This story originally appeared in the March 11, 1974 issue of Sports Illustrated. Subscribe to SI magazine here.
The question, Clarence Campbell, is this: What does your crusty old National Hockey League think now that one of its 45-year-old pensioners—you remember the name, Gordie Howe—is leading that other league in scoring, no doubt will be that other league’s Most Valuable Player, is the father of that other league’s probable Rookie of the Year and may give Houston one of its most welcome winners since old Sam himself? Will the NHL owners put an asterisk beside his name in the record books? Will they remove his plaques from the Hall of Fame? Will the Detroit Red Wings take down the Gordie Howe pictures hanging on the walls of the Olympia? Whatever happens, Mr. Campbell, Gordie says the Red Wings should not take down his pictures. “If they do that” he says,“they’ll have too many walls to repaint.”
See, Mr. Campbell, even though Gordie is turning 46 in three weeks, even though two of his sons play with him in Houston, even though he has some arthritis in his wrists and probably rubs a little darkener into his silver-streaked hair, he can still play hockey the way it was meant to be played. And don’t believe for a minute what Ted Lindsay, Gordie’s old linemate in Detroit, said the other day—that the World Hockey Association must be a terrible league if a 45-year-old player coming off two years in retirement can be the leading scorer. “I was 41 when I had my most productive scoring season in the NHL,” Gordie says. That year he had 103 points for the Red Wings and finished third in the point race behind Phil Esposito and Bobby Hull. And if the Red Wings had not tried to make him the prince of all paper-clip counters, he probably still would be the best player in Detroit.
This was Gordie Howe last Thursday in Chicago, following a 3–2 Houston victory on Tuesday over Vancouver. As always, his stick stayed high—menacingly-high—when the puck was not attached to it. As always, his head never stopped bobbing. And, as always, his eyes, deeply recessed in his scarred face, never stopped blinking. They were working at about 180 blinks a minute as he skated into the face-off circle near the Aeros’ goal, whispered something to his son Mark and pointed his stick to a spot along the boards, just across the blue line. The Howes were on the ice to check the power play of the Chicago Cougars, and as Gordie talked and Mark listened, a Chicago leather-lung shouted, “That’s it, Daddy, tell little Markie where to go.” Gordie laughed, but Mark didn’t, and then the linesman dropped the puck.
• Celebrating Father’s Day gallery: Readers and their dads
Obeying his father’s orders, Mark skated to the spot beyond the blue line, and when he arrived there Gordie had the puck waiting for him. Mark streaked down the ice and rifled a rising shot past Cougar Goaltender Rich Coutu. To prove that goal was no fluke, the Howes repeated their act five minutes later on what was supposed to be another Chicago power play. Gordie blinked. Gordie spoke. Gordie pointed. Mark nodded. Instant replay, except this time Mark scored on a shot along the ice.
Later, Gordie neatly set up Mark’s third goal of the game and 31st of the season and also had one of his own low shots deflected into the net by Houston center Jimmy Sherrit as the powerful Aeros routed the Cougars 9–4. “Gordie's so good that he makes a farce of the game,” said Houston right wing Frank Hughes, who also scored the hat trick.
As the week ended, Howe, who won six NHL scoring championships in his 25 years with the Red Wings and is the leading goal-and point-getter of the universe, was No. 1 in the WHA scoring race with 28 goals and 61 assists for 89 points, two ahead of Mike (Shaky) Walton of the Minnesota Fighting Saints. Howe & Sons could also take credit for Houston’s emergence as the strongest team in the WHA. Gordie has a lock on the MVP trophy, while 18-year-old Mark, who plays left wing on his father’s line, seems headed for the top rookie award. The third Howe, 20-year-old Marty, plays regularly on defense, and while he may not win any trophies, he leads the Howe family in penalty minutes and body checks.
“The secret to it all is that I’m happy on and off the ice for a change,” Gordie says. “The game is fun again, compared to the way things were the last several years in Detroit. Playing with my kids makes it fun, of course, and so does the atmosphere in Houston. Look, if I want to get away from hockey now, I can play golf or go fishing after practice. In Detroit the only thing I ever did was shovel snow off my neighbors' driveways.”
Back in September, though, there was doubt even among the Howes that Gordie would be able to return to the ice without forfeiting the prestige he had won in the NHL. “If I failed badly,” Howe says, “people would remember me more for trying to make a stupid comeback at 45 than for all the other things I did in hockey.” Training camp was physical drudgery as Gordie fought to lose 12 pounds. “He used to get red as a beet during practice,” Mark says. “We really worried about him.” Gordie started the season slowly. “I couldn’t remember how to grab the stick,” he says, “and I was tripping all over myself.” He tripped over teammate Andre Hinse’s skates in practice one day and suffered a concussion when his head hit the ice.
