‘Gordie’s gone home’: Mourners pay Howe respects

Francis X. Donnelly, and Holly Fournier

Detroit — Gordie Howe was known by a string of superlatives: Mr. Hockey, Mr. All Star, Mr. Everything, The Legend.

His name is on schools, parks and hockey arenas, and will grace the new bridge connecting Detroit with Windsor, said speakers at his funeral Wednesday.

Roddy Hogan of Novi wore a Gordie Howe jersey to the  funderal service on Wednesday.

Howe, 88, who died Friday, was so beloved it seemed like half the children from his Canadian hometown of Saskatoon were named after him, they said.

“How do I do justice to the life of a living legend — my own hero?” his son, Dr. Murray Howe, asked during the eulogy at Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

Befitting one of the sport’s greatest players, the funeral service was attended by hockey royalty: Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr, Ted Lindsay, Steve Yzerman, Guy LaFleur, Scotty Bowman, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.

And, befitting a city where hockey is a religion and Howe a deity, the Detroit mourners included several Red Wing fans wearing team jerseys and one holding a cutout of Howe’s number, 9.

Also among the crowd of 900 were Gov. Rick Snyder, Mayor Mike Duggan and Detroit baseball greats, such as Al Kaline and Willie Horton.

The flower-draped casket sat in front of the altar near a painting of Howe and a long row of flowers.

The Rev. J.J. Mech, rector of the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament, presided over the Mass.

“Gordie’s gone home,” said Mech, at the end of his homily, inducing many tears in the crowd.

After the two-hour service, attendees marveled at how lightly Howe wore his greatness.

Yes, he was a six-time MVP and 23-time All Star who helped the Wings win four championships and finished in the top five in scoring 20 years in a row.

But he never stopped being the humble farm boy from the Canadian prairie, they said.

Former Red Wing Kris Draper said he was a young player when he first met Howe in the team’s locker room.

“When he walked into a room, he could make everyone feel welcome,” Draper said. “That’s what made him Mr. Hockey, and a great ambassador to the Detroit Red Wings and the city of Detroit.”

No one knew that humility better than his four children.

Wojo: Legends and locals say farewell to Mr. Hockey

After the service, another son, Mark, described how his dad seldom took credit for his Herculean deeds but generously showered praise on others.

While Howe was a saint off the ice, he could be a devil on it, he said. Howe, strong as a moose and mean as a rattlesnake, delighted in jousting foes with a well-placed elbow or stick that left them wobbling.

Despite that, competitors still respected him, Mark said.

“I don’t know of any other human being that can go knock out teeth, give people cuts, bumps and bruises, and they revered the man,” he said.

Before the service, dozens of people stood in line in a light drizzle as they waited to get into the sanctuary.

The first person in line was Mike Mieduch, who arrived at 6:30 a.m., four and a half hours before the service began.

Mieduch, 63, of Clinton, said he used to listen to Howe’s games on the radio and sometimes attended them at the Olympia.

“(Howe) was just a great ambassador for the city,” he said. “A great person first, and he played some hockey, too.”

During the service, Murray Howe said he was awed by how many lives were touched by his dad, not just during his career but long afterward.

For some, the impact was early, like being named after Howe. For others, it came at the end, when they were buried in Howe hockey jerseys.

In between births and deaths, countless people told Murray the greatest thrill of their lives was meeting his dad.

That’s what happens when you carry a sport on your powerful torso, helping to popularize it in Detroit and the rest of the U.S.

“I still pinch myself at the realization that he was my father,” Murray said.

Murray choked up at times while he told the crowd more about Mr. Hockey.

Fans — seated at the back of the church — became united with family up front in their tears, sighs and laughter during the speech preceding Mass.

Murray said his dad was built like a gorilla and could crack lobster claws with his fingers.

He liked to work outside, where his favorite tool was a sledgehammer, Murray said.

That last thing wouldn’t surprise opponents who had the misfortune of fighting Howe. During his rookie year, he knocked out Rocket Richard with a single punch, Murray said.

“A good body check will be remembered,” Howe liked to say.

But that tough persona contrasted with the fella off the ice, said Murray.

He would talk to fans as long as they wanted and wouldn’t correct them, including a guy who said he saw Howe play in the 1906 Olympics.

He was never late for appointments, including one dinner in his honor where he was so early, he helped the waiters set up the tables, said Murray.

Once, when he was signing autographs, a woman came rushing up to him.

“Are you someone famous?” she asked.

“Nah, I just used to babysit that guy,” he said about the autograph seeker.

Among those sitting in the church pews Wednesday were Roddy Hogan, who wore Howe’s No. 9 jersey for the occasion.

Hogan, 50, of Novi, said he was 8 when he first met the legend in the Wings’ locker room.

He said he’s gotten the full Howe treatment over the years, a playful elbow here, a headlock there.

“It’s a definite honor,” he said.


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Twitter: @francisXdonnell