Before Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux became household names, Gordie Howe was the undisputed “King of Hockey.” And he still is to most hardcore hockey fans. Howe was truly an iron man and player who epitomized an era that many remember with fondness—when goal scorers weren’t afraid to get into fights and none of the players wore helmets.  Howe really was a living legend. An anachronism on ice, he successfully played in a rare style, while all those around him tried to adapt to a flashier “made-for-TV” style of hockey. This is a big part of why he is such a towering figure in the sport.

Gordie Howe was born in 1928 in Saskatchewan, Canada and grew up during the Great Depression. He had to drop out of school to work, but he was signed to minor league hockey contracts by the mid-1940s. It didn’t take Howe long to make it to the big time, moving up to play for the National Hockey League’s Detroit Red Wings in 1946.

From that point on, number “9” would always be at the top levels of professional hockey.

After playing in the NHL for over twenty years, Howe, who was already in his forties, took his talents, and his two sons, to the upstart World Hockey Association (WHA). Howe was the WHA’s MVP one season and is credited with bringing the new league legitimacy and viewers. He is also said to be one of the main reasons why some of the WHA merged with the NHL in 1979.

Howe finally ended his career in 1980 with the Harford Whalers—he was fifty-two and had played in five decades! Howe later played one game in 1997 for the Detroit Vipers of the International Hockey League.

Howe’s list of hockey accolades is truly impressive. He led the NHL in scoring in six different seasons, won six Stanley Cups, and was awarded the MVP trophy in both the NHL and WHA. But perhaps the most impressive aspect of Howe’s career was his resiliency and tenacity.

Today, goal scorers rarely fight and, in fact, fighting is somewhat now frowned upon. But things were much different in Gordie Howe’s time, and some would say it was because of him. Besides never wearing a helmet (because real men don’t wear helmets), Howe wasn’t afraid to mix things up with the other team’s goons. The opposing goons would often challenge Howe because he was a goal scorer and Howe was always happy to show them what a goal scorer could do with his fists.

Howe’s combined prowess as a goal scorer and a fighter led to the coinage of the hockey phrase: the “Howe hat trick.” Still in use today, the Howe hat trick is referred to when a player scores a goal, gets an assist, and gets into a fight.

Perhaps the most amazing part about Howe’s career is how long he was not only able to play, but also to stay relevant. He was still scoring plenty of goals and breaking plenty of noses well into the 1970s when he was in his late forties. And professional hockey seasons are quite long—teams generally play about eighty games over a six-month span, not including the playoffs.

Needless to say, as one of North America’s greatest sports heroes, Howe was a shoo-in for the NHL Hall of Fame and numerous other honors and awards in Canada and the United States. Unfortunately, Howe suffered from dementia late in his life, but he was cared for by his family who were with him when he died in 2016 at the age of eighty-eight.