Sports Commentary
6:30 am
Fri September 30, 2011

Good times for Detroit's sports teams

Once in a while something happens that is so unusual, even those who don’t normally pay attention have to stop and take notice.

Haley’s Comet, for example, only comes along once every 75 years.

A leap year only comes around every four years.  And Lindsey Lohan goes to jail – no, wait, that happens every week. 

Well, this week, Detroit sports fans got Haley’s Comet, a leap year, and a clean and sober Lindsay Lohan all wrapped into one:  The Tigers clinched the American League Central Division, and even more shockingly, the Lions won their third straight game. 

That’s right: It’s September 30, and both the Tigers and the Lions are in first place.  Go find a newspaper – if you can find one on actual paper – pull out the standings, and get them laminated. This might not happen again in our lifetimes. 

Detroit used to be known – and please hang on to your hats here again – as the City of Champions.  The year was 1935.  It was the nadir of the Depression, and the world was sliding toward war. 

The Motor City needed a distraction, and the Tigers provided a nice one when they took their first World Series.  A couple months later, the Detroit Lions won their first NFL title.   And a few months after that, the Detroit Red Wings won their first Stanley Cup. 

The Lions and Red Wings won titles in the fifties, too – but the Tigers stunk.  Things got worse from there, until they bottomed out in the seventies, when not one Detroit team won its championship, a glorious 0-for 40 stretch.  People started calling the Lions the Lie-downs, the Red Wings the Dead Things, and the Tigers – well, everyone pretty much agreed that just calling them the Tigers was enough.  Hard times. 

The Tigers actually finished the nineties as the worst baseball team of the decade, then topped it by losing an American League record-119 games in 2003.  But just three years after they hired Jim Leyland, an old salty dog of a manager with a gray mustache yellowed from chain-smoking, they made it back to the World Series.  They might just do it again this year. 

The Tigers’ resurgence is surprising.  The Lions striving to return to mediocrity is positively shocking.   They are one of only two NFL teams who have failed to make it to a single Super Bowl – and the first and still only team in the NFL’s 91-year history to lose 16 games – a perfect mark that no one, by definition, can ever break.

What makes this a better story are the long-suffering fans that have stuck with these teams during those down… decades – and the family dynasties who own the teams, and have never wavered in their devotion to Detroit. 

The Ford family, of course, owns the Lions, and a large part of a certain car company.  The Tigers are owned by the Ilitch’s who founded Little Caesar’s, and also own the Red Wings.  They have invested heavily in the city, they have never threatened to move their teams to Nashville, and they desperately want their teams to win.  Those teams just don’t always cooperate.

But this might be the year.  Okay, the Pistons are almost as non-existent as they were in 1935, but the Red Wings are good as always, the Tigers have a real chance behind the American League’s top pitcher, and the Lions – well, the Lions are undefeated.  I can’t recall saying that recently. 

No, the teams’ success doesn’t solve Detroit’s problems, which run a lot deeper than any football team can solve.  But they do alleviate some of the anxiety that comes with the territory.

And if everything comes together, then maybe – just maybe – Detroiters will party like it’s 1935.