GERIATRIC MARVEL THOUGH GORDIE HOWE IS, IT was a suspiciously fast fade that he pulled after the victory celebration in a Houston hotel, disappearing after a couple of quick beers and leaving his teammates, including sons Marty and Mark, who was named league Rookie of the Year, to revel without him. "I got a good night's sleep," said Gordie, the WHA's third-leading scorer, with 100 points, and the overwhelming choice for MVP.
Winning the championship of the two-year-old league, he said, pleased him more than the four Stanley Cups he captured with the Red Wings. "This one's sweeter because I never expected to be here," he said. "And having the boys with me is the best part."
The WHA's championship trophy arrived in Houston having been badly damaged in transit. "There are enough pieces for every player," moaned a league official. The Avco Cup was patched up just hours before the Aeros completed their sweep of Chicago, a 6--2 win featuring routinely heady performances by Marty and Mark. And Dad?
Slope-shouldered and hunched slightly forward, he steamed up ice, thrusting his chin out in middle-aged determination as he fired on-target shots that other Aeros had no trouble deflecting past Cougars goalie Cam Newton. Gordie was credited with four assists in the clincher, all on power plays, giving him nine for the series. And Howe showed his other moves, too. As Chicago's Larry Mavety reared back to shoot in the final period, Gordie broke up the play by sprawling fearlessly in the puck's path, earning him a standing ovation. A moment later he and Mavety received two-minute penalties for tangling at the boards, and the Houston partisans, outraged by Gordie's banishment, showered litter onto the rink.
After the game, his 1,924th in big league hockey, a champagne-drenched Howe spoke wearily of retirement, noting that his contract gives him the option of serving the remaining three years in the Aeros' front office. But he also said, "If I feel I can still contribute, I'll be back." The best guess is that he will play one more season, quitting just as the Aeros—Mark, Marty and the rest of his "sons"—move into a brand-new arena. The $18 million facility will replace Sam Houston Coliseum, which is considered hopelessly outmoded. It was built in 1937, which makes it nine years younger than Gordie Howe.