They called 33-year-old Bryan Watson "ageless" in the Harrisburg Evening News on Thursday, and that drew a chuckle from the man for whom the cliche was devised, 50-year-old Gordie Howe.

It was Howe, back in 1966, who helped pin the label "Bugsy" on Detroit teammate Watson, and the two will share the ice once again when Howe's New England Whalers battle Watson's Washington Capitals in the exhibition game here tonight at 8.30.

"He's nothing but a big bug," Howe said. "But he's a super guy, unbelievable. You hear a lot of negative talk about him before you meet him, but after you get to know him you can't say enough good things about him. He sure is an agitating bugger on the ice, though."

Watson holds the National Hockey Lague career penalty record, but counting World Hockey Association games and playoffs, Howe has spent more minutes in the box.2,263-2,246. And Howe can do some agitating, too.

"I remember one day when there was just five seconds left in the game and Buggy had the puck," Howe said. "Somebody yelled 'Shoot' and somebody else yelled 'Why? It'll never get there in time."

"He tells some bad stories," said Watson, whose slapless shot is a legend, "but isn't he a doll? Amazing."

Howe promised to take a regular shift tonight, "because I've got to get in shape. I don't know who I'll be playing with, though. They'll probably give me a couple of kids to work with."

They won't be Howe's kids, however. Both of his sons, Marty and Mark, will be playing defense.

"I won't say anything against Bill Dineen, because he's the boss, but moving Mark back on defense is like taking my legs away from me," Howe said.

Howe certainly won't say anything derogatory about Dineen's training methods. A year ago, Harry Neale's fetish for running long distances almost drove Howe into retirement.

"Thank God the coach this year (Dineen) doesn't believe in running," Howe said. "Neither do I. I get enough at our summer home in northern Michigan. There are 84 steps from sand to deck and I go up and down 10 times a day. That's basically my conditioning. And I'm learning tennis, too, because it's a great way to spend time with your wife."

While Howe was keeping step, Watson was slicing his right arm with a chain saw at his summer home in Haliburton, Ontario. He has recovered completely, however, as he proved yesterday during a weightlifting session after practice was terminated early by fog.

Humidity that reached 97 percent outside Hersheypark Arena contributed to extreme heat on the ice. It became so foggy that a person standing at the red line could not see either net, so Coach Tom McVie called a halt to practice at 11 a.m. and told the team to come back today.

"I can't take any more of this," McVie said. "It's the worst I've ever seen. I intended on having a stiff workout and then taking the afternoon off, but it was impossible out there.

"It should be OK, anyway. After four or five days of practice, theres a weariness in the two-a-days. Psychologically, just putting on the uniform can be wearing. This way, they should be fresh for the game, and it's very important for our club to win, to get off to a good start."