Thursday, October 4, 2007

Hockeytown! now Hockeytown?

It was the best of times and I guess the worst of times at the Red Wings season opener at Joe Louis last night. The good times part is the Wings won in a shootout and it looks as though we haven’t missed a step even with the departure of some key players like Todd Bertuzzi, who scored a goal and an assist for his new team, the visiting Ducks. Hank Zetterberg scored a goal and picked up an assist for the homers and was the first star of the game and Dallas Drake, our off-season free agent pickup, kicked off the fighting portion of the season.

But the worst of times part is the game was not sold out. In fact, from what they are reporting, there were up to 2500 empty seats. This is the first time the Red Wings did not sell out since 1996, ending a streak of 396 regular season games.

Of course, the nattering nabobs of negativity that are the Detroit sports columnists used this fact as an obituary for Hockeytown (which was a cheesy marketing slogan anyway). When I say negative, I mean specifically Drew Sharp. He will take any development, make a sweeping generalization and then smear the hometown team and fans with hackery like this, “Sprinkle red roses over the grave. The myth of Hockeytown officially passed away Wednesday.” (Did they revoke our three recent Stanley Cups?) Wojo in the News had a much more nuanced and balanced account of what is happening.

This drama all because a game in early October did not sell out? Okay, it was the season opener but maybe fans are just getting over the Tigers missing the post season and the Lions are giving us hope early in their season. There is only so much love (and disposable income) to spread around.

The real problem may be how meaningless the NHL regular season is, especially for a team like the Red Wings, a highly skilled crew who can cruise through the regular season. We don’t even get excited about having the best record in the league, since on two occasions all this has meant is a first round playoff exit. I usually set my hockey alarm clock for the playoffs.

And I know there is a lot of sentimentality with Joe Louis Arena, it does have great memories and good sightlines to watch a game, but Mr. Illitch needs to build a new stadium. It was a bad idea to build the arena on the river, since an enclosed arena doesn’t exactly take advantage of river views. And it makes getting to the stadium a pain the ass besides.

Winning is not enough for the Red Wings, especially when your fans take it for granted. The Wings need a new stadium and a move to the Eastern Conference.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Lions Now Players in NFL Power Rankings

Somebody please slug me in the gut! Not one but two ESPN NFL power ranking "gurus" have the Lions at #12 for week 5. That means we are in the top third of the NFL. Can the Lions really be better than two out of three NFL teams? This is rarified air for the Lions and I don't know how long they are going to be able to breathe up there. We are no doubt a bit over-rated, probably because everybody loves the Mike Martz offense and the Lions have been lucky enough to play some pretty poor teams.

Now it’s on to Washington. It’s always one step forward then a few steps back with the Lions and I am fully prepared for the worst. Yet I niavely hope for something better. The Lions history in D.C. is ugly, many a blow out and embarrassments. I am just hoping to be competitive. Let’s keep it close. Which is quite possible since the Redskins offense is not all that. Not sure what the under is for this game but I think we are looking at a low scoring affair. Whatever happens I am happy. The Lions could be 3-2 going into their bye week, which was at the higher end of my pre-season hopes.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Red Wings, Pistons about to get off the Bench

Oh man, it was a beautiful feast of Red Wings and Pistons information in the Detroit News today. We are about to hit that sweet spot in the sporting seasons as baseball heads to the post season, hockey begins to stir, football games become more intense and basketball concludes their sexual harassment trials (ok, bit of a cheap but shot but had to be done. Now how glad are you that Bill Davidson picked Joe Dumars over Isiah?)

The Detroit News rounded up the Detroit Red Wings front office starting five (Jimmy Devalano, Jim Nill, Ken Holland, Scotty Bowman and Mike Illitch) to reminisce about the first 25 years of Mike Illitch's ownership of the team. And what beautiful times they have been. Even before the Cup with Scotty's teams, they had me at Jacques Demers and Bob Probert and of course Steve Yzerman, with Mickey Redmond supplying the mixed metaphors and cheesy play-by-play. I especially enjoyed the cloak and dagger tales told of busting Petr Klima, Vladimar Konstantaniv and Sergei Fedorov out of their respective communist countries. These guys did whatever it took to win. An even with the recent salary cap, they have demonstrated they can compete with a lower payroll.

