Luke Waltons Forehead presented by the Sports Dude.

Thursday, August 25, 2005 at 2:32 PM

The myth known as "Hockeytown".

I thought of a million and one different ways to approach this, to write this, but they all ended up being just the same. To some this may offend, but to those of you that are offended by it I say this… look in the mirror and examine yourself! The truth is the reason you may be offended by this post is that the truth hurts and that truth is that Hockeytown was a myth, is a myth and as all myth’s eventually do, will soon be put to rest.

Hockeytown was a fallacy created by those in this area that had nothing else to hold onto for years and years in sports. It was created by hope, and an owner’s fat wallet, because there was a lack of any other competitive sports in this area. In fact, if you talk to real hockey purest, and I know a few to say the least, they will tell you that calling Detroit “Hockeytown” is a slap in the face to many purest. Go to any city in Canada and I guarantee you find truer “Hockeytown’s” and a whole hell of a lot more “pure” hockey fans. In fact, I remember talking to some of my friends (EDITORS NOTE: just because the sports dude is not a hockey lover, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have friends that are.) who mention to me the times they remember going to the Joe on a game night and being able to get any seat in the house practically. Oh, and they didn’t have to kill anyone to do it, remortgage their house or sell their soul to the devil either! Back then hockey was an after thought in this town, and it wasn’t until Mike Illitch turned into the George Steinbrenner of the NHL that it became this alleged “Hockeytown”. And, even then, I think it only did because there was nothing else to watch, nothing else to do, and we as Detroit sports fans just wanted a successful sports team to hold onto.

So, for argument sakes, let’s take a look at the other major sports in this town and see how they fared while this “Hockeytown” came into being. We will start will the Tigers, whom if I am not mistaken were the original “Town” of them all. “Tigertown” was even a movie for Christ’s sakes, how can you deny the history there? However, since the Tigers won the World Series in 1984, there has been little to get excited about when it comes to baseball. There was the little tease in 1987, the Tigers last playoff appearance, but we are talking about nearly 20 years of stench from baseball in this area. The few times that they have teased us recently with “visions of wild cards dancing in our heads” the ball park was constantly packed with hopes that “this would be our year”. However, the stench remains and the Tigers are still in that “get them next year” mode. Make no mistake about it, however, if the Tigers ever do seriously start to contend the word “Tiger” will be back in front of “Town” faster than you can say “Stanley Cup”.

Next we have the Lions, who for years now have been the loveable losers of the Detroit Sports scene. We all know that, since 1956, the Lions have won nothing significant and done nothing to even come close. Sure there was the Barry Sanders era, who to me was the greatest running back of all time (if anyone even says Emmitt Smith here I will scream!!!!) and the team that went to the NFC Championship Game in 1991, only to be whipped by the Redskins 41-10. Other than that, what have they really done? There has been nothing but coaching carousels, QB’s coming and going and more teases than at a strip club on a Friday night! I for one knows that if these damn Lions ever do turn it around and get into the playoffs and look like a contender, I won’t say that we will be calling this “Lionstown” any time soon, but I will say the Wings will be forgotten (by most) quicker than you can say “Vince Lombardi”.

Next, my beloved Pistons, whom I am putting third here because, even though I love them, this is a baseball and football town first and second for sure. They gave us some exciting years there for awhile, right after the Tigers started to fall off the map in 1987 the Pistons picked up the pieces right away. They came close in 1987, almost surpassing the ghost of the Boston Celtics. They made it to the Finals in 1988, but Isiah and his ankle prevented us from tasting champagne that year. Then in 1989 and 1990 they finally won the titles and gave us the “Bad Boys” to fall in love with. But, as most good things do, it all came to an end in 1991 thanks to an overrated guy by the name of Michael Jordan. The Pistons were never the same again and went into a nearly ten year funk until they did anything significant again. In other words, they fell off the map! But with their success over the last couple years, they have taken away many a young fan from that other sport (if you dare call it a sport, which I do not!) called hockey and brought excitement to this town again for basketball. Now as much as I love basketball, it will never surpass football or baseball, so there is no “Pistonstown” joke here coming from me, but I will say, especially for my age demographic and those younger, it is a hell of a lot more popular than hockey guaranteed. Need proof? Well, remember you can check out the NHL on the OLN Network this year, enough said!

