a raise. It’s silly. But when you’re only making $8,000 a year, you gotta think that way.”

Funny Memory: “We had trainers who were good friends. I got hit in the shin. I knew it was sore because I was bleeding under the shin pad. He said, ‘What’s the matter?’ I said, ‘I think I broke the big toe, as a matter of fact.’ The guy said, ‘How far is it from your heart?’ I basically said, ‘It’s about as close as my fist is from your nose, if you don’t start cuttin’!’ Yeah, I had a broken toe.”

Toughest Competitors: “I never based ’em on that way. Toughest in the way…Tim Horton was stronger than a damn bull. He’d lock you up and you’re done for. And Bobby Hull could kill you. I think Bobby Orr could kill you. I think Wayne Gretzky could kill you – with his goals and workmanship. That’s a different kind of toughness. An all-around strong guy and very aggressive, but I never had to tussle with him – but the best man I saw was John Ferguson with Montreal.”

Most Treasured Possession: “Memories. Memories covered so many things.”

People Qualities Most Admired: “People with honesty. If anything else – respect. Honesty – we tried to live by it.”

Career Accomplishments: Six-time scoring champ; six-time Hart Trophy winner; 23 All-Star Games; four Stanley Cups.

(Note: I first encountered Mr. Hockey as a media intern for the NJ Devils in 1987, escorting him from the Byrne Arena office to the ice. We met a decade later at a press conference for his book “And Howe” and scheduled this phone interview in the late 90s This Biofile interview is included in my book 80s Hockey Biofiles amazon books $14.99.)

About Mark Malinowski

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