Column: Just this once, 'Mr. Hockey' picked the wrong spot

5:48 p.m. EDT June 10, 2016

Gordie Howe was equal parts sharpshooter and street fighter, and remarkably durable to boot. But nobody dominates a rough-and-tumble game for parts of five decades without knowing when to pick his spots. For all that, even “Mr. Hockey” had no say in the timing of his passing.

Howe’s death at age 88 was announced by his family Friday morning, even as the attention of the sporting world was riveted on Louisville, Kentucky, where the funeral of Muhammad Ali was taking place. The parallels between the two men are considerable: each brought unusual skills to a tradition-laden sport and over the course of a career, transformed it forever; by the time they walked away, both could fairly lay claim to the moniker, “The Greatest.”

Yet there is little doubt who cast the longer shadow.

Not to worry, because Howe will get his due, eventually, if only because Wayne Gretzky, himself dubbed “The Great One” and likely the only real contender for Howe’s spot at the top of the game, said without hesitation upon learning of his death, “To me, he’s the greatest hockey player who ever played.”

In the same ESPN interview a moment…

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