Watson recalls Gordie Howe's Christmas spirit
Bryan Watson played a full season as a young defenseman with "Mr. Hockey" in 1965-66 and part of the following season with the Red Wings. Watson saw Howe do a lot of things, but there was one night in Toronto that stands out.
Howe scored a goal on Maple Leafs goaltender Johnny Bower, which was no big deal in itself because he had scored a lot of goals during his career against Bower. But this one was different. Watson years later still was laughing about the scene, which was during the holiday season in 1965 as he talked at his restaurant, "Bugsy’s," in Alexandria, Va.
"Gordie? Every night playing with him you see him do different things," Watson said. "I guess in Toronto where he beat (Maple Leafs defenseman) Kent Douglas twice and then going in, because he was kind of going bald, he always had a long piece of hair that came down to his eye and he had to move the hair out of his eye, and he stickhandled past Johnny Bower and tucked it into the top shelf with one hand."
Scoring the goal, though, was not enough for Howe.
"He was trying to get it (the hair) out of his eyes," Watson said. "We all laughed about it and then he wished Johnny Bower a Merry Christmas, to which Johnny chased him halfway to the blue line because Johnny was so mad at him."
So Howe scored a goal, infuriated a goaltender and laughed skating back to the bench.
As expected, Watson's sports bar is loaded with pictures, including one of Howe with a nasty cut on his forehead. Howe played a physical game, and Watson, who once was the NHL's all-time penalty-minute leader, thought Gordie probably would have problems staying on the ice if he played in 2008.
"Of course, Gordie was one of the most physical, and today he would probably be in jail," Watson said jokingly. "He was very, very physical and tough, and along with that he was really a great, great hockey player."
Watson was a 21-year-old rookie with the Montreal Canadiens in 1963-64 the first time he encountered Howe on the ice.
"I remember the first time I ran into him," Watson said. "He knocked me over on the ice and he said 'Welcome to the league, rook.' What are you going to do? Thank you Mr. Howe."
Watson was in awe of Gordie.
"I have seen him with fans. He was quite a guy," Watson said. "He didn’t miss anything at all. He, Gretzky, Orr are probably considered the three greatest hockey players that ever played."
Watching Howe was one memory of playing in Detroit. Another was the fans.
"I think Detroit fans were spectacular," he said.
Watson, though, will not be wishing Detroit fans a Merry Christmas in the same way Howe greeted Bower. After all, there was just one Gordie Howe who could deliver a message like that.
Author: Evan Weiner | NHL.com Correspondent