I was just predicting how Messier will come back when he's 52 on another thread and it got me thinking. What was it like when Gordie Howe played the 1979-1980 season? This was two years before I was born.
I'm guessing he was given a free pass and no one ever tried to hit him? Did he cheap anyone out with one of his elbows? lol Was his play sad/pathetic? Or did he stand his ground pretty well for a man who was in his 50's?
Howe was a freak. My earliest memories of him were late 60s, he was old as dirt and still having a major impact on the game. When he retired the first time, some of it was over how badly the Red Wings had treated him over the years (they misled him re:salary until a defenseman named Bob Baun took him to lunch and told him he was an idiot) and some of it was because he wasn't able to play at his previous level.
Having said that, he was most certainly able to play at a high level and when he came back in the WHA he did for many seasons. As late as 77-78 he was +46 with the New England Whalers (best on the team). He finished 9th in the league that year in points.
iirc his last NHL season wasn't exactly without contact but he was given plenty of room. Not exhibition games or anything, but who wants to give their Dad's favourite player a concussion?
He was certainly a step slow but effective enough to score 41 points. If his name had been something other than Gordie Howe would he have been in the NHL in 79-80?
Probably not, but there were lots of players in the league that year who weren't as good as Gordie Howe and since he was 51 when the season started I'm going to go ahead and say he was worth the price of admission.
It's funny that you put Mess and him together in the thread.
They were the same player, except that Howe was even dirtier than Messier. Howe was given a VERY wide berth. God forbid that you had to go into a corner with him.
Red Storey tells the funniest story of a rookie (a Leaf I believe) stealing the puck off of Howe, next time the two went to the corner Gordie let him go in first and Gordie was the only one to come out. When he got back to the bench (presumably short a few Chiclets) from the elbow his teammates consoled him with "Don't try to take away Mr. Howe's puck"
I saw GH a couple of years ago. He still looked like a athlete.
I remember a story from his last season, don't know where I heard it or if it was true. Apparently a young player checked Howe into the boards. After the whistle GH approached the player and told him 'Don't respect me because I'm older than you. Respect me because I can still beat the <pffft> out of you. He probably could have too.
Was Howe given a free pass that year? Maybe a better word would be respect; something that seems to be lacking in today`s NHL. That doesn`t change the fact that he played the entire 80 game schedule, had 41 points and was +9 on a below-.500 team. Impressive for a lot of players, let alone a 51 year old.
Some other anecdotes about that season I`ve read:
- On Halloween that season, Hartford beat Toronto 4-2 in Maple Leaf Gardens. Both Howe and Dave Keon scored and received loud ovations. Toronto sportswriters later said it was the only game in Leafs history where the Toronto fans cheered louder for the opposition than the home team.
- Ironically, the All-Star Game was in Detroit that season. Scotty Bowman picked Howe for the Wales team but according to the book After The Applause, John Ziegler was against the decision claiming that other Hartford players (i.e. Rogers or Stoughton) were more deserving. That may have been true, but the game was in Detroit!!!! After everything Gordie Howe had done for the NHL in front of those Detroit fans, it`s ludicrous that the NHL would consider not having him there. Fortunately sanity prevailed and he played in the game. It shows up every now and then on ESPN Classic. The reaction of the fans anytime Howe went near the puck was remarkable.
- Lanny McDonald mentions in his Legends of Hockey piece that he hit Mark Howe in a game that season, only to have Gordie flatten him shortly afterwards and warn him not to do it again.
- Incredibly, after the season was over Howe had every intention of playing the following year as well but was convinced by Howard Baldwin that it was time to call it quits.
My main memory of Howe's last season was a great tv shot during a Bruin's game versus the Whale.
Howe and the recently acquired Bobby Hull sitting on the bench together. It was a great tv moment and somewhat surreal to witness two long time opponents being on the same team for a brief period --- kinda like when Orr and Park were together for 10 games in 1975-76.
Dave Keon was on that Whaler team as well, and despite all that veteran leadership present, Rick Ley was the Whaler's captain.
I believe the Whalers were knocked out in the playoffs by Montreal with both Howe and Hull ending their respective NHl careers.