HIS QUIET GRACE

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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.

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