The eyes of the sports universe were on baseball in late October 1975 as the Cincinnati Reds edged the Boston Red Sox to take a memorable World Series in the full seven games. I attended two of the encounters played in the Queen City before things concluded in Boston on Wednesday October 22. A big homecoming parade and championship celebration followed on Fountain Square. The nation had been riveted by this drama laden rendition of the fall classic.
On to fall and winter sports. Yes, I know all pro sports overlap at that point on the calendar. The Cincinnati Bengals were in their final season being coached by founder Paul Brown and they were a playoff team. A new club in the emerging World Hockey Association moved into the new Riverfront Coliseum, next to Riverfront Stadium that was shared by the Reds and Bengals.
I was a senior at Urbana College and had begun a sports broadcasting relationship in Sidney. I saw an opportunity to cover some events that might be of interest to both me and our audience. Three nights after the World Series ended in dramatic fashion, the Cincinnati Stingers took to the ice against the Houston Aeros who featured the greatest hockey legend of them all, Gordie Howe. “Mr. Hockey” had come out of a four year retirement to play alongside his two sons. The former Detroit Red Wing was 47 years old. He first joined the Red Wings in 1946 and took NHL MVP honors six times with 23 All Star game appearances and five goal scoring titles.
I love hockey and envisioned seeing Howe play and then asking him a question or two. Arrangements were made and I joined a moderate Coliseum crowd of 7161 to take in the Saturday night affair. While Gordie’s presence had gimmick qualities to draw fan interest for the team and league, he could still play at a high level. His “unretirement” would extend six quality seasons until age 52 and a final campaign in Hartford after part of the WHA was merged into the National Hockey League.
The Stingers provided two tickets behind their bench and locker room access after the game. I took a college buddy with me. We were in our seats just before warmup when a familiar face emerged into the home bench. It was Reds third baseman Pete Rose, and my friend initially couldn’t contain himself from unsuccessfully trying to draw Pete’s attention.
The visitors took the ice and there was Gordie Howe. He took one lap around the rink, stopped to visit with Rose, and remained there until his team returned to their locker room. Officially, the Reds captain was there to drop the ceremonial “first puck” and drew a huge ovation. Only 70 hours earlier he’d been center stage in Boston’s Fenway Park.
Cincinnati won 7-4 and Gordie contributed one assist. We went to the Aeros locker room for my initial foray into sports journalism. Howe was seated at his locker near the entry door and was engaged with another reporter. They wrapped up and I nervously stepped forward to ask about Howe’s perspective on the hot topic of supposed escalating violence in pro hockey. This guy had the perspective and his opinion should count.
My tape recorder and I received a reply that we could use on radio back in Sidney. I was so excited that I also wrote a summary and sent it to sports editor Ken Barhorst who not only ran it but also provided my initial Sidney Daily News byline a few days later.
The headline read “Howe doesn’t buy ‘vicious’ talk.” In essence he said the game was more violent back in his earlier years when teams that just played each other could be on the same train late on a Saturday night headed to an immediate rematch on Sunday in the other city. Getting something to eat or using the restroom could be challenging.
“Instead of walking through the other team’s sleeping car to the dining car, we’d wait until the train stopped and walk around the car in the snow. Animosity was such that walking through their car would surely mean a fight, as it did on one occasion when we didn’t walk around,” recalled the rugged, ambidextrous, and well spoken right winger who wore number nine.
Such was life in the old six team NHL when teams played each other 14 times per season. It’s obvious that familiarity did indeed breed contempt.
That was my only question and I’d gotten an insightful credible response. We shook hands with the greatest all-around hockey player in history, thanked him, and departed.
I’ve stayed in touch with my accomplice from that evening and we were recently together at an Urbana University football game. At one quiet interlude we made eye contact and he inquired, “Will you ever forget the night we met Gordie Howe?”
No, I won’t…..
Next week: John Madden’s final coaching visit to Cincinnati.
Associated Press file photo
Sports Extra appears each Friday. Dave Ross has worked in local radio, TV, and newspaper since 1975, calling games and covering people and events.