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Gordie Howe and the Detroit Vipers

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12-01-2012, 02:56 PM
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Shootmaster_44
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Gordie Howe and the Detroit Vipers

I have a couple questions about Gordie Howe. There's a thread on the ECHL board about the oldest minor pro player and I had remembered Gordie Howe doing a publicity stunt with the Detroit Vipers of the IHL at age 69. It had me wondering why? Other than a couple of fabricated records as oldest pro player and playing in 6 consecutive decades, I don't see what Gordie had to gain.

Now for those who were around when he actually played (he retired 3 years before I was born unless you count the Vipers stint), was he an early version of the prima donna, publicity hound that you see in many pro sports? From what I understood, he was never this type. Yes he was a little rough on the ice, but not off the ice from what I know.

I realize he also played when the NHL salaries were quite low and the Vipers may have promised him a good amount of money. But it also tainted Gordie in my mind. He became a sideshow, along the lines of Manute Bol signing in the Central Hockey League or the Harlem Globetrotters. I'm surprised Gordie was willing to taint his legacy doing this.

From the Detroit Vipers side, I completely understand why they made the offer, ticketsales and publicity. I doubt most hockey fans would even remember the Detroit Vipers, if it wasn't for the Gordie Howe stunt. On this note, I've often wondered why did the Vipers not join the AHL when the IHL "merged" with the AHL following the 2001 season? If it was basically being the 5th pro sports team (and probably more like 8th after Michigan and Michigan State football and basketball teams) and thus bleeding money? If that is the case what has the AHL's Chicago Wolves done to keep themselves alive that Detroit didn't?

The biggest thing likely is that the Vipers were created by the ownership of the Pistons, which did not get along with the Red Wings. This is why the Pistons didn't play at the Joe and instead spent time at the Silverdome before building the Palace at Auburn Hills. So this would mean that the Vipers wouldn't be the AHL affiliate for the Red Wings. However, the Wolves have survived in Chicago without being the Blackhawks affiliate.

My last question on this tangent, is would the IHL have been more viable in the NHL cap era? I know the IHL had tried to become more than simply the AHL's equivalent and more like a WHA in a sense (though the IHL never went after NHL free agents to compete head to head). What I mean is now with the cap, I'd think more NHL players nearing the end of their careers are not being offered deals to play as they are worth more than their performance would dictate. A league like the IHL that was trying to attract these types would give a home to these players instead of retiring or moving to Europe for a season or two. I have a feeling at least a few of these players who have gone to the KHL or Switzerland would have stayed in North America if an equivalent league still existed.

Also, I don't remember the IHL doing this with underage (i.e. not NHL draft eligible) North American players, but I do remember them bringing in underage European players. Had the IHL survived in this vein, I do think you would see an IHL version of the Birmingham "Baby" Bulls would have existed with several 17 year olds playing. In fact, you might actually have seen a few of the players who are "stuck" in the CHL instead of being AHL eligible playing in the IHL with their NHL team's unofficial blessing. Seems like in this era, it would have been more viable.

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12-01-2012, 03:01 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Shootmaster_44 View Post
I have a couple questions about Gordie Howe. There's a thread on the ECHL board about the oldest minor pro player and I had remembered Gordie Howe doing a publicity stunt with the Detroit Vipers of the IHL at age 69. It had me wondering why? Other than a couple of fabricated records as oldest pro player and playing in 6 consecutive decades, I don't see what Gordie had to gain.

Now for those who were around when he actually played (he retired 3 years before I was born unless you count the Vipers stint), was he an early version of the prima donna, publicity hound that you see in many pro sports? From what I understood, he was never this type. Yes he was a little rough on the ice, but not off the ice from what I know.

I realize he also played when the NHL salaries were quite low and the Vipers may have promised him a good amount of money. But it also tainted Gordie in my mind. He became a sideshow, along the lines of Manute Bol signing in the Central Hockey League or the Harlem Globetrotters. I'm surprised Gordie was willing to taint his legacy doing this.

From the Detroit Vipers side, I completely understand why they made the offer, ticketsales and publicity. I doubt most hockey fans would even remember the Detroit Vipers, if it wasn't for the Gordie Howe stunt. On this note, I've often wondered why did the Vipers not join the AHL when the IHL "merged" with the AHL following the 2001 season? If it was basically being the 5th pro sports team (and probably more like 8th after Michigan and Michigan State football and basketball teams) and thus bleeding money? If that is the case what has the AHL's Chicago Wolves done to keep themselves alive that Detroit didn't?

