By Ryan of The Sportmeisters
For athletes (and R. Kelly), age is nothing but a number. Sports stars so used to dominating in their twenties and thirties look to continue that success onto nearly their forties.
Who could blame them? When you spend the first thirty-five years of your life performing something you love and such a high level, how can you just expect to hang it up?
For Gordie Howe, of Detroit Red Wings fame, he never hung it up, continuing to be a hockey success well beyond a normal athlete’s career.
Gordie Howe’s pro career spanned over fifty years, from 1946-1997, starting at the age of 18 with the Detroit Red Wings. He had two breaks within that period, one from 1971-1973 due to a wrist problem.
When he retired the first time, Howe had played 25 years of hockey already, all with the Red Wings. He returned in 1974, joining the WHA for six years, and making one final return to the NHL with the Hartford Whalers.
While sports pundits lauding Shaquille O’Neal’s year at 36 and Kurt Warner’s resurgence at 37, though same pundits must realize Howe was outperforming his younger teammates when he was well into his forties.
In Howe’s first return to the ice following retirement, in 1974, with the Houston Aeros of the WHA, Howe scored a hundred points (31 goals, 69 assists), in seventy games, earning the Gary L. Davidson MVP trophy (now the Gordie Howe MVP trophy), and taking the Aeros to the WHA Championship, were they claimed the Avco World Trophy.
At the time, Howe was a mere 46 years young.
As mentioned earlier, Howe still played for another five years, and still performed at a high level. In 1975, at 47 years old, the Aeros claimed their second straight Avco World Trophy, behind Howe’s 99 points (34 goals, 65 assists).
In 1976, At the ripe old age of 48 years old, Howe would score 102 points (32 goals, seventy assists), leading the Aeros to their third straight championship appearance, where they ultimately would lose.
As a 50 year-old in 1978, Howe would again score 96 points (34 goals, 62 assists) for the New England Whalers of the WHA, once again leading them to the WHA Championship (their third in four years).
Following the 1978-1979 season, the Whalers would merge into the NHL as the WHA folded, and Howe, at 51, agreed to one final season, leading the now Hartford Whalers to the NHL playoffs. Howe played in all eighty games of the season, contributing with fifteen goals, to lead them to the playoffs, where they were swept three games to zero.
Howe hung up his skates until the aforementioned 1997 game with the Detroit Vipers. Though he only played one shift, at almost seventy years old, Howe was still able to perform with players old enough to be his grandkids.
Among other records, Howe will go down as the only hockey player to have played in six different decades of professional hockey. That is one record that will not be easily obtainable for many others.
After a 25-year career, it’s easy for any athlete to hang it up. Some may attempt a short comeback, possibly even having one decent year before realizing they are a shell of their former self.
For Gordie Howe, four of his top five statistical performances came during his “comeback” tour. Playing with kids young enough to be his own, Howe routinely performed at a high level, winning trophies and championships that he didn’t need.
Gordie Howe’s astonishing performance in his late forties and early fifties are ones no athlete would dare attempt.
So before you tip your cap to a guy in his late thirties trying to “make the team”, and even “slightly contribute”, remember Gordie Howe, who showed his skills have nothing on his age.