And the blessed Pistons. This year is going to be interesting. I think a lot of us thought any chance at another championship ended a couple years ago when they stumbled through Cleveland before losing to Miami. And last year did not go so well either, though we did make it five straight Eastern Conference Finals appearances. But if what they are saying is true, and they are going to put the new younger crew on the floor for some serious and meaningful minutes than we have some potential excitement with the Pistons. Also looking forward to McDice as the starting center. It seems the Pistons have something to prove this year. When they do, that means trouble for the other team.

Monday, October 1, 2007

The Soft Bigotry of My Low Expectations

Go ahead and color me honolulu blue and silver impressed with the Lions 34 point 4th quarter Sunday afternoon. They set a freaking record against one of last year's Super Bowl teams! (Though it looks as if the Chicago Bears will play out the sad encore of a next season all recent losing Super Bowl teams seem to endure.)

When I think of the Lions breaking records it's for such things as losing 24 straight road games - a full three seasons worth. Most points ever by an NFL team in a quarter, this may be the high water mark for the Lions season. We may look back on this like when the statue of Saddam fell in Baghdad.

But maybe, just maybe, the Lions are in the "last throes" of their pathetic six year run. CouldRod Marinelli and all this "pound the rock" nonsense really work? Because usually they are busy losing games in the fourth quarter and now they go ahead and break a record for scoring points. They have flipped the script.

My two football teams, all I want is 7 wins. The Spartans can go to a bowl game with 7 wins. Not any prestigious bowl game, but they do go to a bowl, and it has been a few seasons since that has happened. They only need to win three of their final seven games. That seems doable. Andwith the Lions a .500 hundred season would be awesome but even winning just seven games would be great, since that means no double digit loss total.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Love the Club Hate the League

Let me begin this post by proclaiming my love for the game of hockey and the Detroit Red Wings. This goes back as long as I can remember, which is about 1978, give or take a year or two. Even when they were so pathetic they couldn't get into the NHL playoffs when sixteen of seventeen teams made the post season, the Wings had their charms. Helmetless characters with colorful names like Rogie Vachon and Václav Nedomanský (though those two did wear a face mask and helmet respectively) let you know that management at least looked far and wide for their mediocre squad.

Now of course the Red Wings are a Grade A ass kicking NHL franchise. It's been sixteen straight seasons of playoff hockey and three Hockeytown Stanley Cap Champions. No team except for maybe the New Jersey Devils have had a good a run as we have in those years and since the Devils play the most boring, plodding style of hockey imaginable, I'll saw we Wings fan are plenty lucky.

But as usual I digress. I'd like to talk about the clowns who run the NHL and how I view them as bad as any cellar dwelling professonal hockey club. I live in the New York metro area with three professonial hockey teams within 25 miles of my door. And this year I have found out the Wings will not play any of them at home. Which means since I am a pretty much a Detroit homer when it comes to sports, I will not see any professional hockey in New York City (or New Jersey or Long Island) this season. Which is kind of a shame because New Jersey has a brand new arena I'd like to check out.

The Wings will play teams like the Columbus Blue Bonnets and the Nashville Easy Prey (k, Nashville not that bad) eight times this season. What a fucking waste of a legendary franchise. If I was the owner of the Red Wings, I'd threaten to leave the league and maybe hook up with a European or Russian League. I am serious, that's how bad I view this. And this summer a guy wanted to buy the Nashville club and move them to London or Kitchener Ontario which I thought was a great idea. That would set up a rivalry with the Wings straight away but those clowns want to keep the team in Nashville, hoping it catches on with the Deliverance crowd even though they don't draw fans for shit and never will.

On the other hand, with the glass half full, I like the fact that the Anahiem no longer Mighty just Ducks are potential new rivals. I'm still smarting from that playoff loss the Wings suffered to the Ducks and how they raided our roster for a couple of veterans (good riddens, let's give the youngsters a shot.) I can't wait to really give it to those goons, Eddie Shore Toe Blake old time hockey style. Make Reg Dunlap proud.

