DETROIT — Gordie Howe has drawn some of the biggest names in hockey, including Wayne Gretzky and Gary Bettman, to the Motor City to celebrate his life and legacy.
Howe’s funeral was to begin at 11 a.m. Wednesday in a packed Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament.
Thousands of people, famous and relatively anonymous, paid respects to Howe at Joe Louis Arena on Tuesday. He died Friday at the age of 88.
The home of the Detroit Red Wings, Howe’s team for more than two decades and four Stanley Cup championships, was opened at 9 a.m. and was scheduled to close at 9 p.m. – for No. 9, of course – but so many people showed up that the visitation lasted longer than planned.
Paul Snapp was ready and willing to wait as long as it took to honor his hero.
The 66-year-old Snapp was one of more than 100 people waiting outside to get in Joe Louis Arena on Tuesday afternoon. Inside, a longer line snaked through the darkened arena.
“I wouldn’t have missed this opportunity to see him one more time for anything in the world,” said Snapp, sporting Howe’s No. 9 Detroit Vipers jersey from his one-game stint as a 69-year-old forward during the 1997-98 International Hockey League season, his sixth decade of professional hockey.
Howe broke records, threw elbows and fists and became an idol to Gretzky and many others while elevating the profile the NHL had in the U.S. With strength, speed and grit, he set NHL records with 801 goals and 1,850 points – mostly with the Red Wings – that stood until Gretzky came along.
Gretzky said he was “embarrassed” to break Howe’s records because he played in an incomparable era.
The Great One wore No. 99 in a tribute to Howe, a man he got to know when he was a kid.
“Not everybody gets to meet their hero or their idol,” Gretzky said. “And sometimes when you meet them, it wasn’t as good as you thought it would be. I got so lucky that the guy I chose happened to be so special.”
Howe had bulging muscles – unlike many players in his day – on his 6-foot, 205-pound frame and had a great shot both with his fist and stick.
“He had so much power,” said Scotty Bowman, who won an NHL-record ninth Stanley Cup as a coach with the Red Wings in 2002. “He was perfect. If you were going to make a mold of a player, you would want to make it of Gordie.”
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