Family, NHL greats gather for final farewell to 'Mr. Hockey' Gordie Howe

Gretzky recalls fondest memories of Gordie Howe (1:26)

Wayne Gretzky shares his childhood memories of Gordie Howe and says Howe had just as big an impact off the ice as on it. (1:26)

DETROIT -- On a gray, overcast day in Hockeytown, friends, family and hockey royalty gathered at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament for the funeral of Gordie Howe, who died Friday at the age of 88.

One by one they filed into the majestic church, including Hall of Famers Wayne Gretzky, Guy Lafleur, Scotty Bowman, Johnny Bower, Glen Sather and Chris Chelios along with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

A bus dropped off a large group of Detroit Red Wings, current and retired -- from 19-year-old Dylan Larkin to four-time Stanley Cup winner Darren McCarty.

Afterward, Mark Howe said the funeral provided the family with strength during a difficult several days following the death of his father.

"We know what an absolute treasure of a human being my father was," he said. "We're trying to celebrate his life. That's hard for me right now. He's a role model of everything I try to be as a human being. Unfortunately, I can't keep up with those standards, but I try. We're grateful to have so many wonderful years."

Gretzky, stopping to share his thoughts after the funeral, said every story he ever heard about Howe was positive. He'll remember most the way he treated people and the way he made everyone laugh.

"Athletes today are getting bigger and better, but what you don't replace is their personalities," Gretzky said. "My gosh, the world today isn't as good a place as it was when we had Gordie."

Howe set NHL records with 801 goals and 1,850 points -- mostly with the Red Wings -- that stood until Gretzky came along. Howe also won four Stanley Cups with Detroit, and those banners flanked his casket during the visitation Tuesday on the floor of the arena.

Gretzky wore No. 99 as a player in a tribute to Howe, who wore No. 9 and was a man Gretzky got to know when he was a kid. The Great One said he was "embarrassed" to break Howe's records because he played in an incomparable era.

The funeral was open to the public, so fans in T-shirts and jerseys shared a service with Howe's family and Hall of Famers.

"A lot of people are seeing and witnessing the outpouring of love for the first time," Mark Howe said. "We've seen it our whole lives."

The eulogy was delivered by Dr. Murray Howe, one of Howe's three sons, in a speech that was moving while representing the humor in which Howe lived his life.

Murray Howe described each of the personal attributes that made his father the man he was -- his toughness, his loyalty, his generosity, his wisdom -- with stories to illustrate each one.

And in the end, he shared how, at 88 years old, his father decided he'd had enough. He lost his desire to eat and drink.

"It was clear he was no longer having fun," Murray Howe said. "Dad always said, 'If it's not fun, it's time to do something else.'"

In his final days, he was surrounded by friends and family.

"He knew he was loved," Murray Howe said. "Mr. Hockey left the world with no regrets."

Murray Howe said he once asked his father what he wanted him to say at his funeral. His father's quick response, "Say this: Finally, the end of the third period."

Gordie Howe then told his son that he hoped there was a good hockey team in heaven.

"Dad," Murray Howe said, nearing the end of his eulogy. "All I can say is once you join the team, they won't just be good, they will be great."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.