Thursday, January 17, 2008

Detroit is Hockeytown Sportstown

I received an email from a friend the other day. Said friend is a diehard Boston-fan. The list of boy names for his first child was narrowed down to “Boston” and “Beckett”. When a girl popped out, she was promptly given the middle name, “Lynn”. Only he knows if that was purely a coincidence or inspired by the first player in MLB history to win the MVP and Rookie of the Year in the same season. Nonetheless, the email went as follows:

First, a thought has been bugging me for some time now. How annoying are Boston
Sports fans right now. Isn't it approaching a ridiculous level? Are people
outside of New England just completely sick and tired of Boston sports? It is
impossible for me to tell since I am such a huge Boston Sports fan, but the fan
of all things sports is screaming to me that Boston Sports must not be playing
well in the rest of the country…Still, if I were an objective witness, I would
loathe the Patriots, and the Sox story would probably be wearing thin. I think
the Celts probably get a pass this year, because they have been down for so long
and they are one of the NBA's great franchises. People seem glad that they are
relevant again. Like I said though, it doesn't really matter to me. I make no
apologies for the success of my teams. I would be crazy to. I only bring it up
because it's something I have been noticing lately in conversation with other
sports fans.
Clearly, my friend isn’t a “jerk” fan. He has perspective and that—in my opinion—is the most important attribute to being a good sports fan. There is no question that Boston is rollin' right now and it very well could be the case that America is growing tired of it. I pondered a response to his questions for all of about five seconds before replying that he had written to the wrong person if he was trying to find someone who is jealous of Boston’s sports success. I reminded him that Detroit is second-to-none when it comes to sports even if most people outside of Michigan don't realize it.

The Red Wings are the best team in hockey. The Pistons are one of the three best teams in the NBA. The Tigers are one of the three best teams in MLB. The Lions are terrible but so are the Bruins (and every team in Chicago). Michigan football was already one of the premier programs in the country and that was before all things stale were removed. Michigan St. basketball is poised for its annual run at the Final Four. No city or state—not even California with its 15 professional sports teams—can match Detroit’s sports “mojo.” There is a decent chance that the best NHL, NBA and MLB teams all play in Detroit. Given that free agents avoid Detroit like the plague—that is remarkable. Clearly, the fact that Detroit’s worst team is in the most popular sport in America and its best team is in the least popular sport in America hurts the profile a bit. Boston has the luxury of claiming the opposite. And, given the choice, who wouldn’t rather have an elite football team over an elite hockey team?

The biggest difference between Detroit and Boston is that Boston has turned regular season success into championships more recently. The Red Sox won the World Series. New England is well on its way to winning the Super Bowl. Until Detroit can get back to winning championships, Boston will get the headlines. But, Detroit doesn’t play “little brother” (not even with Michigan St. football in the house =)) to any city when it comes to sports. Anyone who doubts this may want to check back in June when Detroit is the epicenter of the sports world. It won’t be a surprise to those who have been paying attention because this isn’t a new phenomenon.

Of course, winning never happens by accident. Detroit has the best collection of front office personnel in professional sports. There isn’t a better GM in baseball than Dave Dombrowski. His track-record is near-flawless. Joe Dumars took over an organization in disarray and turned it into a championship-team within three seasons. Ken Holland is the best GM in the NHL and it might not be close. Tom Izzo is easily one of the five best coaches in college basketball and John Beilein, Rich Rodriguez and Mark Dantonio have great reputations as well. Unlike Boston, NY, or Chicago, Detroit never has the luxury of signing high-priced free agents. Nobody wants to come to Detroit. Detroit has had to build its franchises through savvy trades, unheralded free agent signings, and solid drafts. There is no question that there is a much greater degree of difficulty for Detroit to field competitive teams than any other major sports city. While it’s certainly not ideal that the city can’t attract star-power via free agency, the fact that the blue-collar reputation of the city is replicated in its sports teams makes it all the more rewarding as a sports fan.

Interestingly, as successful as Detroit sports has been over the last few years, the failed playoff-runs seem to trump the regular-season success and that is understandable. I know I’m guilty of looking at the narrow picture too often and I think most fans are as well. But, if we step back for a minute I think we’re fortunate to be in the middle of such a motown sports revival if you will (shameless, I know). I’m not sure if sports fans across the country think that Detroit sports fans are obnoxious as my friend suspects is the case with Boston fans. However, if they’re sick of Boston, then they should be sick of Detroit, too. Boston might be getting the pub, but Detroit just keeps trucking along as the best sports city in America.


Bill said...

Love your blog buddy, just a note about Detroit's ability to spend money on free agents. The Hockey News did a huge player poll on a variety of subjects. It asked which team would you least like to be traded to, with the Buffalo Sabres (who led the league at the time), the New York Islanders, and the Edmonton Oilers as the worst three markets for a player. In contrast, the top three teams players most wanted to play for were the Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers and the Detroit Red Wings. I was surprised too, with Detroit's reputation, and the number of players raised in Montreal playing in the league, they didn't rank that high. Detroit was able to lure probably the best free agent on the market to MoTown this summer in Brian Rafalski. Granted, he was a Michigan native.

Anyways, I agree that Detroit is the better sports city than Boston, but maybe that's because I'm a Yankees fan. haha

Jake said...


Good point. The Wings are definitely the exception to the rule in Detroit. Their advantage has been diminished big-time by the salary cap but it’s certainly still an advantage. The Pistons, Tigers, and Lions, however, are a different story. I can’t remember the last superstar who wasn't old, injured, or both to sign (not re-sign after a trade) with either of those teams.

Take care!

Bill said...


Jake said...


Pudge had 13 seasons as a catcher under his belt before he signed with Detroit which certainly falls under the "old" category.

The Tigers had to a). overpay for him and b). protect themselves with a number of injury clauses. Pudge would’ve gone to any respectable franchise over Detroit had he been offered the same contract. The signing was a major coup for Detroit’s image across the league but it was obvious they weren’t getting 25-year old prime Pudge. Since they were willing to pretend they were, they outbid everyone else.



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