Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

Sports

January 7, 2014

The Son Also Rises

Mark Howe had an exceptional hockey career, but as his co-writer Jay Greenberg notes, Mark will always be known as Gordie Howe's offspring.

Michael Gluckstadt

How can you be in the Hockey Hall of Fame and still be vastly underrated? Try being the son of the man they called Mr. Hockey. Mark Howe, son of the legendary Gordie, had a brilliant 16-year career in his own right and was one of the best two-way defensemen of his era. But the title of his autobiography, co-written with Jay Greenberg, reflects how many people will always think of him: Gordie Howe's Son.

Jay Greenberg
"The great irony is that Gordie's kid somehow ended up one of the most underrated players in the game's history."

Jay Greenberg

In the book, Gordie Howe's Son: A Hall of Fame Life in the Shadow of Mr. Hockey, Howe and Greenberg detail not just Mark's NHL career, but his relationship with his father, his friendship with teammates who have since passed away, playing under the iron control of Mike Keenan, and Mark's successful post-playing days with the Red Wings organization.

For Greenberg, a 42-year veteran sportswriter and member of the Hockey Hall of Fame himself, Howe was not the most willing subject. "He turned up his nose at the idea and said, 'I'm boring,' " Greenberg tells Gelf. But Howe came around, and the result is a vivid look inside the life and career of a player whose accomplishments very much stand on their own.
In the following interview, which has been edited for clarity, Greenberg tells Gelf why he was confident Howe's life story would make for a good book, what he feels is the strongest part of the story, and which player's game reminds him most of Howe's.

Gelf Magazine: How did you come to write Mark Howe's autobiography?

Jay Greenberg: When I first approached Mark, he turned up his nose at the idea and said, "I'm boring." I knew better, so I asked him to think about it, then on the way home that night—I had asked him in the Flyers press box—I actually was the one who gave it more thought and realized I needed another approach.
I emailed to tell him it wouldn't be just a book about him, but it was a chance to honor his dad plus two deceased teammates—Pelle Lindbergh and Mark's former defense partner and best friend in hockey Brad McCrimmon(killed in the 2011 Russian plane crash). Mark thought more about it and agreed.
I told him the sample chapter would be about growing up as Gordie's kid and asked him to jot down any stories that popped into his head. He showed up for our first taping with a handwritten list two ledger pages long. Once Mark was in, he was really in. He could not have been more responsive and responsible.

Gelf Magazine: Did you have a relationship with Mark during his playing days?

Jay Greenberg: I was a Flyers beat guy for seven of the 10 years he played for them. We didn't socialize, but he was always available, interesting, and as honest as he could be in talking about the team and himself, which is why I was confident this would be a good book.

Gelf Magazine: It's clear that Mark is best known (as the book title would indicate) as Gordie Howe's son. What were some of his own accomplishments?

Jay Greenberg: In addition to growing up as Gordie's kid, he was an Olympic silver medalist at age 16; played seven years with his father in the WHA; survived a horrific collision with a net in Hartford that could have left him paralyzed or with a colostomy bag for life; played in what many think was the best Stanley Cup final ever (1987); finished up his career with the team of his father; and became a respected opinion in the front office of a team that won four Stanley Cups in 13 years. And with all that, I believe the best chapter of the book is about his mother's decline and death from a neurological disease and its effect upon Gordie and the family.

Gelf Magazine: How did Mark respond to Flyers coach Mike Keenan's tough coaching methods?

Jay Greenberg: Mark has great stories in the book about Keenan. Mark, like all the Flyers, felt playing for Mike became a joyless exercise. But he bought into it, and in fact, was among the few Flyers who did not want Keenan fired by the end. Mark estimates that he was a 15- to 20-percent better player than he had previously been because of how hard Mike pushed him. But it was a wild ride for four years.

Gelf Magazine: What contemporary player, if any, reminds you of Mark's game?

Jay Greenberg: In my acceptance speech in November, when I was a media honoree by the Hockey Hall of Fame, I compared Mark to one of this year's inductees, Scott Niedermayer, in that they both were players who could have scored a lot more points had they wanted, but instead chose to play a responsible defensive game. I don't know if I have ever seen any other smallish defensemen be as effective in their own zone without really having much of a physical presence. They both were brilliant skaters, and their decision-making was immaculate. Scott has been out for three seasons. Off the top of my head, I can't think of anyone in today's game who fits that genre.

Gelf Magazine: Do you think Mark's style of play had anything to do with his upbringing?

Jay Greenberg: The book, as the title suggests, is about Mark coming to a comfort level with the enormous pressure of being identified as a prodigy at a very young age, on top of being the son of Canada's foremost sporting icon. The great irony of the story is that because of the unselfish way Mark chose to play for the good of the team, Gordie's kid somehow ended up one of the most underrated players in the game's history. It took 16 years for Mark to get voted into the Hall of Fame.

Michael Gluckstadt

Michael Gluckstadt is an editor at Gelf and host of the Varsity Letters speaking series.







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Article by Michael Gluckstadt

Michael Gluckstadt is an editor at Gelf and host of the Varsity Letters speaking series.

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