That Time I Met Ernie Harwell, Gordie Howe… And Possibly Ted Lindsay…And Sid Abel’s Drinking Buddies!

Recently, the wife of a sports icon died (Lulu Harwell, the wife of longtime Detroit Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell died March 1), and now, former Detroit Red Wing Ted Lindsay is dead (he died March 4). Both of these deaths are pretty big news in my ‘hood right now (Southeast Michigan, aka just a couple of clicks away from “Hockeytown” (aka Detroit).

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Ted Lindsay and the award named for him.

Both of these things are taking me back to that time in my  life when I had multiple opportunities to make some of my sports fan friends and colleagues – insanely jealous! I used to work as a general assignment news reporter, as a “temp” for a local chain of newspapers. This means I filled in for other reporters when they were on vacation, taking sick leave, maternity leave, etc. I always had something different to do! Sometimes that meant meeting various sports legends!

One of my assignments was to cover a book signing involving Ernie Harwell. “Hmmm, who’s Ernie Harwell,” I thought to myself? “That name sounds kind of familiar!”  Please note that I’m not really a “sports” person. To compensate, I tried to learn as much as I could about this guy, whom was apparently a legend in the world of Detroit Tigers baseball (the American Sportscasters Association ranks him #16 on its list of the top sportscasters of all time). I honestly don’t remember much about the assignment itself, but I do remember that the reporter I was filling in for at the time (a Tigers fan) kicking himself for having not been available to cover this assignment! And for this, I refer to the landmark case of You Snooze – versus You Lose…

As a “temp,” there were plenty of times I had to do stories that most “seasoned” reporters wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole – if they had a choice. I remember covering a career fair in Redford, and filing the story. My supervising editor had these words for me:

You really know how to make something out of nothing, don’t you?

I’m not really sure whether that was intended as a compliment or not – but it’s an example of one of the more “mundane” stories I occasionally got stuck writing! I tried not to be too picky…except that one time I ALMOST had to cover the “race day” at the Michigan International Speedway (I managed to talk the powers that be into assigning that job to a reporter who’d hired in just a little after me)!  I can only imagine the drunken “tall drink of water” jokes I would endure at such an event (which would probably be the least of the horrific things I would have had to deal with). Bullet dodged!

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Former Detroit Red Wing Sid Abel (I never met him, but did meet his drinking buddies…and Red Wings teammates)! Jesus…those EYES…(so innocent looking)!

In February 2000, the first member of the Detroit Red Wings’ legendary “Production Line” – Sid Abel (the others were Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay)… met his maker. Abel, a longtime Farmington Hills resident, had died – and it was up to ME to write the story! What? Me? I don’t know anything about hockey! Still, I tackled the story anyway – making up for my lack of sports knowledge by…doing my homework! I read his entries in almanacs, encyclopedia articles (Internet was not as huge of a knowledge resource as it is today), etc. And I added my own “personal” touch to the story by managing to talk to a couple of his…drinking buddies! I heard that Sid loved to frequent Cowley’s, an Irish pub in downtown Farmington (steps away from the newspaper office at the time), so I stopped in there to get some more “details” for my story. I’m not sure if I bumped into these guys by accident, or this meeting was planned. But the enduring thing I remember is that Sid Abel was (drum roll) was rather fond of well drinks. I think the drink his buddies said he liked best was gin and tonic. You’d think a Canadian native would like beer, but no – Sid Abel loved his well drinks! And he was a bit of a “gentleman,” too (a classy guy by all accounts). The guys I talked to were very classy guys, too (it was a pleasant assignment)! For inquiring minds, I was sober for this assignment – though had I actually “tied one on” with the fellows, I might have gotten a LOT more information for my story (LOL)! Alas, I wanted to WRITE the story, not be a part of any “story!” Perish that thought…

And this, dear readers, marked the only time I managed to get one of my stories on a sports page! I was not able to track down the actual article in time to publish this blog, so I’m going purely on memories here.

Speaking of memories, it was a…cold February day (my 28th birthday) when I attended Sid Abel’s funeral. And since I had to “dress up” for this kind of assignment, I was wearing tights or nylons and a skirt (which I changed out of immediately afterwards into pants). And I managed to get some quotes from  Gordie Howe (who died in 2016). And possibly Ted Lindsay, too…

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Gordie Howe, aka “Mr. Hockey.”

I don’t remember the exact quotes, but Howe talked about some of their “production line” antics with the Red Wings, and talked fondly about those “helmetless” salad days. For some reason, “Don’t give up your stick until the other guy does” is “sticking” out in my mind as something he said. Gordie Howe was hardly a reclusive guy – he remained a big figure in Detroit sports long after his Red Wings days – and was always more than happy to talk to reporters. Just about anyone working for a Detroit area newspaper would eventually have a chance to meet “Mr. Hockey.”

As one of my Facebook friends commented, now all of the “Production Line” members… are together again…and all I have are my memories of having met a couple of them – and their drinking buddies!

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