The Way It Was — Iconic Detroit Athletes

Take a closer look at this 1963 photograph of Al Kaline, Gordie Howe, and Joe Schmidt.
Photograph courtesy of the Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University


Sixty years ago, on Sept. 8, The Detroit News published a cover story in its Sunday pictorial magazine that featured these future Hall of Famers whose faces could otherwise have been sculpted into a Mount Rushmore of Detroit sports legends.

Pictured here are the Tigers’ 28-year-old perennial All-Star right fielder Al Kaline, 35-year-old Red Wings superstar Gordie Howe, and 31-year-old Lions captain and middle linebacker Joe Schmidt, who defined the position. Years later, the trio earned nicknames that would be forever associated with them: Kaline was “Mr. Tiger” and Howe “Mr. Hockey,” while Schmidt was dubbed “Mr. Detroit Lion” by a media panel.

Although the glowing Detroit News magazine article called the trio a “million-dollar threesome,” it stated, “Kaline is the highest paid Tiger at nearly $60,000. Howe is the best paid player in hockey at $30,000. Schmidt receives nearly $30,000 from the Lions.” Two months later, Howe became the NHL’s all-time career goals leader, and six years later, he discovered from a teammate that in fact he was grossly underpaid and was far from being the highest-paid player.

The feature stated that “Howe believes he can play three more seasons” (he played 14 more for a total of 32, six of them in the World Hockey Association with sons Mark and Marty until he retired at 52), “Schmidt should be good for several more years” (he retired two years later to become a Lions assistant coach), and “Kaline should play in Detroit till he’s 40” (he retired at 39 after 22 seasons). In 1968, Kaline finally became a world champion, joining Howe, a four-time Stanley Cup winner, and Schmidt, who had won two NFL championship titles.

Upon quitting his job as the Lions’ head coach in 1973 after six seasons, Schmidt owned a manufacturers’ representative business. Now 91, he lives in Florida. Howe, who at his retirement in 1980 held records for career goals, assists, and points until surpassed by Wayne Gretzky, died in 2016 at age 88. Kaline, who for years was an analyst on Tigers telecasts and was later an adviser for the Tigers’ front office, died in 2020 at age 85.

This story is from the September 2023 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. Read more in our digital edition. Plus, find even more The Way It Was articles at