So, let’s recap here for a moment shall we? Why this mythical Hockeytown was growing, we here in Detroit had to endure 20 years of stench from the Tigers, laughing stock times from the Lions and a 12 year disappearance from the Pistons. Well, no shit Sherlock, I would root for the Red Wings too if I liked hockey, they are the only winning team in town! I am curious to see what happens this year when they make the playoffs just squeezing in as an eighth seed, what happens then? Or, worse yet, they miss the playoffs all together? What happens then as well?

You see, there will always be those bandwagon fans that jump from sport to sport, following the home town team that does well. That is not the point I am trying to get across. The point I am trying to make is this, for all the die hard Tiger fans that are dying for October baseball, for all those Lions fans that are itching for the playoffs and all the Pistons fans that, like me, followed from 1989 through the lean years and were overcome with joy in 2004, we out number the Red Wings hardcore fans by mass amounts! So when the Wings start losing, when they can no longer compete because they simply can not buy talent, what then? Will this still be Hockeytown? If any of you answered yes then again I say, go look in the mirror, you are lying to yourself. All those bandwagon people that helped you build Hockeytown, the second the Lions get to the playoffs, the Tigers get to the playoffs, will jump ship and leave Hockeytown in ruins, bare and desolate like the city of Detroit itself. Go ahead, say it all you want, Hockeytown will never die, it will live on forever. But I ask you this, how can something that was never real go on? Hockeytown was created by those bandwagon fans that will soon be jumping ship the second the Wings slip up and go into their 10 year slump like the rest of the Detroit sports all experienced. Say what you will, but the time is coming, Hockeytown is on life support my friends, and all it will take is the Lions and/or Tigers in the playoffs consistently to pull the plug. I for one can’t wait, because it will be nice to see the fairy tale, the myth that was Hockeytown come crumbling down so that we, the fans of the real sports in Detroit like the Lions and Tigers, can turn to all the Hockeytown snobs out there and say “See, this is how it feels”. The truth may hurt, but my friends, that time is coming.

Later – the sports dude.

Anonymous Evan said...

I don't disagree with you about the Hockeytown thing, though I do love the Wings.

Detroit *is* one of the best US hockey cities there is. There's a lot of tradition here, and fans here know the rules reasonably well. Compared to Toronto or Montreal, we're still children. But even compared to Chicago, Boston, or New York, other original six teams, I think Detroit's got a leg up.

What I'd really love to see happen is have Mike Ilitch own all the damn Detroit teams so that his marketing guys can finally just call it SPORTSTOWN, which is really what it is.

There's NO PLACE in the country that has the combination of sports tradition and fanaticism that Detroit and its suburbs has.

The Lions, despite their hideous play, sold out the Silverdome half the time. That's like 90,000 people. To watch a perenniel basement dweller. A lot of those same people would, the day before, head to A2 or Lansing to be part of live crowds of 110,000+ or 60,000+.

The Tigers are where it's at, as you say. Everyone's always loved them, even despite the crappy attendance.

The Wings are the best American hockey franchise of all time, hands down. And with its renewed interest since the early 90s, it's cemented itself in a lot of people's minds as a big Detroit thing, even if it is something of a myth. (I too can remember the mid to late 80s when about 8000 people would show up pretty much just to watch Stevie Y do his thing. My dad got us season tickets right before they started to really play well, right before the year that Probert actually made the All Star team.)

And then there's the Pistons, who, as you say, kick ass. A number of division titles or conference finals appearances and three championships in a total of five Finals appearances in a twenty year span ain't too shabby.

Plus there are facilities that bring things like the US Open (golf) to the suburbs, et cetera.

It really is SPORTSTOWN. Even New York has a hard time stacking up to how cool we are.  

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Jon
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