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This Day In Hockey History-June 23, 1973-Gordie Howe-Nobody Teaches You How to Retire

came east from Saskatoon in 1946 with $2 in his pocket and a suit supplied by the guy who scouted him; he slept on a cot in Olympia and killed with his hockey stick.

When his two untried teenaged sons turned up in Houston recently for the signing of their first pro hockey contracts for roughly $500,000 apiece, they were whisked by limousine to a lavish suite in one of Houston's plushest hotels.

They probably wouldn't have been there at all — and certainly not like that — but for the fact that their father has been for 25 years the greatest hockey player who ever lived.

The money and the royal treatment and the chance to be with his sons were partly why Gordie himself got snared in the $1 million embrace of the World Hockey Association's Houston Aeros.

But that's far from the whole story, because finally, Gordie Howe is not a manager, a mascot, a lazy man or a retiree — he is a hockey player, and the four-year Houston contract gives him a chance to play for one more year.

It's not that Howe has been treated badly in since he retired from the Red Wings two years ago.

WHEN YOU'RE the greatest athlete the city has had for 25 years, they don't exactly toss you on the scrap heap when you retire, but even when they keep you on as a mascot at half your $100,000 salary, you feel left out.

“It's a problem with all athletes,” Howe said in a recent interview at a ranch he partly owns at Grass Lake near Jackson. “Nobody teaches you how to retire.”

Even though you are a superstar, age makes you more and more average each year.

When you realize your body is failing a little, and the aches and pains don't go away during the summer, the emptiness at the end of a season suddenly looms for a lifetime.

“I felt near the end I had a lot of days I wished I didn't have to play,” Howe confided. “Practices were very hard for me the last eight or ten years.

“When you're near the end of it, you sit down and talk to yourself. You say, “Where else can I earn that money doing something I like?”

“Sitting in the room, when It's the fourth game in five nights, you're tired, and you look across the room and see a young fellow dressing who wasn't even born when you first played the game.” Howe continued. “I once told Sid Abel, ‘I can't stand that kid! Get him out of here.”'

Howe's hair is grizzled at 45, his belly slopes like a bowling pin, his much-injured body is held together by catgut, and he played a good ten years after most hockey players were washed up; yet he's looking forward to playing another season with kids half his age.

IF NOTHING else, it'll stave off the empty feeling for another year.

“What happens now, if I go into the dressing room, everybody's talking about something of which I'm totally lost,” Howe says.

‘One of the guys asked me why I didn't come in more often, and I said, ‘Because I feel awkward in there.' ”

“He said, ‘I know what you mean. When I'm hurt and miss a few games, I get the same feeling.'

“When somebody just hands out a and everybody laughs, you don't know what they're laughing about. That's the kind of left-out feeling I've had.

“I had to sit home in my office doing my office work while the team was out practicing, where if I was on the ice. if I was a player. I'd know exactly what was happening.”

Gordie doesn't blame Bruce Norris, the Red Wings' owner who has paid him $50,000 a year for doing nothing.

“I have to thank him for trying,” Howe said. “He justified our friendship by getting me a very good, lucrative job, Fifty thousand a year just to sit there and do nothing.

“And nothing came about. And now there's a tremendous mix-up in the nothing,” Howe said sadly, referring to the many rumors about his break with the Red Wing management.

Norris decorated Howe with fancy titles and name-only directorships in his various business enterprises when, Howe said, “What I was really wanting was an education.”

“When you're hired, you generally like a man to tell you what to do,” he said.
»Instead, there was aimless- Hess, and even humiliation.

“Johnny Wilson (the former coach) said he was told not to put me on the ice because 1 liked to fool around a lot and Would just hold up the tempo of his practices.

“Then I was told by another party that it was Johnny who didn't want me on the ice. Then, something was said in terrms of that Alex Delvecchio didn't want me in the room,” Rowe said.

“All those stories, my God, Can you imagine that after 27 years?”

HOWE THOUGHT he was a vice-president of National Investors' Life, an insurance Company owned by Norris, “But when the books came out this year, 1 wasn't on them. I looked down the list of officers, and my name had been Scratched.

“ The directors of Investors' life were meeting in Puerto Rico this week and Howe said he phoned to ask if he was going to be “on the working fend of it.”

“Mr. Weiner, who heads it up, said it was just a chance for Colleen and I to get together with him and Joanie, because we recognized friendship or something. “When he said I wasn't involved in the program, that made it easy. I don't need a trip like that,” Howe said.

The Howes are in no need of charity, having invested their savings successfully for several years In a hockey school, a few apartment buildings and more recently in the cattle-breeding ranch with headquarters at Grass Lake.

They sold the hockey school last year.

The ranch, which raises polled (hornless) Herefords to sell to commercial ranches,, has grown from 2,000 acres to $5,000 acres since the Howes bought into it four years ago.

lt owns and leases land in several states.

HOWE ALSO has a fledgling company, Gordie Howe Agrolabs, which produces a fermentation control product for silos. “When we got involved in the ranches, I would say our estate doubled practically overnight,” Howe said. “It took off like wildfire.”

The child raises his head and rasped, “G-o-r-d-i-e H-o-w-e.”

Spent, he fell back on his pillows.

“Hi, Tim.” Gordie said, tenderly, first laying his hands on the boy and then on an autographed picture that fluttered on the coverlet.

The boy was too sick to express his utter devotion to Gordie Howe, so there was an awkward silence, while two wrestlers grappled with one another on the TV.

That was all, except that for the stricken parents, Gordie Howe's visit seemed briefly to ease the tragedy of their son's terminal illness.

Colleen and Gordie Howe met at the Lucky bowling alley on Grand River 23 years ago, and they have rarely been separated since, except during training camps and hockey trips.

