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Gordie Howe - The Greatest!

by Ted Lindsay / Detroit Red Wings
Blueline magazine was long known as the standard monthly publication for the serious fan of the National Hockey League during the Original Six era of the 1950s. In 1957, Red Wings legend Ted Lindsay was asked to write a first-person story of his friend and teammate, Gordie Howe.

What follows is Terrible Ted's story published in May 1957:

Gordie Howe is the greatest player in hockey! Gordie, in fact, may be the greatest hockey player ever. For that statement I have to take the word of my boss, general manager Jack Adams of the Detroit Red Wings, who’s seen all the great ones come and go in his forty years in the game. Jack calls Gordie the greatest he’s ever seen and that’s good enough for me.
The May 1957 issue of Blueline magazine featured a cover story about Gordie Howe, which was written by his linemate Ted Lindsay.

Best ever or not, I do know from personal observation that Gordie Howe is the best around right now, and has been, in fact, for the last ten years. I know. I’ve been his linemate all that time.

Before we go any further let me say here and now that I know there are going to be some fans and maybe even team officials, who won’t agree with me, in my choice of Gordie as number one on hockey’s hit parade. I realize that some are going to point out that, being a buddy of the player in question, I am naturally prejudiced.

Honest About It

Let (me) say this. If thinking that Gordie Howe can do more things well than any player on skates today, then I guess I’m prejudiced. If thinking this fellow can do more things with a puck other players only dream about, then I guess I’m guilty again. But these things I honestly believe.

There are many good players in this league, some truly great ones. In thirteen years, I’ve managed to play against all of them at one time or another. Why then do I pick Gordie as the top?

Well, let me put it this way. In my opinion, Gordie Howe just does things so much better than any other player. On offense, there are few who can come close to him, let alone surpass him. That big guy can do more things with a stick and puck than any man I’ve ever seen. And that shot of his! I’ll tell you, he gets that thing away faster than most people can blink their eyes.

He’s as great a playmaker as he is a scorer, and he’s the second highest scorer in hockey history. Defensively, he’s top too. With that long skating stride of his and his long reach, Gord’s a pretty hard man to get around. He can check with the best of them and his covers don’t score many goals, when he’s on the ice.

Just name me one other team which, like the Red Wings, uses its number one star to kill penalties. Our coach, Jimmy Skinner, often uses Gord in this role, because of his great defensive ability.

Versatile Fellow

That then is Howe’s greatest asset, his versatility. He takes his regular turn on the ice, is used on the power play and also to kill penalties. All of these things he does well. What more could you ask of a great player, even the greatest?

To top it all off, Gordie is one of the nicest guys you’d ever want to meet. There isn’t a trace of swell-headedness in his entire make-up. His modesty in fact, is sometimes surprising, even to me and I’ve roomed with him and palled around with him ever since he broke into the league.

Jimmy Skinner was talking about his modesty recently to a couple of Montreal newspapermen. “Y’know,” said Jimmy, “I can use the big guy anywhere. At center, on either wing or even on defense if need be. In fact, I believe that if I had to use him on defense, he’d be as good as any defenseman in time. But I’ll tell you the most remarkable thing of all about Gordie. Do you know that, as great and all as he is, Howe will come into the dressing room after he’s had a poor game, which isn’t often, and ask me what he was doing wrong out there. Imagine! Me trying to tell a player of Howe’s unquestioned ability what he’s doing wrong.”

What the coach says is true. Gordie Howe, without a doubt, is the most conscientious player I’ve ever seen. Often if things aren’t going just right for him, he’ll stay out on the ice after practice and work, work, work all by himself trying to find out what the trouble is.

Jerry Helped

Jerry Toppazzini, in fact, stated earlier this past season that one reason for his great improvement over last year was his stay with the Red Wings. It seems that while he was with us, Jerry, now with the Bruins, noticed Gordie stay after practice and keep firing pucks at the net. Topper stayed behind himself and as a result, from watching Howe, his shooting improved immeasurably.

Oh yes, there’s another thing that I often read in the papers about Gordie and which, every time I come across it, burns me up. That’s the statement that Gordie is lazy and that if he really wanted to exert himself he could be even greater than he is.

Nothing could be further from the truth. If there is one thing Gordie Howe isn’t, it’s lazy. If all those who write that he is, would just get out on the ice with me and try to keep up with him, I’m sure they’d alter their opinions mighty fast. I know I have to do it.

What fools a lot of people, however, is his style, his long strides, his way of making everything, no matter how difficult, look easy.
With those long strides he may not look like he’s moving but let me tell you I take two strides to every one of his and believe me, I know he’s moving when he breaks down ice.

Many people have asked me how come Gord and I always seem to know what the other is doing out there on the ice, even when we’re not watching one another. They ask if we practice special play patterns and all that. I must be truthful, however, and say that we don't, aside from our regular team practice sessions.

The way we seem to click together is something you just can’t put your finger on. We seemed to hit it off right from the start when we were put together with Sid (Abel).

No Need to Look

I can truthfully say that I can pass without looking and nine times out of ten Gordie will be right there to take it. It’s the same thing with me, I just seem to know what Gord’s going to do and most of the time I’m lucky enough to be there for the pass.

(Gord put me on the spot recently, however, when he told a Montreal TV audience that I was getting old and that now it took me longer to get there. He was only kidding, however. At least I hope he was).

As I said earlier, I room with Gordie on the road and I guess I know the big guy better than anybody on the club, with the possible exceptions of Red (Kelly) and Marty (Pavelich). We’re the last of the ‘old guard’ who have been on every one of the title teams over the last eight or nine years. There’s been a lot, an awful lot of players come and go at the Olympia but we four have managed to stay put. Earlier in our careers, Jack Adams called us his “Dead End Kids’. Well, in some ways I guess we were, before three of us got married and settled down in Detroit. (Red is due to take the step this summer).

We are so settled down now in fact, that both Gordie and I live all year round in Detroit and own homes and a business there. Gordie lives in the city but I live a little further out, in the suburbs.

Gordie, Marty and I are in business for ourselves along with a friend of ours, Frank Carlin. Our company, Mapco (Michigan Automotive Products Corporation) serves as manufacturers’ representatives in the auto industry.

I’m the president of the company, Gord and Marty are vice-presidents and Frank is the Manager-treasurer. During the winter months we don’t work at it too much, leaving Frank to guard the store while we’re off playing hockey, but in the summer month, we all put in our regular time at the office and in making calls.

No Angel

But, getting back to Gordie, I was reading in a New York paper recently where Larry Popein of the Rangers was quoted as saying that “Howe isn’t a dirty player, but he’s no angel either”. I quite agree with Larry but I’ll go further by saying there are very few angels in the NHL, least of all Gord who, being the star he is, is naturally subject to quite a bit of abuse every time he handles the puck. But Gordie can take it. And dish it out too if necessary.

Gordie never goes looking for trouble but I’ve never seen him back away from it when it comes. A big fellow (6’1, 205) he knows how to take care of himself. He’s a pretty rugged customer and I can’t recall anyone ever getting the best of him.

My only hope is that I shall be fortunate enough to be his linemate for another year or two.

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