by Mike R
This was my first visit to Detroit, the city I would come to call home.
This past weekend, I went to Detroit. I did the site seeing thing, and went to the casinos, and enjoyed the different food stops along the way. I was amazed at how clean the city was. Sure, there are the depressed areas that give the city the image that most outsiders have in mind, but what city doesn't? Detroit is a great city. There is a lot of pride in its people, whether they still live there or not. You won't walk down the street without most residents giving you a smile and a hello. That is something you won't find in the DC Metro area.
So what the Hell does this have to do with sports? A lot! Sports fans who are loyal to the teams of their cities are direct reflections of those cities. In Detroit, I have seen what they are made of. I am used to Pittsburgh and Washington DC fan bases, so it was good to see a different perspective.
Detroit is known for its "blue-collar" image, and the teams and their fans make up a large percentage of that. I am reminded of the way Pittsburgh is with their teams. For me, Detroit gets an immediate thumbs-up. However, Detroit is unique all its own. There are similarities, but that is as far as it goes. Detroit is Motor City. Detroit is Hockeytown. Detroit is The 313.
As a sports fan, one of the immediate things I noticed is that most of the major sports venues are downtown, and in very close proximity to each other.
Ford Field, home of the NFL's Detroit Lions is a few minute's walk from the heart of the downtown area. Next to that is Comerica Park, home to MLB's Detroit Tigers.
One look at Comerica, and ANY sports fan will be impressed. It is a gorgeous ballpark. I would place it in the top five ballparks I have ever visited. Also in town, down by the water, is the venue that truly identifies Detroit. Joe Louis Arena, home to the NHL's eleven time champion Detroit Red Wings. No matter what part of the country you are from, if you love sports then you know how powerful the Red Wings are to their city. If you are a hockey fan, you are REQUIRED to take in a game at "The Joe".
The Red Wings were the main reason for this trip. I got tickets for the Red Wings hosting the Washington Capitals. We got there early, and waited outside on the steps of the arena. There was a sea of red everywhere, as the team colors for both teams are predominately red. I think I may have been the sole black jersey in the bunch, as I wore my Mario Lemieux jersey. I am a Penguins fan, after all. I got looks, sure, but as the night progressed, I think I earned some respect for wearing the colors of the team I root for. As we walked in the belly of the arena, I saw many pictures and statues of the legends of Red Wings hockey. Little did I know that I would see one of those legends in real life. There, amongst a large gathering of fans was Mr Hockey himself, Gordie Howe, signing books. Could this get any crazier?
The game didn't go as both my friend and I would have liked. The Caps scored early and often, and the Red Wings had to play catch-up after a weak first period. They did make a good game of it, but eventually lost 5-3, after an "insurance" empty net goal was scored in the closing seconds. The Red Wings were suffering from multiple injuries that had depleted their team. The Caps were looking to prove themselves after a bitter defeat the night before in Chicago. As of this writing, the Red Wings are in good position as the playoffs approach, and the Caps are hanging on by a very thin thread to even make it into the playoffs. Such is life in hockey. Even the best teams, at full strength, can lose a head scratcher. It is a long season, but the goal is to just get into the playoffs, then it is a whole new perspective. The Stanley Cup Playoffs are one of the best playoff systems in sports, and there are never any predictable outcomes.
Although, I was watching the game, and rooting on the Red Wings (A Pens fan will never root for the Caps, unless there is a benefit), I saw something other than the game. I paid very close attention to the fans of the Red Wings. Without knowing exact demographics, I would have to assume that the majority of fans there lived well within the Detroit region, with a few that traveled from far away to see the game. I saw a lot of family groups with young kids, and for me that was a huge bonus in praising a fan base. The fans of Detroit made a very positive impression on me.
So what about me wearing that Penguins jersey? After the game was over, and we were making our way out of the stands I heard a lot of "PENS SUCK!". In every one of those cases, the words were NOT made by a fan of the Red Wings, but instead were made by a fan wearing a Capitals jersey. The Red Wings fans treated me with respect, and as a group, were very classy. After hearing a "Pens Suck" from a random voice, one Red Wings fan near us called over, and said, "That guy doesn't even realize that Mario Lemieux was one of the best to ever play the game." That was very cool, and I don't believe for a minute that he was the only Red Wings fan to be thinking that when seeing my jersey. Granted, the Caps are the Penguins biggest rival, but was it really necessary to trash talk and hate on me for my jersey, at a Red Wings game they had just won? I have been to Verizon Center in DC for Caps games, and it is always the same. Now don't get me wrong. Not ALL Caps fans are bad fans. I know a few who are very classy, but as a majority, the Caps fanbase can be downright nasty. It happens. That is life in sports. The point is that the Red Wings fanbase is full of pride and class, without the cockiness, even though they have the right to be cocky. They do have the most Cups of ANY team in the United States, and only the Montreal Canadiens have more. They are also an "Original Six" team, so the history is deep. Joe Louis Arena is an aging venue, and in time may be replaced by another. It is my hope that they would just renovate and update instead. Hockeytown is alive and well, and will be for a long time.
I left Detroit with a new perspective. I never had any reason to dislike the city previously, but like most people, I had an impression going in, thanks to the media. I can definitely see why the people of Detroit, and fans of Detroit, love the city and the teams that represent them. It will definitely be a harder series to watch if the Penguins and the Red Wings meet up in the Stanley Cups Finals for the third time in five years, but oh how great of a matchup it would be! Something worth noting...The Lions, The Tigers, and the Red Wings(Oh My) made recent playoffs. And all teams, adding The Pistons NBA team, have won championships for the city.