Colleen didn't know what a hockey player was when she met Gordie, but she knows now: “When you play hockey for 25 years and you're consistently ca top of the heap, that doesn't just happen,” she says of her husband.

“No one ever realized the sacrifices he made, especially in the twilight of his career. He'd be the first guy out and the last guy off the ice. if

things weren't going right, he'd work on whatever it was.”

“Everything developed from hockey,” says Gordie, reflecting on his childhood. “I used to listen to the radio and follow the Turk Brodas and the Syd Howes and all the great hockey players.

“There was a great name in hockey by the name of Mel Hill. When I was a young fel-‘ low about nine years of age, he used to drive by our house in a great big convertible, sitting proud as a peacock, and that was a professional hockey player.

“I think that did it,” he said. “I used to dream about it.

“I'd get the Eaton's catalog and I'd say, ‘Mom, when I make it you're going to have this, and this, and this, and I'd have it all circled. It was pretty good on my math, because I used to add it all up,” Howe said, chuckling.

“This was my big dream, which did come true, thank heaven. That's why maybe somebody upstairs loves me. Because after we were married, Colleen and 1 bought them the home that dad lives in yet.

“I built the kitchen cupboards, much to my surprise. That's been 20 years ago,and they look as good as ever, only the knobs have been beaten up a little.”

Gordie Howe in 1944-45 with the Galt Red Wings.

IN GORDIE'S native Saskatoon (Saskatchewan, Canada), skating is nearly as natural as breathing.

“Everybody does it,” Howe said. “When I was five or six, every other lot was vacant where you'd have low-lying areas. After a heavy rain or snowfall, you'd get a quick freeze and have anyplace in the world you'd want to skate. The buses would tamp down the snow, and you could skate to school if you wanted to.

“We'd put on skates in the morning and never take them off. We'd skate home and eat, and mom would put newspapers on the floor to keep it dry.”

At 16, Gordie was shipped to Galt, Ontario, as a junior player. He doesn't dwell much on the bleakness of those years, but his wife Colleen says:

“He cried practically half the time he was there. He wasn't allowed to play. He could only sit on the bench and practice with the team.

“He lived in a rooming house where he just went up the back stairs and left his money. He was so backward at meeting people that he could sit at home alone in his room for a week and nobody would know he was missing.”

He was too shy to go to school, and worked in a metal factory instead.

When the 18-year-old Howe arrived in Detroit after a year in Galt and a year with the Red Wing farm club in Omaha, he was painfully aware of the difference between his background and the other players.

“When he finally was doing well and it worked out that he was going to stay with the team he was scared to death one of the other players would come out to his hometown during the summer and find out they (his parents) had an outhouse and no plumbing,” Colleen recalled.

had talked about coming out to Saskatoon one summer. It Was the year before he bought (his parents) the house, and he thought, ‘What'll I do?'

“He shouldn't have felt like that, but he was in homes in Detroit that were really nice, yet he didn't want his mother and dad to feel they didn't have a good home.

HOWE'S SALARY was something like $2,000 for his first two years, but he scrimped and “did without everything and had cardboard in his shoes” until he bought the house in Saskatoon, according to Colleen.

Gordie said that when he first saw Colleen, a beautiful 17-year-old secretary, at the bowling alley, “I actually hunted for three bowling weeks before I found someone to introduce me.”

Colleen says: “We'd have three-hour conversations on the phone, and finally he got the nerve to ask me out. On our first date he took me to meet Ted Lindsay, which was like family to him.”

THE FIRST two summers after they were married they lived in a one-room cottage in Saskatchewan with no running water.

“I had a new baby, and | needless to say, if you don't | have running water you don't | have hot water,” Colleen said.

“In order to do diapers and things, Gordie would go to this 1 tennis club which wasn't too 1 far away and bring hot water in basins in the trunk of the car.”

The Howes' life is still simple — “playing cards with friends, going to a movie, and 1 think the children are foremost in our lives,” Colleen said. There are Marty, 19, Mark, 18, Cathleen, 14, and Murray, 12.

Cathy is named partly for Howe's mother, born Katherine Schultz in Stuttgart, Germany. She came to Canada with her family and worked as a domestic until she met Gordie's father.

She died in at 76, a woman of great courage and stamina, according to the Howes.

“When she felt a baby coming on (labor pains), she pulled water from the well and heated it, and lay down and tied the cord herself,” Gordie recalled.

The senior Howe came up from under the Homestead Act, which granted land to anyone willing to work it, but he wasn't able to grow much of anything and later took a job as a mechanic in a filling station.

“He got rheumatic fever working in the damp pits, and what little he did have was lost,” Howe remembers. “At that time there was no such thing as a heist. You'd dig a hole and drive the car over the pit.”

PARTLY TO build muscle for hockey, Howe worked alongside his father for two summers “throwing concrete. We used to put in curbs and sidewalks. What it does is keep you on your feet 18 hours a day working. It builds everything,” he said.

Today, the Howes josh apprehensively about “Howes-ton” and exchange Texas-style greetings (“Howe-dy”), but confess reluctance to sever all with .

“The house in Bloomfield Hills? We'll keep it a while, see what happens,” Howe said. “The north home (near Grayling, purchased four years ago) will stay there. That was a dream, even if it's only a one-month-a-year deal.”

Howe considered carefully how the move to Houston would affect the boys, Marty and Mark, and decided:

“It'll get the pressure off their backs. If I'm focused,” he says, “they'll be left alone. 1 like that idea, because it's going to take them two or three years to mature.”

He knows it won't be easy As he told the 4-H Club youngsters at Grass Lake:

“Any time you sit back and relax, somebody's going to beat your head out.”


BY MARYANNE CONHEIM Fret Press Staff Writer

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