Saturday, June 11, 2016
I Remember Gordie Howe
As a little kid I'd watch Gordie Howe on Hockey Night In Canada in the dear departed Fifties.
Hockey coverage in those days was in black and white and the hockey game only came on at 8 p.m. because the Toronto Maple Leafs feared telecasting a whole game would result in faltering attendance.
Occasionally I'd get to actually go to the Gardens --I was there in 1959 for the very last time Rocket Richard scored a goal on Toronto ice.
Flash forward three decades later --actually it was 1986 --and I'm in Los Angeles at the Century Plaza hotel for the semi-annual Television Critics Association meetings.
That was in the day when newspapers still had TV critics.
And there I was in the vast ballroom during ABC's presentation and it was arranged that for .lunch I'd meet that great Canadian Alan Thicke.
We'd been pals since I interviewed him at the King Edward hotel for his daily CTV interview show.
I saw Thicke waiting at the back and he said he had two house guests who would join us.
And out of the shadows stepped Gordie Howe and his beautiful wife Colleen.
In all the TV tributes to Howe the wonderful Colleen was barely mentioned.
That day we walked across the courtyard and went into the coffee shop.
Gordie Howe was very nice and very shy.
And I noticed Colleen ordered for him.
"I know exactly what Gord wants," she said with a titter.
And when the steak sandwich arrived Colleen cut it into tiny pieces.
"It looks a bit tough," Thicke teased her. "You could chew it a bit for him, too?"
And Colleen laughed again,.
Any question I directed to Gord Colleen answered.
She was the keeper of the statistics and she did all the deals, kept the books, everything so Gord could concentrate on the game.
At one point Thicke asked Howe how many stitches he'd had on his face.
And Colleen answered right away --I forget the exact figure but it was well over 200.
But she did mention she gave up driving recently and she seemed unsure of herself when we left the restaurant.
She asked where we were going.
Gord was everything I expected a super star to be and Colleen was definitely his full prtmer in every facet of life.
When she died of Alzheimer's in 2009 I'm sure that was a gut wrenching moment for Gordi.
Howe's death days after Muhammad Ali's passing merely reflects the reality that our athletic stars are mortals after all.
Which means we should embrace their extraordinary exploits all the more.