Like Ali, Howe's legacy marked by character and sporting colossus


Like Ali, Howe's legacy marked by character and sporting colossus

Doug Wilson negotiated a bowl of cereal as he remembered his first encounter with Gordie Howe.

“You remember those old goals that had the support post down the middle?” he said. “I’m a rookie, and I get knocked into the middle post, and they help me of the ice. And I’m in the dressing room and Gordie walks around the rink to our trainers room and asks me if I’m all right and says, ‘You’re going to be a good player in this league for a long time.’ I’ll never forget that. He didn’t have to do that. He played for the other team, and he did it anyway.”

It was a story without much of a punch line, true, but Howe, who died today at 88 after beating back the effects of a massive stroke four years ago, had a million of those little-bits-of-thoughtfulness stories that defined him as much as the other sporting colossus who passed this week.

[NEWS: 'Mr. Hockey' Gordie Howe dies at 88]

Howe was the stereotypical Canadian in ways that Muhammad Ali was the modern American -- meeting the standards expected by their countrymen to fulfill their best sense of themselves.

The two men were not polar opposites, though one would think at first glance that they would be. Howe was exceedingly generous with his time to princes and plain folks alike, and with a polite soft-spoken nature, while Ali was equally profligate with his kindnesses while being his own town crier. The Canadian and American ways, to the nines.

Plus, they had the great athlete’s bizarre duality -- the willingness to with bloodless ruthlessness make others’ behaviors conform to their needs. For Ali, the way he psychologically started his fights months before fight night, especially with Joe Frazier, are a mark of the man as well as his unbendable principles, while Howe used his mighty exoskeleton, especially his professorial elbows and sometimes fists to modify the liberties of opponents. Lou Fontinato’s nose, which Howe cheerily moved several times in what might be his most famous fight, comes immediately to mind.

In either event, they each defined their sports more than their sports defined them. They were perfect for their times and surroundings, Howe in the strictly conformist world of hockey and Ali in the jazz and open-mic-night improvisations both in and out of the ring.

This is the part where someone might say, “Thus it is fitting that they passed in the same week,” but death is never fitting for the good. It’s a reminder of the indiscriminate cruelty of the human body, where entropy and death are the payoff for everyone. Besides, both Ali and Howe had more we wanted, if not necessarily more to give.

Both became frail before they passed -- Ali to the Parkinson’s disease that quite likely was caused by the rigors of being hit as well as hitting, Howe to a crushing stroke (that he beat back). Between them, they explained the cultures of their times -- the roiling ruckuses of an America in transition and the stolid courtliness and forbearance of the Canadian heartland.

So maybe it is only fortuitous circumstance that both Ali and Howe died in the same week, and the other bridges we want to fashion between the two men are of our own creation. Giants do not normally die in tandem (Thomas Jefferson and John Adams notwithstanding), and while these two are connected more in the time of their departures than anything else, they defined their places in history in ways that their contemporaries and acolytes can only imagine in wonder and awe. Howe’s funeral will be covered in Canada as Ali’s was here, and his influence upon his nation will endure in its way as Ali’s will here.

It is the nature of things, and maybe remembering one from time to time will help us remember the other. So maybe if they had to go in the same week, they’ll have accomplished that much, and that much is more than most of us could ever dream.

Put it like this. Had Doug Wilson chosen boxing, one could have easily imagined Muhammad Ali doing for him what Gordie Howe did lo those decades ago.

Martin Jones' new goalie mask will have Sharks fans seeing double


Martin Jones' new goalie mask will have Sharks fans seeing double

Sharks goaltender Martin Jones won't just enter the season with a different paycheck, the result of entering the first year of a five-year, $34.5 million contract extension that he signed last July. He'll also have a new mask.

Toronto-based artist Steve Nash unveiled a look at Jones' mask design for the upcoming season Monday morning on Twitter. The design again features San Jose's secondary logo but with some subtle differences.

Eagle-eyed mask afficionados will notice a couple of tweaks. First, there now are two sharks on the side, compared to only one last season. Those sharks boast orange eyes seen on the back of his mask last season

For comparison, here's a look at Jones' mask from last year.

The 28-year-old netminder is entering his fourth season in San Jose's crease. Jones posted a .915 save percentage in 60 regular-season starts and followed that with a .928 in 10 postseason starts as the Sharks advanced to the second round. 

We'll get our best look at Jones' new mask in action when training camp opens in mid-September, and, assuming he plays, in a game as soon as the Sept. 18 preseason opener against the Ducks. 

Pavelski finishes third at American Century Championship golf tournament

Pavelski finishes third at American Century Championship golf tournament

Sharks captain Joe Pavelski wrapped up his weekend at the American Century Championship, and finished in a tie for third at the Lake Tahoe golf tournament. 

Pavelski ended with a total score of 68 in the event, which utilized the Modified Stableford scoring system. The former high school golfer entered the final day atop the leaderboard, and playing in a trio with the three-time defending champion, former Oakland A's pitcher Mark Mulder, plus the man who would end his streak, former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.

Pavelski bogeyed four times on Sunday, but parred or birdied the other 14 holes. He finished the day five points back of Romo. 

The San Jose sniper tied with another noteworthy sharpshooter: 18-year NBA veteran Ray Allen, who surged up the board after scoring a Sunday-high 28.