“Poor Andre thought it was all over,” Mark says. “He figured Dad would never play again and that it was his fault because he had tripped him. Andre was so upset he went out and sat in a bar all one afternoon.” Gordie spent one night in a hospital, the doctors releasing him in time to play in Houston’s next game.
Some Houston players and team officials suggested to Gordie that he wear a helmet, like his sons. “Helmets are the greatest thing in the world,” was Howe's response, “for kids—not me.”
Howe believes he reached a physical and mental peak about six weeks ago. “All of a sudden everything began to come easy again,” he says. “At the start I had to think about what I was doing, but now I was doing it by instinct, just like the old days.” Shortly afterward Howe scored the first “Texas” hat trick—four goals in one game—of his career.
Howe watched his diet closely and moved easily into Houston's leisurely life style. “Gordie’s big on cottage cheese, fruit salad, ground round, Jell-O, hot and cold cereals and ice cream,” says his blonde wife Colleen.
“You can be sure that I don’t neglect the ice cream, and of course nothing tastes better than a few nectars of the gods after a game,” says Howe. Or tones him up better than a long, muscle-relaxing swim in the heated pool at his $225,000 home in the Memorial section of Houston.
Once Howe regained his playing condition he also seemed to regain his old meanness. “Put it this way,” says Frank Hughes. “When the rest of us get the puck, there are always a couple of opponents ready to whack us, knock us down and take it away. But when Gordie gets it they clear away. Cripes, he gets 20 or 30 feet of room. He never has to shoot off his backhand; he can always move the puck around to his forehand. The players know he didn’t survive for all those years by playing it cute.”
Gordie gets irritated at mention of his pugnacious side. Recently Mark joked with a friend, “I knew my dad was an old man, but I didn’t know he was a dirty old man.” Gordie seethed when Mark’s comment appeared in print, and last week he seethed again when he read a magazine caption that identified him as “hockey’s mean old man.” But as another Houston player says, “That’s Gordie, and it always will be Gordie. That is why he is great.”
After the victory over the Cougars, the Aeros bussed to O’Hare Airport and bedded down for four hours. They were up Friday morning at 5:30 to begin the long trek to Edmonton, Alberta, for a game that night with the Oilers. Arriving in Edmonton, Howe put the DO NOT DISTURB sign on his hotel door and told the operator not to ring his room. “It’s bad enough trying to play two games in two nights at my age without having to put in a day like today,” he said. “It might be a long night.” It was, not only for Gordie but for all the Houston players. They were listless, as Coach Bill Dineen had expected, and lost 5–2. Both Marty and Mark received a thump or two and were taken to a hospital for X rays, but no fractures were found. Gordie waited for word about his sons, then returned to the hotel to see his 80-year-old father.
“The old rascal came over with one of my nieces,” Gordie said. “It’s about a six-or seven-hour drive from Saskatoon, but I never know they’re coming until I see them at the game.” Albert Howe looks closer to 70 than 80, and he was sipping a nectar of the gods when his son walked in. Before Gordie could say hello, his father had something to say about the game. “You ol’ rascal,” he said, “you didn’t have the legs going tonight.” Gordie's face creased in a grin. “No comment,” he said.
GALLERY: Athletes and Their Athlete Fathers
Athletes and Their Athlete Fathers
Eli, Peyton and Archie Manning
Archie's legacy lives on, as his two sons have each won two Super Bowls. Archie made two Pro Bowls, while Peyton made 14 and Eli four.
Ken Griffey Jr. and Sr.
While playing together on the Mariners in 1990, the duo hit back-to-back homers, the only father-son pair in history to do so. Ken Sr. made three All-Star games over his 19-year career, while Junior made 13 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2016.
Kobe and Joe Bryant
More than 20 years before Kobe Bryant would come to be known as the "Black Mamba," Joe "Jellybean" Bryant had an eight-year NBA career. Kobe made 18 All-Star games through 20 NBA seasons, won five NBA titles, two finals MVPs and one regular season MVP.
Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Jr.
Dale Jr. was born into a family full of racing history. His father was a seven-time Winston Cup champion, and his grandfather, Ralph, was the winner of NASCAR's 1956 National Sportsman division.