I am so ready for the WIngs season, although because they play on Versus I won't see them because half the bars in New York City don't have it and the other half could give a shit about hockey. Nice going NHL Management. I blame you. And no I am not going to go out and buy satellite because you don't know how to distribute let alone market your product.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Lions got me Angry and Confused....Again

Whoa Nelly! It has been a spell since I have weighed in on our boys in the Detroit uniforms. It's given me time to get a little more philosophical about these sometimes tortorous games I so enjoy. You see the trouble with sports is the eventual failure all your teams face (except for that lucky lone champion every year.) The Tigers get to the World Series only to be undone with throwing errros from their pitchers! and got beat by the most beatable team another team will ever face in the world series. That sucked. And made only worse by the fact that we are most likely going to miss the playoffs this year. You got to win it when you have a chance. You never know when you will make it back to the big show. The Pistons sleepwalk to the conference championship and get beat by Lebron and some 14 year old punk by the name of Gibson. That was typical. The Red Wings made it to the conference finals and lost a series they could have easily won. That was kind of a new thing for them. Either they are gone in the early rounds or doing laps around the Joe Louis ice with Lord Stanley's cup.

But given the Keith Jackson-ism I started the first paragraph with, this is now about the Lions. Because the Lions never fail to disappoint when it comes to disappointment. Going into Philly this weekend, we knew they were a fradulent 2-0 team. They were lucky enough to start the season against teams as inept as themselves. And there were believers out there who said they could stretch it to 3-0. The Eagles were looking vulnerable as they played horribly on national television Monday night. Of course, the elixer for any struggling team was about to come there way. What the Lions did was revisit some of the worst times of the Lions past. I think the Eagles, had they wanted to, could have scored on every possession. Which they almost did in the first half. Yeah guys, how bout them Lions linebackers. Were they even playing in the game? These guys could not even tackle. I'm not sure if they had 42 or 49 first half points but this game was a blowout. It was like even UofM played Appalachin State. Or, ahh, something like that.

I do not live in Detroit so unfortunately I have to go watch the games at a public bar. It is embarassing to be a Lions fan, sure people can sort of understand and feel for you, the typical response when I tell them I am a Lions fan is "God Bless You." I knew we were not that good, that we were fradulent, but I had no idea we would once again visit yet another bottom and wake those demons again, so soon.

But you know it could be worse. I thought for sure after Calvin Johnsons made that awesome catch and fell hard to the ground that he was done for the season. That would be so Lions. But he'll be back and he'll be good. And when I was at the bar, next to me was a fresh faced philly, who enjoyed this game no doubt, but to be a Philly fan is almost as bad as being Lions fan. They have not won a championship since the Sixers won the championship in 1983. I have seven warm memories to get me through every Sunday. (Not to mention the Michigan State Rose Bowl and BBall Champions.)

The Lions are like the circus animals affixed to the side of their helmets. Incredulous performances that are more comical than heartbreaking. Can they ever turn it around? Where do you start? What can really be done?

We just gotta Pound That Rock.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Weather Sucks. Economy Sucks. Sports Nice.

With all four teams in some sort of action, yesterday epitomized what a great sports town Detroit is.

The Tigers win in 12 innings behind a grand slam from one of their young sluggers. And the Tigers continue to win games despite half their players not being able to buy a hit. It looks like this is going to be a season filled with quality pitching and dramatic home runs. And lots of wins.

The Pistons secured the top seed in the East by beating Orlando. Let's make it five conference championship appearances in a row. And win that and anything can happen in the finals.

The Red Wings are revamped and grittier than ever as they begin the playoffs tonight at Joe Louis Arena. It’s been a while since the wings have got me excited, but I like our chances this year, and how the torch has been passed to a new generation of wings, in Zetterberg and Datsyk.

And the Lions found out what their schedule would be for the 2007 season. Unfortunately for the Lions they will continue to play against other teams in the NFL, so even with improvement I can see no more than six wins in 2007. I am also looking forward to the season opener in Oakland when Josh McCown, freshly traded from the lions, beats the Lions after a 4th quarter Jon Kitna turn over.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

We’ll always have spring time in hockey town

I am excited for the upcoming Red Wings playoff battles, but if I have learned a thing or two about Detroit sports, it is do not get your expectations too high for the Wings come playoff time (more as of late) and never expect the Lions to win a game, ever.

