Detroit Sports 101

Originally posted on “Is It Sports?” by Steve. I’m am so glad that I don’t live in Detroit any more.

There are many reasons why this site had no new posts for almost a month. First, Ryan and I both graduated college, and we followed that up by spending the next few weeks at our homes in Minnesota and Chicago respectively. It’s not easy to update the site when we’re away from school because apparently Ryan uses a computer stolen from a Ukrainian submarine built in 1958 in his house, and I use my crappy old laptop that used to have FrontPage until the hard drive completely died on it….several times. I actually finally found the FrontPage installation disk for it while I was packing my stuff to move…which flows nicely into this post. The good old job market lured me east so now Is It Sports? is back up and running again from my new command center here just outside Detroit. Sadly, the biggest impact of this move for me is getting to know Detroit’s 4 major sports teams. So I figured I’d break it down here.

Baseball: Detroit Tigers
Founded: 1901
Home Field: Comerica Park
Division: AL Central
Division Titles: 3 (1972, 1984, 1987) (All of these were when they were in the AL East)
AL Pennants: 9 (1907, 1908, 1909, 1934, 1935, 1940, 1945, 1968, 1984)
Championships: 4 (1935, 1945, 1968, 1984)

As you can see above, when it comes to recent success, the Tigers don’t have much, ok none. They have not had a winning season since 1993, had the 2nd worst season in MLB history in 2003 by finishing 43-119, and have the 4th longest playoff drought (1987) in baseball, only behind the juggernaut Expos/Nationals (1981), Brewers (1982), and Royals (1985). However this team still has the same amount of World Series titles as the White Sox and Cubs combined. Hey, they even won a World Series in my lifetime, in 1984, but at the same time, my friend that’s a Royals fan likes to brag that his team won a World Series in his lifetime too….in 1985…when he was 2….I’m sure he has fond memories.

When baseball split into divisions in 1969, the White Sox went West and the Tigers went East, and the 1994 realignment also kept the Tigers in the East while placing the White Sox in the Central. However, the addition of the Devil Rays in 1998 landed Tampa in the East and moved Detroit to the Central while bumping Milwaukee to the National League. Fueled by Bears-Lions, Bulls-Pistons, and Blackhawks-Red Wings rivalries, the White Sox and Tigers (and their fans) soon hated each other just as much, eventually erupting in one of the biggest brawls baseball has seen in April of 2000. That fight meant a lot for the teams; Everyone in Detroit hated the Sox, and everyone in Chicago hated the Tigers, but that fight was also seen as the moment that the White Sox became a team, launching their run to the AL Central title.

So where are they now? Well the Tigers’ expectations were a little too high coming into this year mostly because of the talking heads on TV expecting too much from the allegedly-roid-free Ivan Rodriguez, oft-injured Troy Percival, and still-injured Magglio Ordonez. Dmitri Young made a bold prediction early in the season that it was going to be a real tough fight between the Tigers and Indians this season, and he was definitely right. They are only separated by 1 game right now, 11 and 12 games behind the White Sox.

I think I still have a strong possibility of getting behind the Tigers, but they will NEVER become my favorite team. I’ve been to 5 games at Comerica and its a great place to see a game, and 12 years of solid losing makes for plenty of close seats. I’m looking forward to being here to see the Tigers finally turn things around, just as long as they are still always worse than the White Sox.

Football: Detroit Lions
Founded: 1930 (as Portsmouth Spartans, became Detroit Lions in 1934)
Home Field: Ford Field
Division: NFC North
Division Titles: 8 (1935, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1957, 1983, 1991, 1993)
Conference Titles: 5 (1935, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1957)
Championships: 4 (1935, 1952, 1953, 1957)

The Lions resume above looks a lot more impressive than it actually is. They won their last championship 9 years before the beginning of the Super Bowl era, and the closest they’ve gotten since then is a loss in the 1991 NFC Championship game. I think their other 3 championships were won when leather helmets and sweaters were popular football gear, and their last playoff appearance came in 1999. Things are starting to look up for the Lions now though, especially in their own division. They have a decent coach in Steve Mariucci, a serviceable backup in Jeff Garcia for when Joey Harrington proves himself ineffective yet again, and 3 top WR prospects with Charles Rogers, Roy Williams, and Mike Williams. They have a chance of finally making the playoffs this year with a Moss-less and Tice lead Vikings team, an aging and decimated Packers team, and a usually crappy Bears team in their division.

So how do I feel about this team? Well I’m not sure if I mentioned before, but I grew up a 49ers fan and respecting my dad’s Raiders, and I never enjoyed being surrounded by Bears fans every day living in Chicago. I also still dislike the Packers because first, they’re from Wisconsin, and second, they ended too many 49ers playoff runs in recent years. So I used to love watching Barry Sanders cutting through the Bears or Packers defenses while I was cutting through my turkey each Thanksgiving. I can see myself definitely getting behind this team, especially in NFC Central games, but they’ll always be a distant 3rd behind the Niners and Raiders to me.

