On Feb. 5, 1980, 34 years ago today, Gordie Howe played in his 23rd and final NHL All-Star Game. Fittingly, the game took place at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
Even though Howe had long since passed his prime, it was a passing of the torch of sorts. Because while it was the last hurrah for the 51-year-old Hartford Whaler, it was the first All-Star Game for a certain fresh-faced 19-year-old from Brantford, Ont.
The two played on opposing sides and while Wayne Gretzky was shut out on the points sheet, Howe registered an assist on the final goal in his Prince of Wales team’s 6-3 victory.
In the follow up edition of The Hockey News, Ken McKenzie wrote a brief mention of the game that holds such a greater meaning in hindsight.
From the Feb. 22, 1980 edition of THN:
The 32nd annual NHL All-Star Game was more a tribute to Gordie Howe than to anything else. The 51-year-old former Detroit great received a standing ovation of two-and-a-half minutes prior to the start of the game, which was witnessed by over 21,000 fans, largest crowd to see a hockey game in North America. It wasn’t a great game but it was better than many, and we’ve been privileged to see all 32 of these All-Star contests. The most exciting game in our opinion was when Gil Perreault scored in overtime at Buffalo to give the Prince of Wales team a victory in 1978. Philadelphia’s Reg Leach won a car as the game’s most valuable player but most of the rabid Motor City fans would have been just as pleased if the car had been awarded to Howe who caused most of the excitement during the game. Scotty Bowman, coach of the winning Prince of Wales squad, showed a lot of class in selecting Howe for the All-Stars, and further pleased Gordie when he played him on a regular shift throughout the entire game. It was Howes’ 23rd NHL All-Star Game and he owns almost all of the All-Star scoring records…It marked Bowman’s seventh appearance as an NHL coach and he has a record of four wins, two losses and one tie. It was Al Arbour’s first All-Star Game as a coach although he was in one game as a player…More than half of the payers participating in this year’s All-Star Game were making their first appearance in All-Star play. All but two players in the game were born after Gordie Howe played in his first All-Star Game in 1948. They were Tony Esposito, 36, and Jean Ratelle, 39…Youngest player in this year’s game was Wayne Gretzky, Edmontons wonder kid, who is 19. No player has made as big an impact at his age in the NHL since Bobby Orr.
Here is video of the pre-game introductions. Fast-forward to about the 8:45 mark to see Howe's entrance, to which he's announced simply as "No. 9."