The biggest thing likely is that the Vipers were created by the ownership of the Pistons, which did not get along with the Red Wings. This is why the Pistons didn't play at the Joe and instead spent time at the Silverdome before building the Palace at Auburn Hills. So this would mean that the Vipers wouldn't be the AHL affiliate for the Red Wings. However, the Wolves have survived in Chicago without being the Blackhawks affiliate.

My last question on this tangent, is would the IHL have been more viable in the NHL cap era? I know the IHL had tried to become more than simply the AHL's equivalent and more like a WHA in a sense (though the IHL never went after NHL free agents to compete head to head). What I mean is now with the cap, I'd think more NHL players nearing the end of their careers are not being offered deals to play as they are worth more than their performance would dictate. A league like the IHL that was trying to attract these types would give a home to these players instead of retiring or moving to Europe for a season or two. I have a feeling at least a few of these players who have gone to the KHL or Switzerland would have stayed in North America if an equivalent league still existed.

Also, I don't remember the IHL doing this with underage (i.e. not NHL draft eligible) North American players, but I do remember them bringing in underage European players. Had the IHL survived in this vein, I do think you would see an IHL version of the Birmingham "Baby" Bulls would have existed with several 17 year olds playing. In fact, you might actually have seen a few of the players who are "stuck" in the CHL instead of being AHL eligible playing in the IHL with their NHL team's unofficial blessing. Seems like in this era, it would have been more viable.
Basically it was to increase the intrest in the club at the time. Howe is a huge icon in the Detroit area and have him play a game would be good PR.

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12-01-2012, 03:04 PM
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Basically it was to increase the intrest in the club at the time. Howe is a huge icon in the Detroit area and have him play a game would be good PR.
He did say that he knew why the Vipers did it.

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12-01-2012, 03:12 PM
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He did say that he knew why the Vipers did it.
Yup, I know the Vipers side. My question is what was in it for Gordie? From everything I have read about him, the "records" he set that night would have been inconsequential and caring about them would have been out of character for him.

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12-01-2012, 05:45 PM
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This is long enough ago that I might be misremembering, but I think I remember Gordie saying it was just something he wanted to do for the fun of it. He didn't seem to take it super-seriously or feel that it was a "legacy" thing. At least from my vague recollection of interviews from the time.

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If that is the case what has the AHL's Chicago Wolves done to keep themselves alive that Detroit didn't?
Simple answer: Bill Wirtz. In Chicago there were loads of hockey fans who were disgruntled with the Blackhawks. The Wolves peeled some of them away and kept their interest for a long time until Wirtz finally died. I don't know if that dynamic is still in play for the franchise, but at the time there was a distinct sense of the Wolves as the option for fans that were just over the Blackhawks circus. Needless to say, that dynamic was nonexistent in Detroit while the Vipers were playing.

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My last question on this tangent, is would the IHL have been more viable in the NHL cap era?
It's an interesting thought, and you're probably right about them skimming some players away from Europe. I'm not sure they ever had the ability to finance their ambitions to become a major league. With the cyclical nature of minor pro hockey being the way it is, it was only a matter of time before they were cannibalized.

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12-01-2012, 05:54 PM
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Originally Posted by Taco MacArthur View Post
He did say that he knew why the Vipers did it.
Well their reason was Howe's reason, not to mention him probably missing the game. There is a reason as to why he played for so long. If one meets Howe, one would not doubt why he takes every chance to lace up his skates.

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10-19-2013, 08:19 PM
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Sorry to bring back such an old thread, but I was looking for a video of that famous shift he took for the Detroit Vipers in 1997. I couldn't find it on youtube or with a google search. I CAN'T believe that such a milestone wouldn't be recorded and available somewhere.

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10-19-2013, 08:47 PM
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The sad thing was how pooly the DetroitWings treated Howe pre-illick.Hard to believe he was ambassoador for Hartford Whalers in 1980s

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10-19-2013, 09:16 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Shootmaster_44 View Post
I have a couple questions about Gordie Howe. There's a thread on the ECHL board about the oldest minor pro player and I had remembered Gordie Howe doing a publicity stunt with the Detroit Vipers of the IHL at age 69. It had me wondering why? Other than a couple of fabricated records as oldest pro player and playing in 6 consecutive decades, I don't see what Gordie had to gain.
There has been a perception over the years that Gordie's late wife Colleen was constantly working behind the scenes to keep his public profile up, no matter what the negative impact might be. There was a huge tour done for his 65th birthday that involved appearances in 65 hockey cities, which was largely negatively received. There was some type of a cereal deal, a big public flap over the official biography coming out around the same time as the unauthorized one, and then it all sort of culminated with the Vipers deal.

