As a young kid growing up in Traverse City, Michigan, I knew who Gordie Howe was. He owned a restaurant in downtown Traverse that my family would frequent from time to time.
I even shook hands with the Red Wings legend on one occasion, at Howe Arena in Traverse City. An ice hockey rink in town, named after the man who was integral in four Stanley Cup Championships with the Red Wings.
As a young child, I knew who Gordie Howe was. I just didn’t truly understand what he was.
I didn’t know Howe as “Mr. Hockey.” To me he was just another aged professional athlete who was active in the community.
I grew up in a time when Michael Jordan and the Bulls were all that mattered.
When I was kid it wasn’t Howe or Gretzky, it was Bulls or Pistons.
In a decision that I still rue to this day, while trading cards with one of my friends, I traded a signed Gordie Howe card for a Scottie Pippen Bulls card. To me, it was a great deal. I loved Scottie Pippen, and his card looked so cool. I knew that I could simply get Howe’s autograph some other time while at his restaurant.
However, I never did get Howe’s autograph again, as Gordie Howe’s Tavern and Eatery closed for business before I ever could.
I was a victim of the era.
Television told me that Nike, McDonald's and Gatorade were all that mattered.
No one was trying to be “Like Gordie” on the playground. Everyone wanted to be “Like Mike.”
No one ever took me aside and educated me on the significance of Howe and what he represented.
The man competed in the National Hockey League in five different decades. He won six Hart Trophies and six Art Ross Trophies. He is responsible for the term, “the Gordie Howe hat trick.”
Someone could have pulled me aside and said, “Hey, listen kid, you will never see another hockey player greater than Gordie Howe.”
I didn’t grow up in a hockey home. It wasn’t until later in life that I really developed a true appreciation for the sport.
But I was watching in 1997, when Roy and Vernon dropped masks and fought at center ice. I watched as Yzerman’s No. 19 banner was raised into the rafters at Joe Louis Arena.
I knew about the players of the now back then. I had to educate myself on the players of the past.
Men like Howe represent a history that is not only relevant to Detroit Red Wings fans, but a history also relevant to hockey fans in general.
It’s an unfortunate discrepancy that most people will tell you that Wayne Gretzky is the greatest player ever, without even knowing the names of Gordie Howe or Maurice “Rocket” Richard.
For young Red Wings fans, it’s all about the now. Without the proper education, men like Howe, Ted Lindsay and Sid Abel will be lost as merely names in a book.
It’s our duty to teach today’s youth and to carry on the Red Wings legacy.
My son will know those names. He’ll know who “The Captain” was.
Any young hockey fan can tell you who Sidney Crosby is; let’s also make sure he or she knows who Gordie Howe was.