Despite the fact that he is a Hall of Famer, his jersey number 10 is retired, and a huge sculpture of him graces the corridor of Joe Louis Arena, Red Wing legend Alex Delvecchio remains one of the most underrated athletes in the history of hockey.
Delvecchio played virtually his whole career as a line mate of the all time greatest hockey player Gordie Howe, and because of that, he was always in number 9’s shadow.
Delvecchio played in 24 seasons with the Wings beginning on March 25, 1951 and ending on November 7, 1973 when he became the head coach of the Wings. Gordie Howe would have held the record with his 25 years playing for Detroit, but he continued his professional career with the WHA and a final season in the NHL with the Hartford Whalers. Carl Yastrzemski and Brooks Robinson hold the record in baseball with 23 seasons, Jackie Slater and Darrell Green hold the record in football with 20 seasons, and John Stockton holds the NBA record with 19 seasons.
Unlike Howe, Delvecchio was a true gentleman on the ice who rarely got into fights. He was awarded the Lady Byng Trophy in ’59,’66,’69 which goes to the “player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.”
Instead “Fats” was satisfied with being an amazing playmaker as he was a remarkable skater and passer who could also turn on the red light. From 1962 to the end of his career Delvecchio was the captain of the team.
When he retired, Delvecchio left the game second to Gordie Howe in hockey history for games played (1549), assists (825) and points (1,281) In addition to his remarkable longevity, Delvecchio only missed 43 games due to injury. Delvecchio became head coach in 1973 and later added the general manager title but by 1977 he was fired as the Red Wings became known as “The Dead Wings.” He simply did not have the horses. That same year he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. He later went into business and today still runs Alex Delvecchio Enterprises, a very successful company that produces engraved plaques, signs, and promotional products.
In an interview a few years ago with the Hockey Hall of Fame, Delvecchio offered a very candid and honest reflection of the downside of being a professional athlete.
“It’s still a hard life for a man and his family. The professional athlete surrenders his life to his sport. He surrenders his social life, his freedom, his whole being. He is governed by managers and coaches. He is regimented. Often, there are rules as to when he goes to bed and when he wakes up, when he eats and what he wears. A professional athlete definitely cheats his family. He is not always there when his wife and children need him. His wife has to bear a lot of the burdens alone. The athlete so often is gone on the holidays. He is home a little while, then gone again. The family gets used to the routine. At first, maybe the little ones cry when you pack up to go away again. For a father, that’s sad. I feel like I have not really gotten to know my children as well as I wanted to. They have grown up without me. That is a hard thing for a man to accept.”