Rocket Richard was the one who said something like, "It's a disgrace. Colleen leads him around by the nose and he won't say anything about it." That was an oddly popular opinion.

Quote:
My last question on this tangent, is would the IHL have been more viable in the NHL cap era? I know the IHL had tried to become more than simply the AHL's equivalent and more like a WHA in a sense (though the IHL never went after NHL free agents to compete head to head). What I mean is now with the cap, I'd think more NHL players nearing the end of their careers are not being offered deals to play as they are worth more than their performance would dictate. A league like the IHL that was trying to attract these types would give a home to these players instead of retiring or moving to Europe for a season or two. I have a feeling at least a few of these players who have gone to the KHL or Switzerland would have stayed in North America if an equivalent league still existed.
I've been saying for years that an independent or mostly-independent minor league with a capped NHL is absolutely viable, and frankly should be done. If it were more limited in scope, like being contained mostly within the Midwest, it would alleviate a lot of problems that the IHL's coast-to-coast (over)expansion brought.

And if I win the lottery, you'll see a new IHL.

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10-19-2013, 09:29 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by thom View Post
The sad thing was how pooly the DetroitWings treated Howe pre-illick.Hard to believe he was ambassoador for Hartford Whalers in 1980s

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mayor Bee View Post
There has been a perception over the years that Gordie's late wife Colleen was constantly working behind the scenes to keep his public profile up, no matter what the negative impact might be. There was a huge tour done for his 65th birthday that involved appearances in 65 hockey cities, which was largely negatively received. There was some type of a cereal deal, a big public flap over the official biography coming out around the same time as the unauthorized one, and then it all sort of culminated with the Vipers deal.

Rocket Richard was the one who said something like, "It's a disgrace. Colleen leads him around by the nose and he won't say anything about it." That was an oddly popular opinion.
I think these two are related. As a result of it Gordie now does very well to regain lost money. He's probably quite well off by now, if not compared to Sidney Crosby or why not someone like Alex Tanguay.

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10-20-2013, 05:08 AM
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Howe lived with his family in the Hartford area for a really long time after he retired, at least as long as the Whalers played there. My aunt lived the same town as him, Glastonbury. It was a surprise, you would think he would live near Detroit, but nope, he lived there for years.

He gave a talk to the local HS team a few years ago, after Colleen passed away, so he may still live there, although Wikipedia says he lives in a suburb of Detroit again.

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10-20-2013, 12:51 PM
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Gordie Howe lived near Detroit most of the time based on what I've been told but it's of course entirely possible he had multiple residences. (People often choose to forget that while his generation of hockey players wasn't financially compensated like today's, stars like Howe weren't by any stretch poor either).

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10-20-2013, 02:37 PM
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I remember it being just one shift in the IHL in 1997. At the time it wasn't thought of as anything else but a publicity stunt. Not that Gordie would have been able to maintain a season. Not everyone liked it. I didn't care for it that much. It isn't as if anyone will ever beat Howe's record as it stands of playing in 5 decades (1946-'80). Put it this way, Chelios played until 2010 professionally. That was 4 decades. And who will even do that again? It'll be hard.

But I remember Beliveau being questioned about it and as usual he answered with class, but also felt that Howe had nothing to gain from this. That was the perception.

Over the years I know if you would ask Ted Lindsay he may say a thing or two about Colleen along the lines of Gordie being "whipped" or what not. I know the two former superstars sort of had a falling out in recent years.

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10-20-2013, 03:30 PM
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Oh gosh, I didnt mind this at all. Like a Guinness Book of Records type dealeo. To be taken with a grain of salt. Like George Plimpton donning the pads & playing goal with the Bruins or whatever. Just a unique but altogether meaningless record which one could argue merely underscored Howe's real record in coming out of retirement, playing with his kids through the WHA years, returning to the NHL with Hartford, playing one final season at 51 scoring 15 goals & helping his team make the Playoffs. That makes five decades of professional hockey as a player, six if we include the publicity stunt but no one, including Howe himself would consider that realsy Im sure...

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