DETROIT -- Bobby Orr met Gordie Howe for the first time when he was 11 or 12, "Mr. Hockey" having come to Orr's hometown of Parry Sound, Ontario, to do a little fishing.
"Gordie asked me what I wanted to do, and I told him I wanted to be a hockey player," Orr said Wednesday at Tiger Club at Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers. The room hosted a star-studded reception of Howe family, friends, dignitaries and hockey elite.
"Gordie looked at me and said, 'Well, when you get up there watch my elbows,'" he said with a laugh. "And all this young fan could say was, 'OK, Mr. Howe.'"
Sitting to reminisce with Montreal Canadiens legends Yvan Cournoyer and Guy Lafleur, Wayne Gretzky and his wife, Janet, wandered over and joined the conversation.
Gretzky wasn't going to let the moment pass, later saying that he didn't have a photo of himself with these men.
He does now, and what a galaxy of stars it is.
If Orr doesn't top everyone's list of greatest defensemen to play the game, he's in a dead heat with Doug Harvey, the brilliant talent of the 1950s and 1960s Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers.
Harvey won the Norris Trophy as the top defenseman in the NHL seven times in an eight seasons between 1954-55 and 1961-62.
Orr won the Norris eight consecutive times between 1968 and 1975, but that was the tip of his iceberg. Add his Calder Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year in 1966-67; the Art Ross Trophy as the League's top-scorer in 1969-70 and 1974-75; the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1970 and 1972 as most valuable player in the Stanley Cup Playoffs; and three consecutive Hart Trophy awards as the League's MVP from 1970-72.
Orr's love of Gordie Howe is not quite as well known as that of Wayne Gretzky, but it probably should be.
Like everyone else, Orr marvels at Howe's astonishing statistics. But he's more impressed by something else.
"I sit and look at Gordie's stats and I laugh," he said. "I actually giggle when I look at his stats. Twenty-two consecutive (NHL) seasons of 20 or more goals? That's outrageous. … His numbers are unbelievable, and he played in an era that was pretty tough."
Orr rolled his eyes and laughed as those words spilled from him.
"He was the guy, so you know they were going after him. You couldn't invent Gordie today. If he was playing with today's rules he might not be able to do anything at first. But he would adapt to the rules and guys wouldn't take liberties with him. The way he played, he'd do real well.
"But put all that aside. I obviously liked Gordie's hockey, but the man, well, he was one of the great individuals I ever met. When he was with my father he was so kind. I loved watching him tweak a kid's nose. I'd meet him at All-Star Games and I had him at Parry Sound for a benefit game years ago. He was just a gentleman. I never heard Gordie raise his voice.
"Watch him on the ice and then meet him off it, he was a different guy altogether. Gordie was a sweetheart off the ice. He was kind, and kind to everybody, whether it was a child or a grandmother. At All-Star Games he was the first one I'd want to bring to talk to my father and his friends."
Orr laughed at the mention of the legendary Gordie Howe hat trick: A goal, an assist and a fight in a single game.
"I might have had a couple," Orr said, grinning. "But Gordie wasn't that kind of player. When he started he didn't go looking for it. He'd finesse you, he'd use his speed. He had a great shot. He could play any way you wanted to.
"He was tough, no doubt about it. If you messed around with him he might respond. But that's not how he played. He played the game and he was a pure player. He was a tough son of a gun and guys started respecting that. He wasn't going to take any guff from you."
Video: Gordie Howe's life eulogized by son Dr. Murray Howe
Orr has countless memories of Howe, and many photos, including a great shot he was showing off Wednesday, in computer printout form. It was Howe and Orr on the same team in a Parry Sound benefit game.
He said he also cherishes something that has no price.
"I've got one of his sticks. I probably stole it at an All-Star Game," Orr said, laughing again. "No, I'm sure I asked him for it. It wasn't going to be used.
"I loved Gordie's little twitch of the eye. That wasn't to say hello. He'd wink and you'd think, 'Oh, he likes me.' I saw that twitch. But if something was going on I wouldn't look at him long enough to let it develop into something else. I'd have been afraid to."
Orr said Howe and his brilliant contemporary, Jean Beliveau, were the gold standard for players in their day, and they remain so today.
"Gordie and Jean, those are special guys," he said. "Gordie set the standard that we all strive for. They threw the mold away with him. There will never be another Gordie Howe.
"I truly believe that you can't do what this man has done and stay as humble as he stayed and as nice as he stayed. Nobody has or will ever be that guy. It won't happen. There wasn't a pretentious bone in Gordie's body. He was a good man."