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Ali and Howe: Two Sports Pioneers Gone

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2016 has been a horrendous year when it has come to losing legends in the entertainment business. David Bowie, Prince, Patty Duke, and now two pioneers in their respective sports have left us. This past week Muhammad Ali and Gordie Howe have passed on, and both could arguably be the greatest, if not among the greatest athletes that have ever walked this earth.

May 17, 1967: Muhammad Ali punches the bag. (Miami News photo)

May 17, 1967: Muhammad Ali punches the bag. (Miami News photo)

Muhammad Ali, born Cassicus Clay, took the sport of boxing to a new level with his swagger and his quickness, both physically and mentally, both inside the ring and out. Ali came on the scene in 1960 when he won his first professional bout against a police chief named Tunney Hunsaker. It only started from there as he would win an Olympic Gold Medal later that year. Two years after that, he became the World Heavyweight Champion when he defeated Sonny Liston, which many considered to be a major upset. In 1966, Ali, who converted to the Islamic religion and stood up and was a major part in the Civil Rights movement, cited his religious and political beliefs against the United States military when he was selected to fight in the Vietnam War. After being arrested and stripped of his titles, Ali began a four-year battle to plead his case to the Supreme Court, which he eventually won and was reinstated into boxing. His career would only get bigger.

“The Fight Of The Century” pitted Ali against Philadelphia’s own “Smoking” Joe Fraizer,  a fight in which Ali lost his first professional bout, would begin a reign of two more legendary rematches with Fraizer, including the final match, “The Thrilla In Manilla”, both wins by Ali. By this time America’s outlook on Ali as a “traitor” for dodging the draft had faded and was back to being viewed as a hero. After his retirement in 1980, Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, but he wouldn’t let it stop him from fighting for world causes. He visited Sudan to help with famine victims, he was involved in negotiations with Sadam Hussien to release American hostages, and worked with Michael J. Fox to raise awareness for Parkison’s Disease. He received the highest honor an American citizen can receive, the Presidential Seal Of Freedom in 2005. He was also named Sports Illustrated’s “Sportsman Of The Century” to go along with his many awards and honors from his boxing and personal endeavors. After all, he wasn’t nicknamed “The Greatest” for nothing.


Gordie Howe passed away Friday at the age of 88, and “Mr. Hockey” lived every bit of those years. He debuted in the NHL in 1946 and would be the only hockey player ever to compete through five decades. He enjoyed a 26-year NHL career (25 with the Detroit Red Wings)  and played another six years in the World Hockey Association. He held many records until Wayne Gretzky came onto the scene in the 80’s, but still is the sole record holder for games and seasons played.

He was the scoring leader from 1950-1954, 1957 and 1963, but even more impressive was a 21 year streak of finishing in the top five in the league in scoring. Howe was a 23 time all-star…yes, 23 times. This goes along with his six Hart Trophies and four Stanley Cup titles. In his mid-40’s, Howe had over 100 points in a season twice, and at the age of 52, in his final season, Howe managed to score 15 goals and had 26 assists.The ambidextrous shooter finished his career with 801 goals, 1,049 assists for 1,850 points in 1.767 games played, but he wasn’t only known for his scoring. He was a physical player who wasn’t afraid to put people into the boards. Despite only doing it twice in his career, the “Gordie Howe Hat Trick” was dubbed in which a player scores a goal, has an assist, and a fight in the same game. (Fun fact, the all-time leader with the Gordie Howe Hat Trick? Ex-Flyer Rich Tocchet with 18). Since I am only 34 years of age, I didn’t get to see Howe play, but based on stories I’ve heard, and his impressive numbers alone, it’s hard to fathom anyone aside from Wayne Gretzky, holding the honor of being any better in the sport of ice hockey.

These two greats have left us, but neither will ever be forgotten. They were both huge inspirations for some of today’s athletes, Floyd Mayweather Jr, Draymond Green, Richard Sherman, Joe Thorton and Sidney Crosby to name just a few, and without them, there would have been be quite a void in not only their respective sports, but in the general public as they were both remarkable human beings. Rest in peace, Gentleman.


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