Gordie Howe has died at the age of 88. Mr. Hockey(™) played a whopping 1,767 games in his 26-year NHL career, both of which remain league records. Howe leaves behind a legacy of ultra-competitiveness and extreme versatility, as his namesake hat trick (a goal, an assist, and a fight in the same game) would suggest.
Howe retired in 1980. For those of us too young to see him play, our knowledge of Howe has been limited to video clips and features, but his achievements can be universally appreciated. Here are nine incredible facts about no. 9:
1. He made 23 All-Star teams, an NHL record.
Fittingly, he also holds the record for most All-Star Game penalty minutes. This has to be the most badass record in sports.
2. Related: He actually fought in an NHL All-Star Game.
And no, not in the playful John Scott–Patrick Kane way. From The New York Times’s obituary of former Maple Leafs defenseman Gus Mortson, who died last year: “Though fights in NHL All-Star Games are virtually unheard of … [Mortson] fought with the Detroit Red Wings’ Gordie Howe in the second period of the 1948 game.” The other players probably hated Howe for this, but at least he made the game entertaining in a Pete Rose–like way.
3. His career spanned five different decades.
And he played a ceremonial shift for the IHL’s Detroit Vipers in 1997 to technically make it six decades. He was 69 at the time, so that would be like if Kareem Abdul-Jabbar came out of retirement to play a game for the Lakers next season.
4. Shawn Mendes’s “Stitches” is about Howe’s face.
No, it actually wasn’t, but consider this from Mark Kram’s definitive Sports Illustrated profile of Howe: “In his career he has received more than 300 stitches in his face; he also has suffered the disappearance of an even dozen teeth. ‘I had 50 stitches in my face one year,’ says Gordie coolly. ‘That was a bad year. I only got 10 stitches last year. That was a good year.’”
For the record: Kram’s piece was written in 1964, 16 years before Howe retired, so there’s no telling how many stitches he ended his career with. But it’s probably safe to assume he has that record, too.
5. He was practically always injured.
Also from Kram’s piece: “The full roster of Howe’s hockey injuries includes damaged knee cartilages, broken ribs, a broken wrist, several broken toes, a shoulder dislocation, an assortment of scalp wounds, and a painful ankle wound. In a collision on the ice on March 28, 1950 (he was 21), he suffered a severe skull fracture, and he was in an operating room three hours while surgeons worked to halt a hemorrhage in his brain. Gordie dismisses them all with a casual, ‘Aw, it’s not all that bad.’”
Again: This was only through 1964! Howe’s durability is especially impressive given how primitive sports science was in his era compared to now. LeBron James has a staff of personal trainers, massage therapists, nutritionists, and chefs to help him achieve longevity. Howe had a can of spinach and secondhand cigarette smoke.
6. He played alongside his sons at the end of his career.
From NHL.com: “But all the honors and accolades pale in comparison to [Howe’s] greatest hockey achievement — playing with his sons Mark and Marty, first with the Houston Aeros of the WHA and then in the NHL with the Hartford Whalers in Gordie’s final season in 1979–80.”
In fact, his last NHL goal even came with an assist from Mark:
We talk about how strange it is to be coached by your dad in professional sports, but the father-son dynamic has to be even weirder when you’re teammates. I’m just surprised there weren’t any Drake LaRoche–like controversies with Mark and Marty.
7. Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr consider Howe to be the GOAT.
From Ken Campbell’s remembrance of Howe in The Hockey News: “When The Hockey News was putting together its list of the top 50 players of all time in 1998, Wayne Gretzky was the overwhelming no. 1 choice. When Bobby Orr found out he was at no. 2, he pointed out that he thought Gordie Howe should be ahead of him … two of the greatest players in the history of the game — Gretzky and Orr — have Gordie Howe no. 1 on their all-time lists.” No higher acclaim than that.
8. Playing in the pre-PED era didn’t keep him from getting swole.
Not many people can look like a boss while fishing, but Howe was the embodiment of the 100 emoji. I can’t believe other players were even willing to fight him.
9. He wore no. 9 in order to get a better night’s sleep.
From a 2014 interview Howe did with Gretzky: “Many people may not know that my first number with the Red Wings was no. 17 until early into my first season. The no. 9 became available and it was offered to me. We travelled by train back then, and guys with higher numbers got the top bunk on the sleeper car. No. 9 meant I got a lower berth on the train, which was much nicer than crawling into the top bunk.”
And here we have the secret to Mr. Hockey’s longevity: sleep. Insomniacs should just wear a replica Howe sweater to bed each night.