Bobby and Brett Hull
While playing for the Phoenix Coyotes, Brett wore his father's retired No. 9 Winnipeg Jets sweater for the final five games of his career. 12-time NHL All-Star Bobby and eight-time All-Star Brett are both in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Marty, Gordie and Mark Howe
Hall of Famer Gordie, otherwise known as "Mr. Hockey", played 25 years for the Detroit Red Wings, winning six scoring titles and six MVP awards. In 1973, he came out of retirement at age 45 to play with his sons in the WHA, where they led the Houston Aeros to two championships. They later skated on the NHL's 1979-80 Hartford Whalers. Gordie played 32 pro seasons in all, finally retiring at age 52. Mark had a distinguished 16-year NHL career, 10 of them with Philadelphia.
Laila and Muhammad Ali
Laila's 2001 fight against Jackie Frazier-Lyde was dubbed Ali/Frazier IV, in honor of the three famous bouts between Laila's and Jackie's fathers, Muhammad and Joe.
Calvin and Grant Hill
More than 30 years after Calvin won the NFL Rookie of the Year award as a running back for Dallas, his son Grant shared the 1994-95 NBA Rookie of the Year award with Jason Kidd. Calvin made four Pro Bowls in his 12-year NFL career, while Grant was seven-time All-Star through 18 NBA seasons.
Joakim and Yannick Noah
Championships run in this family: Yannick won the 1983 French Open while Joakim led Florida to two NCAA men's basketball titles. Joakim has named an NBA All-Star twice since being drafted ninth overall by the Chicago Bulls in 2007.
Clay Matthews III and Jr.
The Matthews family brand grew even bigger after USC alum linebacker Clay Matthews III helped lead the Green Bay Packers to a Super Bowl win in 2011. His father, Clay Matthews Jr., was an All-America at USC and played 19 seasons at linebacker in the NFL. Even Clay Matthews Sr. played four seasons at defensive end with the San Francisco 49ers in the 1950s while Clay III's brother Casey played linebacker with the Philadelphia Eagles for four seasons since being drafted in 2011.
Brent and Rick Barry
Brent, the second youngest of Hall of Famer Rick's four children, had a more successful NBA career than his three brothers, playing 14 seasons and winning two championships with San Antonio.
Felipe and Moises Alou
Felipe had the unique honor of managing his son in the major leagues. Moises was managed by his father with the Montreal Expos from 1992 to '96 and again in 2005 with the San Francisco Giants.
Barry and Bobby Bonds
Barry and Bobby Bonds are the only two players in major league history to have hit 300 home runs and stolen 400 bases in a career.
Aaron, Ray, Bret and Bob Boone
The Boone family — including grandfather Ray, father Bob, and sons Bret and Aaron — was the first to send three generations to the MLB All-Star game.
Mario, Michael and Marco Andretti
Like father, like son and grandson, the Andrettis are IndyCar royalty.
Kyle, Adam, Richard and Lee Petty
Between the four Pettys, Lee, Richard, Kyle and Adam amassed 263 victories in NASCAR. Great-grandfather Lee and his great grandson Adam passed away during the span of one month in 2000, Lee from natural causes and Adam in a tragic crash.
Al Unser Jr. and Sr.
Junior made it halfway to his father's total of four Indianapolis 500 victories.
Doc and Austin Rivers
Clippers coach and former NBA point guard Doc Rivers traded for his son on Jan. 15, 2015, making Austin the first player in NBA history to play for a team coached by his father. Austin was drafted 10th overall by New Orleans in 2012.
Mike Conley Sr. and Jr.
Mike Conley, Sr. won gold in the triple jump at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona. His son was drafted 4th overall in the 2007 NBA Draft and has played point guard for the Memphis Grizzlies through 2016.
Ken Norton Sr. and Jr.
In honor of his father's boxing career, former NFL linebacker Ken Norton Jr. would pose in a boxing stance and punch the goal post after he scored a defensive touchdown.
Tamika and Harvey Catchings
Like his daughter Tamika, Harvey Catchings was a defensive whiz during his years in the NBA. The two are seen here posing with her Defensive Player of the Year award in 2005.
Karl Malone and Cheryl Ford
Cheryl Ford, the 2003 WNBA Rookie of the Year, is a proud Louisiana Tech alumna just like her dad, NBA Hall of Famer Karl Malone.
Barry and Shane Larkin
Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin played 19 years in the big leagues, all with the Cincinnati Reds. The 12-time all-star was also voted the NL MVP in 1995. His son Shane, a point guard out of the University of Miami, was selected 18th overall by the Atlanta Hawks and then traded to the Dallas Mavericks during the 2013 NBA Draft. He played for the Knicks in 2014-15 and in Brooklyn the following season.
Nate and Natalie Williams
Natalie, who didn't meet her father until she was 16, was the first woman to earn All-America honors in both basketball and volleyball in the same year while at UCLA. Nate played eight seasons in the NBA, while Natalie played seven in the WNBA.