Sledding into Gordie Howe’s house

Gordie Howe Detroit Red Wings Traverse City Michigan

Red Wings legend Gordie Howe retired to Traverse City after his playing career.

When I was a teenager it wasn’t like I was “chock full” of common sense.

Most teenagers are devoid of common sense. Which is why many of them end up in ridiculous situations, often ending with embarrassing phone calls to their parents. This is the story of one of those nights that disturbed the sleep of a hockey legend. But we never called our parents.

I had a high school friend whose family lived in a beautiful home overlooking Grand Traverse Bay in Traverse City. The house was situated on a large hill, and as a result it had a long private driveway. The driveway claimed many vehicles every winter, wrapping them up with snow drifts and steep, winding dips and dives. As young men who felt we couldn’t possibly ever be hurt, my friends and I frequently undertook dangerous activities on the hill. We skateboarded, rolled down, and even played football on the slopes of the driveway. In the frigid Traverse City winter we often piled onto sleds and rocketed down the driveway, ignoring the fact that it spilled onto a busy road.

Living at the base of that road, adjacent to my friend’s driveway, was Gordie Howe.

One early morning three of us slid our way down the drive, careening through the snow and over the slick ice on our sleds. How we avoided breaking our necks, I don’t know.

On one trip down we decided to stack all three of us onto one sled. As the smallest of the trio, I was perched on top. We sped down the driveway and picked up alarming speed – contrary to our complex mathematical calculations, which assured us that our weight would slow us. But no, we were barreling down the drive, the bottom man (poor sap) getting a face full of snow. As the top man, I had a perfect view of our ultimate destination. You could say I was eyewitness to our fate.

About 3/4 of the way down, we went off the drive. We were in a tree-lined stretch of wilderness, dodging trunks and branches. We hit a few, to the consternation of the bottom man who continued to receive the brunt of the pain. Eventually, our screams of joy and fanaticism evolved into screams of terror. Then, there was silence. People don’t tell you that you get eerily silent when you’re petrified, mostly because those people usually die.

We started to veer directly toward the winter home of Mr. Hockey. No amount of navigational artistry was going to save us. We were three young men – as snug as the butcher, baker and candlestick maker in the tub – bound together to create one human missile. I’m certain the two boys beneath me had no clue where we were or what was going to happen. They just knew we were going too fast and we were going somewhere we shouldn’t.

We slammed into the back of the house, our poor sled bursting from beneath us and (miraculously intact) shooting off in another direction, still intent on sledding.

Fortunately I was looking forward as we approached the house of the greatest hockey player ever to live, and I managed to jump just before impact. This only meant that I partially slammed into the back of his house. My buddies thudded like a buffalo leaping from a cliff. Each of them immediately rolled over on their backs, taking inventory of their limbs and important parts.

Before we could even do what any teenager would do under such incredibly irresponsible circumstances (laugh), the lights of Gordie Howe’s house came flashing on.

Here we were, three incredibly stupid teenagers who weren’t probably ever going to amount to anything, scattered in the backyard of the man who had scored more goals than any other man in the world. No more mismatched meeting could be imagined. We didn’t deserve to lay our eyes on Mr. Hockey, let alone wake him from his slumber.

Quickly we gathered ourselves, ignoring possible skull fractures, and scrambled out of there. We never even saw the high forehead of the old hockey legend who could certainly beat the hell out of all of us with one of his mighty arms.

As we were trudging back up the hill, giggling, shaking off the numbness, and rejoicing in our luck at still being alive, it occurred to us that what we’d done was probably something a young Gordie Howe would have done. It made the pain in our heads subside a little.