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Detroit Hockey Legend Gordie Howe Dies At 88


Let's hear some memories of Gordie Howe, who has died at the age of 88. His National Hockey League career lasted for decades, from the time Harry Truman was president to the time Jimmy Carter was in the White House. We're going to talk about this with Helene St. James, who is the hockey reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Welcome to the program.

HELENE JAMES: Thank you.

INSKEEP: This has got to be a loss for Detroit, which is where Howe played for so many years.

ST. JAMES: Yes, I mean, he was synonymous with the Detroit Red Wings, and I don't think there's been a more beloved athlete in this city. I mean, just incredibly legendary career and, you know, as tough as he was on the ice - and everyone who played against him will tell you about his elbows and all of the stitches they had to tape because of him - he was an absolute gentleman and one of the kindest people off the ice.

INSKEEP: OK. So our colleague, Don Gonyea, who's from Michigan, came by and said there was something called a Gordie Howe hat trick, which is different from a regular hockey hat trick of three goals. Do you know this?

ST. JAMES: Absolutely. It's a goal, an assist and a fight.


ST. JAMES: That should tell you something about the kind of player he was that, you know - I mean, he was that rare player that was as willing to drop gloves and get involved physically as he was incredibly, incredibly skilled with the puck.

INSKEEP: Can you tell me something about the skill? Because the brutality comes through in hockey, but this is a guy who had - what? - he had 801 goals? How did he do it?

ST. JAMES: He was an incredibly gifted skater, you know, and I mean, saw the game incredibly well and just had incredibly inner-drive. I mean, you know, he fought right through to the end. I mean, he had a stroke in fall of 2014. And at that Christmastime, his family was preparing eulogies. They thought he was that close to death.

And he rallied and, you know, I talked to one of his sons as late as this past March before his birthday. He was eating four eggs for breakfast, four sausage links and a bowl of oatmeal, so he had a tremendous, tremendous appetite for life and for hockey.

INSKEEP: Now, as the pro hockey reporter for the Detroit Free Press, you might have - you might have ignored Gordie Howe because he’d been off the NHL for decades by 2014. But was he still a big part of the community?

ST. JAMES: He was. I mean, for a while he lived with his daughter in Lubbock, Texas. And recently he had been staying with his son, Murray, near Toledo, Ohio. So he came to the JO?? March 28, a few days before his 88th birthday and fans sang a song for him during the game against the Buffalo Sabers. So - and he used to come into the locker room, you know, fairly regularly.

He would always come up to me and laugh and say no girls in here because there weren’t any when he was playing, so - but just an incredible, incredible man. And you could tell, players old and new to the team, how much it meant for them to have a guy like that just walking around, shaking hands, you know, I mean, like, just sitting, walking around with a legend.

INSKEEP: Very, very briefly, when you watch a game today, do you sometimes see something and say that’s a Gordie Howe move?

ST. JAMES: Very rarely, but I can tell you players in Detroit especially are thrilled whenever they manage a Gordie Howe hat trick. It means a tremendous amount to them because of the impact he’s had on the sport and specifically in Detroit.

INSKEEP: Well, Helene St. James, thanks very much, really appreciate it.

ST. JAMES: Thank you.

INSKEEP: She’s talking about Gordie Howe, the NHL star who has died at the age of 88. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.