THN: Trading elbows with Mr. Hockey
Die Titelstory des nordamerikanischen Fachmagazins "The Hockey News"
beschäftigt sich diesmal mit der Eishockeylegende Gordie Howe.
Trading elbows with Mr. Hockey
By Ken Campbell
“I’ve never had so many worries in my life. Sleepless nights. Every day is a constant reminder, what is, what was.”
– Gordie Howe in October, 2002
“Hey, when you’re talking to him, try to get him to move his hands,” says Mark Howe.
So I do. Gordie Howe holds out his massive mitts and tries to rotate
them. He can’t. The wrists that were behind more than 1,000
professional goals – and almost as many punches – have been so battered
over the years that the bones have all fused together. Combined with an
arthritic condition he suspects is hereditary, Gordie Howe is so stiff
in the wrists that he can barely swing a golf club anymore.
That didn’t stop him from shooting a 94 last summer the day before his
granddaughter was married, despite the fact he hadn’t played in three
years. “We get to the 14th hole and he said, ‘I have to try something
new,’ ” Mark recalls. “I said, ‘Why? You haven’t missed a fairway all
day.’ Straight down the middle and about 225 yards the whole day.”
Truth be told, there isn’t much keeping Gordie Howe down these days.
Not an irregular heartbeat that forced him to have an angioplasty and
stint installed five years ago. Not two artificial knees. And most
importantly, not a terrible illness to his life partner, Colleen,
combined with the near-collapse of his family business.
In fact, at 78, Howe is getting out more than he has in years. After an
estrangement with the Detroit Red Wings alumni group, Howe has returned
to the fold. He’s signing more autographs, doing more corporate and
charity events and getting back in touch with the fans who now are the
lifeblood of his livelihood.
Howe’s wife, Colleen, is in the latter stages of Pick’s Disease, a rare
degenerative brain illness that causes dementia. Colleen was first
diagnosed in 2002 and Gordie was devastated. He lost 20 pounds because
of the stress. The headaches were unbearable. The same man who always
thought he was a “tough son of a bitch” couldn’t keep his emotions in
check when he was asked about Colleen’s condition shortly after she was
diagnosed. He turned away and broke down and cried.
“Then a doctor who was nice enough told me what was going on,” Howe
says. “He told me, ‘You’ve got to get back to a normal life or you’ll
be joining her.’ ”
Unfortunately, due to her condition, Colleen has helped out. As crass
as it sounds, she is now at the stage in her disease where she is
almost in a permanent state of dementia so she doesn’t notice when
Gordie is gone. She has caregivers who are at the Howe’s home in
Bloomfield Hills, Mich., 12 hours a day. They get there at 8 a.m. and
wake her, bathe her and dress her. Before they leave for the night,
they sedate her and put her to bed.
“I hate to say it, but it’s easier to take care of her because she
sleeps 90 per cent of the time,” Howe says. “Some nights are tougher
than others, but you sit there and she’s just at peace with the world.
With Alzheimer’s, they get mean. She never got mean.”
Mark and Marty doubt their mother is aware of much of anything, but
they’re not with her every day the way Gordie is. Usually when Gordie
goes over and taps her hand, Colleen will grab it. Perhaps it’s the
undying love of a husband, but Gordie insists there is still something
“We just don’t know what it is,” Howe says. “The other day, one of the
caregivers said to her, ‘Do you want a chocolate bar?’ And she said,
‘Mmmm, hmmmm,’ just like that. That’s about all you get out of her.”
Howe insists he sees his wife smile occasionally and if people are
willing to work hard enough to get through, they can do it. He gets
annoyed at caregivers who come in and talk about Colleen’s condition as
though she’s not even there.
“I’ve had people who would come around and start acting like idiots,”
Howe says. “I would say, ‘Just slow down. I don’t even understand what
you’re saying because you’re talking so quickly.’ They’d say, ‘She
doesn’t understand,’ and I’d say, ‘Like hell she doesn’t understand.
Why is she crying then?’ I would just tell them to get out of my house.
“Marty and Mark will come home and say, ‘I don’t think she knows me.’ I
say, ‘Well, sit and talk to her then.’ It takes a long time to figure
out that mind. Sometimes I can joke with her and get her to laugh. And
it’s always at the right time. It’s not a foolish laugh.”
For someone with the cycle of dependency that Howe has had for most of
his life, effectively losing his wife represented much more than just a
loss of companionship.
From a financial standpoint, Colleen treated Gordie like the crown
jewel in the family business and used Howe’s good will and appeal to
build Power Play International, the company that handles all of Howe’s
merchandising and corporate efforts.
“She was the brains, let’s face it,” he says.
Colleen was the one who fiercely fought for Howe to be paid
commensurate with his star status shortly after he found out he was
making about half the salary of Maple Leafs defenseman Bob Baun. It was
Colleen who orchestrated his comeback to play with his two sons in the
World Hockey Association. And, it was Colleen who controlled his
appearances and ensured the Howe brand would continue to generate
revenue after he retired.
After Colleen became ill, Howe placed himself under the trust of Del
Reddy, the business manager for Power Play International, and Aaron
Howard, the office manager for the company. Both were hired by Colleen
and had an up-and-down relationship with the other family members, one
that deteriorated after Colleen became unavailable and ended when both
abruptly left the company last spring. Since then, the Howes allege
that both employees wiped out all the business records and the computer
database; prevented Gordie from making appearances he wanted to do;
and, engaged in questionable business practices.
With no one to run the business, Mark, a pro scout with the Red Wings,
spent much of the summer in Detroit getting Power Play re-established.
Marty, who previously coached the AHL’s Chicago Wolves, now runs the
business from his home in Connecticut. And, Mark’s son Travis is the
office manager who takes care of the day-to-day business.
“We don’t mention Del and Aaron around him anymore,” Mark says. “The
emotional hurt they put on my father was worse than anything else. The
most important thing for our family is our father’s image and I think
they were maybe tarnishing my father’s image.”
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