Today’s story is about how Gordie Howe helped put my family back together after my girl-dad crisis with my daughter Celine.
Celine came home in tears after soccer practice. She always wore number 3, but a girl with more seniority wanted her number back. Her coach asked Celine to switch to number 9.
She called it a stupid number, one that nobody wanted to wear. I smiled and told her 9 is one of the most important numbers in Detroit sports history. It is the number Gordie Howe wore during his 26 season NHL career with the Detroit Red Wings.
She was 11 years old and believed I made up a story to halt the tears and make her feel better. When Celine stopped crying, she wanted to know if Gordie Howe was real or if dad was making up a tall tale.
Gordie Howe was real alright. I stood before him a few weeks later and told him about Celine. Here is something you should know about this legend. He was a mean SOB on the ice, but a very gentle man off it. He wanted to meet Celine to assure her that he was honored that she was going to wear his number and to tell her not to be ashamed.
Gordie Howe by the Numbers
Howe is Mr. Hockey. He finished his Hall of Fame career with 801 goals, 1,049 assists for 1,850 total points. If not for Wayne Gretzky, who came along later, Howe would be considered the greatest of all time.
“Tell Celine I am real,” he said in a chuckle. “And tell her I was a pretty good hockey player. I could hold my own.”
Howe had an appearance downtown with Ted Lindsey, Nick Libett
and a half dozen other old timers. I took Celine to see him. As we approached Howe, his face lit up. He knew the child that tagged along with me must have been Celine.
“So they want you to wear number 9, huh,” he said to Celine. ‘I want you to wear that number with pride. I’d be honored if you wore 9.”
Celine appeared to be in awe of the moment. And that Gordie Howe was a real person. I was not pulling her leg. Celine promised to score a lot of goals that day. And she promised to uphold the high standards of wearing 9.
Howe did not brag about his dominance. He kept saying he was “a pretty good player,” that he “could hold his own” Blah Blah Blah.
After our visit, a Gordie Howe signed hockey stick was delivered to the house, where it has a prominent spot in our finished basement.
Howe had a dry humor. When he skated with the Detroit Vipers in his 60s for one shift, I asked him if he was worried about competing with guys who 25-30 years old. His eyes lit up.
“Don’t worry,” Howe said. “I won’t hurt them.”
The number 9 plays a big role in Red Wings hockey history. Howe wore 9. Steve Yzerman
(19) and Sergei Fedorov (91).
And Celine wore 9 the rest of her soccer career, except in high school. She wore 17 because jersey numbers were based on shirt size and as one of the smaller players she got a higher number.
If anybody asked about wearing number 9 she beamed with pride.
“Gordie Howe wore number 9,” she often said. “He was one of the best scorers in hockey, and he said I could wear his number.”
Follow Foster on Twitter at TerryFosterDet.