Jim Vallet and Robert Perea, The Fernley Reporter
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote in the column about my lifelong attachment to Detroit sports. Last week, Alex Ovechkin passed former Detroit Red Wing great Gordie Howe as the National Hockey League’s second greatest goals scorer when he scored his 802nd NHL goal, now behind only Wayne Gretzky.
Gordie Howe is my all time favorite athlete. He was a great hockey player, and an even better person. Anyone who ever watched “Mr. Hockey” play knows what a great player he was, and I know he was a great person because I had the privilege of knowing him, kind of.
The first time I met Gordie Howe was serendipity for me. I was 11, and was trying to deliver papers on my newspaper route on an icy Michigan morning. I was on my bike, or at least I was until I slipped and fell on the ice. A car stopped, and a man got out and began helping me up and picking up newspapers. When I looked up and saw that it was my hero in the flesh, my face must have betrayed my feelings because Gordie Howe smiled at me and asked if I was ok. I’m not sure what I said, or what else the real “Great One” said, but I know he was very nice to me.
Gordie Howe had three sons, and two of them, Marty and Mark, made it to the National Hockey League (the other, Murray, became a doctor). Marty was a year older than I, and Mark a year younger. I never played against either of them because they were always playing with and against kids older than they were. But, Mark played Little League against me, and on the same Little League team as my brother, and his dad frequently came to watch. He was always nice to everyone, signing autographs when asked and answering even ridiculous questions.
Later, when I was older and playing hockey on our city’s team, we played against the Detroit Red Wing Oldtimers several times. Gordie Howe had retired from the Red Wings, but had not yet made his comeback with the Houston Aeros, and later the Hartford Whalers, so he was playing for the Red Wing Old Timers. I got to play against the greatest hockey player of all time, or, more accurately, I was on the ice at the same time as he was. One time, I even stole the puck from him! Sadly for me, I only had time to take a stride or two with my gift from the greatest before I was lifted off my feet and carried with one arm, while controlling the puck that used to be mine with his other. The crowd loved it, and he later thanked me for being a good sport. I didn’t tell him I didn’t have any choice.
After the games, the Old Timers would always invite us into their locker room to drink beer with them. (The drinking law was 18 then) What a thrill for us! Ted Lindsay, Bill Gadsby, Marty Pavelich, Joe Klukay, and all the other guys we had seen on TV and at the Olympia. Some of the other guys were ok, some were not, but Gordie Howe always had time for all of us. He took the time to talk and to listen. He was gracious and self deprecating. I never heard him say a negative thing about anybody, and he remembered me from the paper route incident and Little League. He even joked that I should, “Keep my head up”, referencing my brief moment of glory which he had turned into yet another Gordie Howe story. To me, no, to us, he was the greatest.
Last week, I saw Mark Howe again on TV, gracious as his dad had been when Gretzky passed him, towards Ovechkin. I don’t know how gracious Ovechkin will be when the inevitable happens and someone passes one of his records. Mark Howe, like me, looks old, but his voice still sounds like I remember it. No matter what you may think about Overchkin’s politics, he is a great hockey player. But he’s not Gordie Howe. Gordie Howe did not do photo ops with politicians for personal gain. Gordie Howe did not put himself ahead of his team or the game, as I have seen Ovechkin do. Gordie Howe did not believe he should even be the captain of the Detroit Red Wings, although his teammates looked to him for leadership. I don’t know if Alex Ovechkin ever helped a poor, cold paperboy who had fallen on ice, but I know for sure that Gordie Howe did. I don’t know Alex Ovechkin personally at all, and I don’t trust the articles that have portrayed him both as a hero and a villain. But I did know Gordie Howe a little, and I know that the most Alex Ovechkin can ever do is tie him as a person.
Six years ago, when Gordie Howe died, the NHL Network televised his funeral. I did not know that my all time hero suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease in his final years. Thinking of that and the things I saw him do on the ice, and remembering my encounters with “Mr. Hockey”, I cried. Both for what the Real Greatest had gone through, as well as what the passage of time meant for me. I don’t know what Gordie Howe would have thought of athletes that stand over fallen opponents thumping their chests, but I know he never did it. To me, although records really don’t “belong” to anybody, Gordie Howe will always hold the record as “The Greatest”.
When it comes to picking NFL games, I am clearly not the greatest. I’ll try to do better this week picking against the point spread. Lines are from sportsline.com on Tuesday, December 27.
Detroit Lions (-6) vs. Chicago Bears: A setback last week, for sure. Go Lions!
Miami Dolphins (+2 ½) at New England Patriots: The wrong team is favored, although when I have said that in the past it hasn’t worked out for my picks.
Carolina Panthers (+3) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Maybe the Bucs will somehow pull this one out, but it looks like they’re done to me. Carolina thumped a pretty good team.
Washington Commanders (-3) vs Cleveland Browns: I wonder what the other Browns players think of Deshaun Watson playing, because he has certainly hurt their chances of winning this year.
NY Giants (-5) vs Indianapolis Colts: Are you kidding me, Saturday? You’re gonna play Nick Foles again?! If I’m Matt Ryan or Sam Ehlinger, I’m renting, not buying, in Indy.
New York Jets (-2 ½) at Seattle Seahawks: Back to the bench, or rather, back to inactive, for Zach Wilson. That should be very good news for the Jets.
Minnesota Vikings (+3 ½) at Green Bay Packers Not only is the wrong team favored, they’re favored by more than a field goal! I have seen the Packers pull out too many stinkers this year.
Last week 3-4
Washington (+3) over Texas: Washington’s most important player opted in for this game. Texas’ most important player, and his backup, both opted out. I’ll take that as a sign of how motivated each team is, although I’d probably like Washington even if Texas was fully invested.
UCLA (-5 ½) over Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh has been devastated by opt outs. UCLA hasn’t announced whether Dorian Thompson-Robinson or Zach Charbonnet are playing, although both have been practicing.
Notre Dame (-2 ½) over South Carolina: The Gamecocks finished the regular season strong, but their opt out list is the longest of any bowl team. Notre Dame has three key players opting out, but they have better depth, and they’ll be starting the quarterback who was slated to be their original starter this season.
Mississippi St. (-1) vs. Illinois: Illinois running back Chase Brown opted out, and although they had the best defense in the country this season, their defensive coordinator left to be the new head coach at Purdue. Mississippi St. is dealing with the death of coach Mike Leach. I think they’ll give a big effort.
Commanders (-2) vs. Browns: I’m not thrilled that Washington is starting Carson Wentz, bur the Browns continue to look lost of offense, and I’ll trust Washington to do enough to get back in the winning column.
Eagles (-5 ½) over Saints: New Orleans took advantage of a Cleveland team that has no offense with Deshaun Watson continuing to look rusty. Even with Gardner Minshew, the Eagles remain explosive and they can wrap up the division title here.
Packers (-3) over Vikings: It was the Week 1 loss to Minnesota that signaled what a rough season it was going to be for the Packers. But now they seem to have found their stride. Minnesota just continues to pull out win after win, often with miracles. But the Packers get revenge, and keep their playoff chances alive.