The ceremony was titled Forever a Flyer. Longtime announcer Lou Nolan, dressed in a natty tuxedo and standing behind a podium at center ice, began the proceedings by saying, We are here to honor a man who defines class and whose name is as synonymous with hockey as the Stanley Cup.The crowd clapped, and so did both teams. The Red Wings and Flyers were seated on their respective benches, and they seemed as captivated by the show as the fans that filled the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday evening.
Behind both goals an orange No. 2 was painted onto the ice and outlined in black. There were also countless spotlights that illuminated the surface to display the name Howe and No. 2.
And so began the celebration to retire Hall of Fame defenseman Mark Howes jersey. Howes brothers and his kids were introduced first, followed by his father, Mr. Hockey. Gordie Howe got a standing ovation. So did Mark Howe when he finally emerged from the tunnels beneath the stands and walked out onto the ice to join the gathering.
A video montage of Howes career was played on the giant scoreboard. Howe only watched a small portion of the digital tribute. Then, he turned away from the screen. Any longer, Howe said, and he might not have made it through his speech.I didnt want to get up there and break down, Howe said. As we were sitting there watching some of the video, I watched maybe 15 seconds of it. Then, I stood back. I didnt want to watch it. Ill enjoy it much later. It was important for me to really get my speech across the way I wanted to, to thank the organization and the fans. You cant do that when youre breaking down crying.Howe didnt break down or cry. He thanked the fans and his family without tears slowing him down. He also praised countless players, including Bobby Clarke and Bill Barber for showing him what was expected in Philadelphia, as well as his dear partner, the beastBrad McCrimmon. When he was done talking, Howe walked toward one of the goals and, along with his father and granddaughter, watched his No. 2 jersey rise to the rafters. Howe is only the fifth player in Flyers history joining Clarke, Barber, Barry Ashbee and Bernie Parent to have his number retired, and the first since 1990.When it went up, it started to get me, Howe said. I just looked at my dad and my granddaughter. It fills you with emotions. Its been almost 20 years since Ive been here, but I know I poured my heart and soul into this team. When that banner goes up, you think about all the blood and sweat and tears you went through.Howe, who was one of the best two-way defensemen to ever play in the NHL, scored 20 goals and became an All-Star in his first season in Philadelphia. During his career with the Flyers, he set franchise records for most goals and points in a season by a defenseman. He is 14th on the organizations all-time scoring list with 480 points. And during the 1985-86 season, Howe had a plus-88 rating, the best plusminus performance by any Flyer in history. Though Howe never won the Norris Trophy, he was a three-time runner up.He was one of the best players I ever played with, Dave Brown said. He deserved to be put into the Hall of Fame and have his number retired with the Flyers. I can't describe to you how much he meant to our team in the early 80s. We wouldn't have had that kind of success without him. He was a leader. He was mentally and physically one of the toughest players I ever played with. He had heart, character, grit, intangibles that made him a great player. I feel honored to have been his teammate. There will always be a place in my heart for Mark Howe.In the hallway outside the Flyers' locker room, Howe echoed that sentiment. He was talking about his teammates and the fans here, and he said that even though hes been the director of scouting for the Detroit Red Wings for the last 17 years, the time he spent in Philadelphia remains a fond memory.I know how much this means to me, Howe said. Ive never hidden that from anybody. Philly will always have a special place in my heart.Though Howe never won a Stanley Cup with the Flyers, hes always been a beloved figure here. Perhaps thats because he was always so willing to openly embrace the town and the team.It was as if I was born to be a Flyer, Howe said. The orange and black flowed through my veins and instantly consumed my heart.E-mail John Gonzalez at email@example.com.