To millions of fans worldwide, Gordie Howe will always be "Mr. Hockey." To those of us who were fortunate enough to see him play, it's almost incomprehensible that Howe turns 85 on Sunday.

Howe, a kid from Floral, Saskatchewan, born on March 31, 1928, started skating when he was 4 years old, was playing in an organized league before he was 10 and had a tryout with the New York Rangers at 15. He didn't impress the Blueshirts, but a year later, a scout for the Detroit Red Wings discovered him and sent him to the team's training camp. Two years later, he was in the NHL -- he scored a goal in his first game with the Red Wings, on Oct. 16, 1946.

He went on to score 800 more regular-season goals, the last coming on April 6, 1980, in his 1,767th game. By that time, he was playing with sons Mark and Marty with the Hartford Whalers -- and taking a regular shift at age 52. Not even a litany of injuries that included more than 300 stitches, damaged knee cartilage, broken ribs, a broken wrist, broken toes, a dislocated shoulder, numerous scalp wounds, an ankle injury and a near-brush with death from a fractured skull in the spring of 1950 could stop him.

No. 9 was unlike any player in NHL history -- indeed, he's unlike any player in the history of team sports. No player in any sport has played regularly in five decades or after his 50th birthday. No one in NHL history could play offense and defense, score and check, and provide the kind of toughness that Howe brought to the game.

Nor has anyone done it for so long.

Howe had a perfect build for a hockey player -- a thick neck, sloping shoulders and incredibly strong wrists. He was described by various coaches as the game's smartest player, the finest passer, the best playmaker and the ablest puck carrier in the game. He was also tough and aggressive -- his elbows became the stuff of legend, and few if any players would challenge him. The "Gordie Howe hat trick," a goal, an assist and a fight in the same game, is named after him -- though Howe had only two such games in his career.

Howe's on-ice resume is unprecedented. He finished in the top five in regular-season scoring for 20 consecutive seasons. He broke Maurice Richard's NHL regular-season career record for goals in November 1963 when he scored his 545th -- then added 256 more. He retired from the Red Wings in 1971, but two years later fulfilled a dream when he joined the Houston Aeros of the World Hockey Association to play with his sons. They joined the Whalers in 1977 and were part of the organization two years later when the NHL absorbed four WHA teams, including Hartford, bringing Howe back for another season in which he played all 80 games -- the last few after turning 52.

Howe won four Stanley Cups with the Red Wings in a six-year span from 1950-55. He finished first in the League scoring race six times and won the Hart Trophy as League MVP on six occasions, was a 23-time All-Star Game participant, a First- or Second-Team All-Star 21 times and owns the NHL record for consecutive 20-goal seasons with 22, from 1949-71. He scored 100 points in a season once -- at age 40.