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When a Station Wagon Made Gordie Howe Cry

The toughest NHL player ever died on Friday. Here's the story of how a 1959 Oldsmobile brought him to tears.

Gordie Howe, the greatest all-around hockey player of all-time, died on Friday evening. The Detroit Red Wings legend had been in declining health for some time. He was 88.

Sift through the obituaries and tributes, and you’ll see his stats. Twenty-three NHL All-Star games. Four Stanley Cups. Six times winner of the Hart Memorial Trophy, the NHL’s most valuable player award. More goals than any player ever, save for Wayne Gretzky. Howe’s career spanned more than 2,000 games over six decades. It included some pretty incredible moments.

So those same obituaries and tributes will share stories about the man’s toughness, his playmaking ability and stellar wristshot. But my favorite Gordie Howe anecdote involves an Oldsmobile and a halftime ceremony during a game against the Boston Bruins in March of 1959. Per veteran Detroit sportswriter Bill Dow:

The Red Wings showered him with numerous gifts estimated at $10,000 that included a Miami vacation, clothing, luggage, a barbecue grill, a television, and a new white station wagon bearing Michigan license plate GH-9000. The car was driven onto the ice wrapped in cellophane. As the wrapping was being removed, Howe reached to open the driver’s door and suddenly doubled over in shock and tears because his parents—Ab and Katherine Howe, who still lived in Gordie’s hometown of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan—were sitting in the car… As his parents stepped out of the car, Howe broke down completely as his mother hugged him in front of the cheering crowd…

“You’re supposed to be a tough guy, and it broke me up,” Howe said years later. “It just broke me up.”

The Oldsmobile episode came less than a month after he famously beat New York Rangers defenceman Lou Fontinato into the hospital. Like all the greats, Howe contained multitudes. He will be missed.