DETROIT -- Leave it to Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland to explain the connection between Gordie Howe and the people who lined up Tuesday at Joe Louis Arena to pay their respects.
Howe, who died Friday at age 88, was one of the greatest hockey players in history, if not the greatest. But he didn't act like it.
"Gordie had the ability to make you feel good about yourself," Holland said. "He had the ability to make you laugh and make you feel you were on the same level as him. He wasn't above you.
"And I think that was the gift that Gordie had, the humbleness, how caring he was about people, about the game. If you were a fan of the game, if you were in the game, if you were a player in the game, we all got treated the same.
"He loved the game and he loved people."
Video: Hockey world pays tribute to Gordie Howe
Holland got to spend three weeks as a goaltender with Howe and the Hartford Whalers in 1979-80, Howe's last professional season. But it was afterward that he really got to know him, while playing with his son Marty in the American Hockey League. Gordie would come to see Marty but would pop into the dressing room and talk to everybody.
"He treated us with respect," Holland said. "He'd tell us stories. He'd give us tips. He had time for us. He'd go from locker to locker to locker and visit."
For many years Holland has worked with Howe's son Mark, the Red Wings' director of pro scouting. Mark used to bring Gordie to a game, and they would sit in the office with whoever else was around. Gordie would tell stories and make everyone laugh. Then they would walk into the bowels of Joe Louis Arena and Gordie would stop to talk to person after person.
"Gordie is legendary for what he's done on the ice," Holland said. "But I think he's legendary for what he's done off the ice. That's the Gordie that I know. …
"It's a sad day, but we're all lucky to have lived when Gordie Howe lived, to have rubbed elbows with him per se, spent some time with him. He was just a special, special human being."