Basketball: Detroit Pistons
Founded: 1949 (as Fort Wayne Pistons, moved to Detroit in 1958)
Home Court: Palace of Auburn Hills
Division: Eastern Central
Division Titles: 8 (1955, 1956, 1988, 1989, 1990, 2002, 2003, 2005)
Conference Titles: 7 (1955, 1956, 1988, 1989, 1990, 2004, 2005)
Championships: 3 (1989, 1990, 2004)

DEEE-TROIT BASKET-BALL! is synonymous with both of my moves to Detroit, last year as an intern, and this year for my full time job. Easily the talk of the town the past couple of years, especially considering the dismal decades of the two teams I listed above and the NHL lockout still keeping the Red Wings home. The excitement in the town about this team is fun to see and it reminds me of the excitement in Chicago about the Bulls in their heyday. I went for a haircut today and I saw 2 kids, maybe 8 and 10, wearing their Ben Wallace jerseys proudly, and I thought to myself….that was
me about 13 years ago, but with my Jordan jersey. Last night they ousted the tough Miami Heat (who I was pulling for because of my fellow H.L. Richards High alum, Dwyane Wade) to advance to their 2nd consecutive NBA Finals, 5th in the past 17 years, and 7th overall. In just 2 weeks, I might have to update the fact list above and change that Championship number to 4, but they’re going to have a very tough San Antonio Spurs team to contend with. So who do I root for in this one?

Well in my impressionable days as a sports fan in the late 80s and early 90s, the Pistons were by far the most hated team in Chicago. The “Bad Boys” beat the Bulls in the playoffs 3 years in a row and went on to advance to the finals each year, winning 2. The Bulls finally broke through in 1991 by sweeping them in the Eastern Finals and going on to win their first of 6 titles. These guys nowadays are different though. They are a hard-working team with no superstars that go out every night and get the job done, and I have a lot of respect for them for that. Throughout my life in basketball and hockey, I haven’t been a diehard fan of either the Bulls or the Blackhawks, which is much different than my support for the White Sox and 49ers, but I’ve always considered them to be my favorite teams. This is mostly because I’m not as big of a fan of either sport as I am with baseball and football, so I tend to pull for the Chicago teams, but I’m not that intense of a fan so I can actually appreciate other teams. I pulled for the Celtics when they had Bird, the Magic with Shaq and Penny, the Hawks with Mutombo, the Spurs with Robinson and Duncan, and the Heat with Shaq and Wade all while still backing the Bulls, so there’s no reason why I can’t get behind the Pistons, because like the teams I mentioned before, they have a lot of talent that’s fun to watch play together. So as long as any rioting stays away from my doorstep, I’ll be pulling for the Pistons to take another title home.

Hockey: Detroit Red Wings
Founded: 1926
Home Ice: Joe Louis Arena
Division: Western Central
Division Titles: 24 (1934, 1936, 1937, 1943, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1957, 1965, 1988, 1989, 1992, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004)
Conference Titles: 21 (1934, 1937, 1941, 1942, 1943, 1945, 1948, 1949, 1950, 1952, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1961, 1963, 1964, 1966, 1995, 1997, 1998, 2002)
Stanley Cup Titles: 10 (1936, 1937, 1943, 1950, 1952, 1954, 1955, 1997, 1998, 2002)

Clearly Detroit’s most successful franchise, and it shows. Just look at that list of titles above! I had to stretch the logo to make it fit next to all of them. Hopefully it shows up ok on your computer. This town is completely crazy for hockey, and they have a good reason to be. There are almost too many reasons to count, but I’ll name as many as I can:
1. An Original 6 team
2. 10 Stanley Cup titles
3. 3 Stanley Cup titles in the past 8 years
4. The richest team in the league, so they can get any player (a result of being the most obsessed over team in America)
5. It’s cold here
6. Detroit people like high speed violence
7. Joe Louis Arena is located right next to a river….what’s on the other side? Let’s see….oh I think it might be CANADA!

I don’t really know what Red Wings excitement is like here, because last summer they were already eliminated when I moved here, and this year…well you know why…but I imagine it might even be more intense than the Pistons because this has got to be the furthest south city where hockey is still discussed on a daily basis. I swear that I heard 19 year old girls talking about the Wings’ 3rd line while I was at the store the other day. I wonder what it would be like here if both teams were in the finals at the same time, since the 2 teams successful times don’t seem to intersect often. I remember back in 1992 when both the Bulls and Blackhawks made the finals. I was 9 at the time, but I don’t even know if I was aware of what the Blackhawks were doing with all of the Bulls repeat talk. The Bulls went on to beat the Blazers while the Hawks were swept by the Penguins so I guess all the attention for the Bulls was for the better.

Can I get behind the Wings? I think not. Even though I’ve been angry with the Blackhawks since they traded away my all-time favorite player, Jeremy Roenick, about 8 years ago, they still brainwashed me into hating the Detroit Red Wings. I remember going to a Red Wings-Blackhawks game at the United Center a few years ago that was loaded with fans that drove all the way from Detroit for the game (because good teams have tickets that are hard to get). I think the only time more electricity has been in the air at a game I attended was White Sox-Cubs in 2001 and Pistons-Pacers in game 3 of the Eastern Finals last year. Throughout the entire game, the scoreboard kept attacking the Detroit fans, showing pictures of decay and buildings collapsing in Detroit, while showing beautiful pictures of downtown Chicago. Between periods, they decided to honor the visiting fans by playing Motown, all the while showing brutal hits delivered by Blackhawk players to unsuspecting Red Wings. To top things off, for 3 periods straight, chants continued throughout the stadium. A “Lets-Go-Red-Wings!” coming from the upper deck, followed by a “De-troit-Sucks!” chant from the lower. Those kind of memories last a while. Plus, it’s not like I’ll ever get tickets to see the Wings anyways.

So that’s my recap on Detroit sports. Don’t be surprised if these teams get mentioned more often in my posts. I’ve already starting watching the Tigers on TV almost every night, mostly because I can only stand so many episodes of Battle of the Gridiron Stars or the most useless sport to televise on the planet, women’s college softball that ESPN forces on us all. Or I always guess I can turn the TV off and actually post something on this site more often than once a month. – Steve