Howie Young's ferocity toward his fellow man led to standing
ovations in Detroit and suspensions by his team and the NHL
office. "My job," he once said, "is to get my shoulder into
somebody." While patrolling the blue line for the Red Wings in
the early 1960s, Young would hurl himself at opposing forwards
like a human tsunami. His crunching checks and seat-of-the-pants
style helped spark Detroit to the Stanley Cup finals in 1961.
Two seasons later he shattered the league mark for penalty
minutes, with 273 in just 64 games.
The smiling visage that graced SI's cover, however, belied a
tortured soul. Young says he drank nearly every day for 12
years, until he bottomed out at 27. Indeed, he was hung over
when he posed for SI after a morning practice. "On the bench I
would say, 'Please God, just get me through this game,'" says
Young, now 60. "Then it was, 'Hey, God, just get me through this
period.' Finally, it was, 'God, just get me through this shift.'"
The Red Wings finally gave up on Young and dealt him to the
Chicago Blackhawks in 1963. Later that season he was exiled to a
minor league team in Los Angeles, where he began to act,
appearing as a marine in the 1965 Frank Sinatra movie None but
the Brave. His descent reached its nadir, however, on a May
evening in '65, when a besotted Young was hauled off by police
after breaking into his own apartment. That night, alone in a
four-by-six-foot jail cell, he vowed to get off the sauce. Two
days later he joined Alcoholics Anonymous, and he says he has
been sober since.
Young returned to the Red Wings in 1966, and over the next nine
years suited up for nine teams in five leagues. After that he
drifted, washing dishes in Oklahoma, digging ditches in Phoenix
and making a brief comeback, at 48, for a minor league team in
New York City. Five years ago Young finally found a home in
Thoreau, N.Mex., a predominantly Navajo community two hours west
of Albuquerque. There he and his third wife, China, share a
two-acre ranch with nine cats, two geese and a quarter horse
named Big Red. Hockey's former enfant terrible is now a
mild-mannered bus driver for the McKinley County public schools.
For two years Young has been drumming up funds to build a rink
for the community. His dream is to nurture the NHL's first
Navajo player. "These kids are such natural athletes," he says.
"All I've got to do is bring the ice, and they'll do the rest."
COLOR PHOTO: CHIP SIMONS [Howie Young]
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN G. ZIMMERMAN [Cover of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED featuring Howie Young]
He drank nearly every day for 12 years, until he bottomed out at