59ºF

Fans, family pack Detroit church for Gordie Howe's funeral

Funeral for 'Mr. Hockey' is Wednesday at Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament

DETROIT – Gordie Howe has drawn some of the biggest names in hockey, including Wayne Gretzky and Gary Bettman, to the Motor City to celebrate his life and legacy.

Howe's funeral was Wednesday in a packed Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament. His son, Murray, gave an emotional eulogy packed with stories about Howe as a father and grandfather. 

I did many fun things with my father in the last few years. One thing was to go over to the local ice arena in Sylvania called Tam-O-Shanter and my dad would get pictures with all the 5-year-old kids in their hockey gear. One boy came up for a picture and his mom was so excited. My dad gave them a big hug and she said, 'His name is Gordie, after you.' And that boy looked at my dad like he was Paul Bunyan. It was incredible," he said.

Thousands of people, famous and relatively anonymous, paid respects to Howe at Joe Louis Arena on Tuesday. He died Friday at the age of 88.

The home of the Detroit Red Wings, Howe's team for more than two decades and four Stanley Cup championships, was opened at 9 a.m. and was scheduled to close at 9 p.m. — for No. 9, of course — but so many people showed up that the visitation lasted longer than planned.

Paul Snapp was ready and willing to wait as long as it took to honor his hero.

The 66-year-old Snapp was one of more than 100 people waiting outside to get in Joe Louis Arena on Tuesday afternoon. Inside, a longer line snaked through the darkened arena.

"I wouldn't have missed this opportunity to see him one more time for anything in the world," said Snapp, sporting Howe's No. 9 Detroit Vipers jersey from his one-game stint as a 69-year-old forward during the 1997-98 International Hockey League season, his sixth decade of professional hockey.

Howe broke records, threw elbows and fists and became an idol to Gretzky and many others while elevating the profile the NHL had in the U.S. With strength, speed and grit, he set NHL records with 801 goals and 1,850 points — mostly with the Red Wings — that stood until Gretzky came along.

Watch: Sports Final Edition tribute to Gordie Howe

Gretzky said he was "embarrassed" to break Howe's records because he played in an incomparable era.

The Great One wore No. 99 in a tribute to Howe, a man he got to know when he was a kid.

"Not everybody gets to meet their hero or their idol," Gretzky said. "And sometimes when you meet them, it wasn't as good as you thought it would be. I got so lucky that the guy I chose happened to be so special."

Howe had bulging muscles — unlike many players in his day — on his 6-foot, 205-pound frame and had a great shot both with his fist and stick.

"He had so much power," said Scotty Bowman, who won an NHL-record ninth Stanley Cup as a coach with the Red Wings in 2002. "He was perfect. If you were going to make a mold of a player, you would want to make it of Gordie."