DETROIT -- There's no relationship more special than the one that Gordie Howe shares with the city of Detroit and with Red Wings fans.
Howe made a rare appearance at Joe Louis Arena Monday night as the Wings held a celebration in honor of Howe's 88th birthday, which is this Thursday.
"It's a challenge for him," said Mark Howe, Gordie's son and the Wings' director of pro scouting. "He really hasn't been here since he had his stroke. So many people from the Detroit area and a lot of people here at the Joe, they reached out to him. It's a way of Dad being able to wave and thank the people for all their kindness over the years."
Howe was joined by sons Mark and Murray and their families, plus Edna Gadsby and other close friends.
Marty Howe drove 11 hours to Toledo to be with the family but fell ill and couldn't make the game.
But Mark Howe said his dad wasn't going to miss it.
"I was leaving Toledo about 4:15, they were just getting him up, getting ready to clean him up," Mark Howe said. "I knew he was going to have a little bit of a hard time. I said, 'Dad, you want to go to the Red Wing game?' He said, 'Oh, yeah,' just like that. He was so excited."
Howe, who had been living with his daughter Cathy in Texas, is now living with Murray in Toledo, Ohio.
"We knew it was close to Detroit and he was close to family up here, close to friends and he is close to the Joe," Mark Howe said. "If he was down in Texas, this wouldn't be possible. His actual birthday is on Thursday but it's an opportunity for us to come in and to be with him and share with him. You try to take advantage of every second you can."
Local shop Love & Buttercream designed a special cake to commemorate the occasion, which featured a large hockey puck layer that said Mr. Hockey, a red layer with No. 9 and the winged wheel logo, a smaller red layer with Howe and a vertical tire that said, "Happy 88th birthday, Gordie."
Karen Newman led the crowd in singing Happy Birthday to Howe midway through the first period.
Then Howe and his family went back up to the Ilitch family suite to enjoy some cake while the Wings played the Buffalo Sabres.
"As a family, there's been such a love affair between Dad and the city of Detroit, we try to get him up here as much as we can just to say thank you to everybody," Mark Howe said.