HIS QUIET GRACE
LET us not lose sight of something else. Howe was also humble, particularly as he aged. Tough, yes. No-nonsense, yes. I can’t tell you how many locker rooms and dinner affairs at which I have been in his company when nobody knew he was there — until the whisper shot through the room “Did you see Gordie? Oh my, God! He’s over there!”
There he would be, quiet, reserved, dapper. He didn’t arrive with noise and entourages. Just a towering, quiet, white-haired presence, as calm as history already written.
“He knew how to fit into a locker room as opposed to people who kind of say ‘Make room for me’ “Shanahan recalled. “You had to shake your head sometimes and say, “I’m talking to Gordie Howe.’ He never seemed to give off the air of ‘Do you know who you are speaking to?’ It was almost like he didn’t know he was Gordie Howe —at least not what that meant to all of us.”
Kris Draper was a recent arrival to the Wings when Howe paid a locker room visit. “He knew I was a new player. He shook my hand. Just had a conversation. I had goose bumps. The first thing I did when I left the rink was call my dad and say, “I just met Gordie Howe!’
“Over the years, you never knew when he or Ted Lindsay might just wander in. It was a perk of being a Red Wing for sure.”
That quiet grace set a standard that would influence other Detroit players. People hail Steve Yzerman as a humble, understated superstar. Some of that comes from the history he observed from Howe. Years ago, I wrote about a discussion I had with Yzerman, who inherited Detroit’s captain’s “C” decades after Howe had worn it.
“Have you ever met Gordie Howe?” I asked.
“A couple of times,” he said. “He’ll come over and say hi.” “Couldn’t you just say hello first?” His eyes bulged. “No way! I would never just go up to Gordie Howe out of the blue.” “Why not?” “Because he’s Gordie Howe. What am I gonna say, ‘Hey, Gordie. How’s it goin’?’
“Well, don’t you think you’ve reached that point?” He shook his head. “I’ll never reach that point.” That’s the kind of shadow Howe cast. Now the shadow is all that’s left.