With the NHL playoffs just around the corner — and the Concussion Issue continuing to hover over the NFL — I thought I’d write a quick post about the time, long before it was fashionable, Red Wings legend Gordie Howe wore a leather helmet.
This was during the 1950-51 season. In the playoffs the previous spring, Howe had gone head-first into the boards — the Maple Leafs’ Ted Kennedy was his intended target — and suffered a fractured skull and serious facial injuries. Doctors had to perform emergency surgery to stop a brain hemorrhage.
When Howe returned to action in the fall, he experienced headaches and, once, a dizzy spell. So his bosses convinced him to put on a leather headgear (plastic helmets not yet being in vogue).
“We just don’t want to take chances,” general manager Jack Adams said. “I’ve wanted Gordie to wear a headgear for a long time and finally talked him into it on the train coming back from Toronto.”
Howe eventually discarded the thing, tough guy that he was. The league made helmets mandatory for incoming players in 1979, his 32nd and final pro season, but veterans had the option of going without them — and Gordie did. Here he is, late in his career, mixing it up with Quebec’s (better-protected) Curt Brackenbury.