The line from The Sandlot struck me today after it was reported that Gordie Howe, Mr. Hockey, had passed away at the age of 88 in Toledo, Ohio. For a generation that never got to see Gordie Howe play, we missed out on one of the all-time greatest players to ever lace up a pair of skates, yet we know so much about him due to the reverence in which our parents and older relatives and friends held him. He was a star in two leagues, a class act in life, and set every benchmark that some kid from Brantford, Ontario tried to eclipse. He is, in every sense of the word, a legend.
My experiences of Mr. Howe come only from what I have read. I wasn't born early enough to have any recollections of his playing days, but I have watched video and heard the accounts of his abilities. He was an "elbows-up" guy in the corner, but every single player and fan he's come across has said how genuinely nice and generous he is off the ice. I respect Mr. Howe's tenacity as a competitor, but I have a greater capacity for what he did for fans and players off the ice that makes him a legend in my books.
Let's not forget that the Red Wings wanted him to retire and take a front office job as he got older. He did that, but his heart knew he wasn't done yet. After being out of the game for a couple of seasons, he returned to the ice with his two sons to make up one of the most dangerous lines in the WHA as a part of the Houston Aeros. He was the yang to Bobby Hull's yin in the WHA - a man whose skills and play-making abilities would often be overshadowed by Hull's rugged play and powerful shot. Make no mistake, though, that the WHA was better as a league with Mr. Howe in it!
When he returned to the NHL, it was with the Hartford Whalers in 1979-80, and he was selected to play in the All-Star Game that season which was taking place in Detroit. He received a two-minute standing ovation from the Detroit crowd, a sign of how revered he was in the city. Forget the great players introduced around him - Bossy, Trottier, Sittler, Gretzky - it was Howe who captured hockey's attention simply with his presence. That, folks, is legendary.
I wasn't lucky enough to see him play live, but I want to post a video of someone who was lucky enough to meet him twice. ESPN's Keith Olbermann has been that lucky, and here's his recollection of one of the greatest players of all-time.
Gordie Howe was a legend for his longevity in the game, his ability playing the game, and his aura surrounding the game. I'll leave you with the Biography Channel's piece on Mr. Hockey which is an elegant, beautiful piece on one of the game's superstars who deserves not only an entire wing at the Hockey Hall of Fame, but should be enshrined with a trophy at the NHL Awards for everything he did for the game.
Rest in peace, Mr. Hockey. You'll never be forgotten.