I have to say, I never thought they would name the new Detroit River bridge after hockey legend Gordie Howe.
We’ve been calling it the New International Trade Crossing so long it was at first hard to think of it as anything else.
Originally, planners called it the DRIC, for Detroit River International Crossing, a dreadful name that sounded like post-nasal drip.
If you had asked me a week ago if the bridge should be named after a sports figure, I’m sure I would have said no. But naming it after a cultural icon does make sense.
And there’s no man who better symbolizes the best of the partnership between the U.S. and Canada than Gordie Howe, the greatest hockey player of his time, if not ever.
Howe was born in Saskatchewan , but began playing for the Detroit Red Wings when he was 18, right after World War II. He played professional hockey for more years and in more decades than any other player in history.
He had many qualities one hopes the new bridge will have: Longevity, endurance, resilience. He was an extremely graceful player who could fight with the best of them, and was never above taking an opponent out with a hard check into the boards.
There were many times when it seemed as if Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun was on the brink of killing the new bridge to preserve his monopoly over heavy trade.
Howe, too, had his share of problems.
Early in his career, in 1950, his skull was badly fractured during a playoff game with Toronto. They had to operate to relieve pressure on his brain, and he very nearly died. But he returned to lead the league in scoring the next year.
After a quarter century with the Red Wings, he retired due to a wrist injury.
Later, he had surgery, joined a newly formed team, and played alongside his son Mark, who became an NHL star in his own right. Recent years have been difficult for Gordie Howe.
His beloved wife Colleen died six years ago after a long struggle with a disease that was something like dementia. Gordie, now 87, and a veteran of many injuries, has dementia himself.
Seven months ago, he suffered a major stroke, and we were told to expect the worst. But he went to Mexico for experimental stem cell treatment, and it seems to have worked amazingly.
We’re told he has gained twenty pounds, can play “driveway hockey” with his grandkids, and has at least some flashes of lucidity.
Anne Jarvis of the Windsor Star reports that when his son Murray told him the new bridge would be named for him, Gordie Howe reportedly said “that sounds pretty good to me.” Actually, it seems to sound pretty good to everyone.
Well, maybe not to Matty Moroun, who is still fighting a last-ditch effort to stop the bridge. His job, however, just got harder. After all, you can take on an anonymous concept called “DRIC” or even New International Trade Crossing.
Fighting Gordie Howe, however, is something else again. It always was. Here’s hoping he is with us long enough to be in the first car driven over the new bridge. Somehow, that would just seem right.
Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.