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Custance: Red Wings legend Gordie Howe’s 85th birthday appearances may be among his last

Update: NHL.com's John Kreiser also wished Howe a happy birthday on behalf of the NHL(!) and posted a slate of significant figures from Howe's career:

Red Wings legend Gordie Howe turns 85 on Sunday, and the Red Wings will commemorate his birthday by wearing commemorative #9 jerseys in warm-ups prior to Sunday's matinee against Chicago (12:30 PM EDT, NBC/NHL Network Canada/97.1 FM, and the jerseys will be auctioned to support the Gordie Howe Foundation).

Howe is slowing down a bit and battles a "mild cognitive impairment" at times, but his family told the Canadian Press that he'll attend both Sunday and Monday's games (he's signing autographs during the 1st or 2nd intermission, and with a movie about his comeback with the Houston Aeros set to preiiere on the Hallmark Channel on May 4th, Howe will be in the public eye again, but ESPN's Craig Custance reports that Howe's appearances on Sunday and Monday may be the last times fans will be able to see him in such a crowded setting--though the family is pulling back the curtain on Howe's now very-private life for the sake of their father's enjoyment of the next two days:

On Sunday, the lines will form again for another autograph signing with Howe when he is celebrated at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit for his birthday. Born on March 31, 1928, Mr. Hockey is turning 85.

The birthday celebration will begin fittingly with a Sunday matinee Original Six showdown between the Blackhawks and Red Wings and continue into the evening when 30 to 35 friends and family, including all four Howe children, will occupy a reserved room at a local seafood and steakhouse.

It should be a memorable day, and sadly, the reality is setting in that it may be one of the last of the great Howe public events. Age and dementia slow for nobody, even the toughest SOB to ever play the game. Physically, he's strong as an ox -- "I still wouldn't want to fight him," jokes Marty -- but any experiences outside interaction with close family are becoming more unpredictable.

"He loves people. He's always liked talking to people and stuff like that. It actually fires him up a little bit, makes him more aware," Marty Howe said. "He puts his game face on. I call it the Gordie Show. But there are some days that doesn't even work. We're nearing the end of the appearances."

Howe lives with his children now, spending his winters with Cathy in Texas, his springs and falls with both Murray in Toledo and Marty in Connecticut, and his summers fishing off the Jersey shore with Mark, the Red Wings' director of pro scouting.

Custance--and Howe's family--try to put this delicately, but it sounds like Howe's "mild cognitive impairment" is giving way to full-on dementia, and as the Howes lost their mom to Pick's Disease, they're simply trying to create as many memories with their father as they can before he loses his own:

"Everyone is trying to get as much time as possible," Cathy said. "We don't know how long it's going to be before he doesn't know who any one of us are."

It's a fear that is all too real for any family that has experienced dementia or Alzheimer's, a disease Gordie Howe and his family continue to work hard raising funds to fight. Howe's wife, Colleen, died in 2009 of Pick's disease, a rare form of dementia.

...
"Whatever he did on the ice -- the records and all that are one thing -- but to me he's a far better human being than he was the hockey player," Mark Howe said. "He's just a down-to-earth human being who happened to play hockey. What's important to him now is his family."

Both ESPN and Sports Illustrated posted photo galleries paying tribute to Howe, and ESPN re-posted the 9-team tribute to Howe (Wings included):

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Comments

Primis's avatar

Greatest to ever play, and his nickname reflects that.  We’re so blessed to have had him around this long.

Posted by Primis on 03/31/13 at 12:04 AM ET

Avatar

Gordie was the best ever peroid.

Posted by bigjim on 03/31/13 at 08:20 PM ET

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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.