A SIMPLY SUPER MAN
THE reason this is stunning to some of us, particularly in Detroit, is Howe seemed tough enough to beat back any affliction. When we heard in October 2014 a severe stroke had left him nearly devoid of speech and with limited use of his extremities, we prepared for the worst. We heard he was bedridden. That he’d dropped 35 pounds. But then came the news he had made a remarkable recovery, with the aid of an experimental stem-cell treatment. He was fending off dementia, he put weight back on, he even began travelling and was honoured in his hometown in Canada.
It was the kind of toughness you expected from Howe, who was reportedly six feet tall as a teenager, dropped out of school to work construction, and eventually left Saskatoon, where he’d been raised, to pursue his hockey career. A child of the Depression, he was ambidextrous, he could fight, he could skate, score, pass, clear room for himself with his famous flying elbows. There was nothing, seemingly, he couldn’t or wouldn’t do in the game of hockey. Maybe the only thing is live forever. “The last time I saw him was kind of sad and funny,” Shanahan recalled. “He came out to drop the ceremonial puck at the alumni game the year Detroit hosted the Winter Classic (2014). He was escorted out on the ice. I could just see that he was a little bit lost, not quite sure what he was doing. We’d heard he was suffering from dementia and my dad had that, so I kind of knew what it looked like.
“A photographer was trying to position him so he could take a photo, and at one point he grabbed Gordie by the arm, trying to gently manoeuvre him. Well, the old instincts kicked in, and Gordie sort of raised his arm and mumbled something like ‘Get your hands off me.’ That’s the look he gave the guy. And I thought, “There he is. There’s the old Mr. Hockey.”
There he will remain, in stories like that, in pages on record books, in a statue and a bridge and streets and future monuments, and forever, forever, in our memories, particularly in this little corner of the planet.
Superman just bid us farewell. The comic book version had an “S” across his chest. Ours had a winged wheel.