It is impressive the Wings have been to the playoffs for sixteen consecutive seasons and have won the Western Conference the past three seasons (or something like that.)
The Wings have an amazing organization. But with pro hockey, you wait and wait for the playoffs, and then you get all excited and then your team loses in the first round. Plus, twice in the past three seasons they have lost as the #1 seed to the #8 seed, once getting swept in four games. That was pain. Like being a Lions fan pain.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

This is what I call irony

From the February 17th edition of the Detroit News:
Millen spoke briefly as he was leaving town to prepare for business related to next week's annual combine testing and workouts for draft prospects in Indianapolis.

Millen is a member of the NFL's Competition Committee and will attend meetings in advance of the combine, which begins Wednesday

Matt Millen on the competition committee? If it didn't hurt so bad it would be funny.

I hate the fact that the Lions have this guy in charge. It ruins any love I can have. He is a completely unloveable loser.

Seriously, 24-72 in six wretched years and he is on the NFL competition committee. If the guy had any sort of principles or integrity he would resign his position. He has to know what a joke this is. Hubris is one strong intoxicant.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Dre Bly sez 'Let Me Go'

This is classic Detroit Lions news. Dre Bly has informed the Lions that he wants to be traded.

Matt Millen must think that players trade themselves. This Bly situation appears to be oddly similar to the Joey Harrington fiasco, where the Lions decide they didn’t want a player after any other option had been exhausted and then lose all leverage in any potential deal. You would think that they could anticipate these things. That maybe a cornerback like Bly does not fit with their Tampa Two system and then trade him right away, before the other 31 teams are aware he is available. And also not wait for his value to go way down, like over the course of last season, where after two pro bowl seasons Bly was made captain (perhaps to reward calling out Harrington in the press for getting Mooch fired) and then proceeded to have his worst season as a Lion. On the other hand, he did play in all 16 games, and he is a decent enough player. And he is the best corner back on our roster. He may not be the right player for the new defensive system, but it will be tough to find somebody better.

It seems to me the best NFL front offices are ruthless in the way they operate. Is it asking too much for a little foresight to see things before they actually happen?

As we all know, its obvious Matt Millen should be fired. The 24-72 record speaks for itself. But to get to that dismal and unprecedented record of failure required the singular ability to do absolutely nothing right. This is professional football Mr. Ford. I know the whole world must seem like a fantasy to you, with all that wealth and absolutely no consequences or punishment for failure. But it’s time to wake the fuck up and get with your son Bill to find a “way forward” for the Lions too.

Lions fans have been asking for a trade for a while now: Matt Millen for somebody competent. If the Lions can do the same thing for Dre Bly, they can surely do it for their long suffering fans.

UPDATE: This actually turned out well for the Lions. We got a running back and offensive lineman for the disgruntled and over-rated Bly. Hey, even a broken clock is right two times a day. Matt Millens still can suk it.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A Fab Five Update

Since I am a Spartan, I’m pretty agnostic on the fallout of whatever it was that Chris Weber did to the U of M basketball program. Even though I was a fan of the Fab Five while it was happening and liked the fact that the team always came to play come tournament time, the scorched earth they left behind for the Michigan basketball program was a plus for Michigan State (about the time Tom Izzo and Mateen Cleaves make their stage entrances.)

I know some bad shit went down and Weber was busted for lying to a grand jury but these are things I pay little attention too. I just want to see some ball out on the court. Plus, it wasn’t like he was a thug. And, really, if somebody is going to give you thousands of dollars, chances are you are going to take it. It’s easy for the ink stained wretches to get bent out of shape about that, but the truth is, U of M and the NCAA was doing a lot of action with Weber and the boys, and that whole subject is probably a much longer post that probably is best read somewhere else, but it’s all a bit hypocritical. With my mind firmly concentrated on the here and this season, I’ve got no problems with Weber being back home again.

Also, and this goes for any sport, but mostly hockey and basketball, I am a big fan of the pass (or throw). This is what team sports are all about, making the plays that help your team and teammates succeed. It also displays creativity and intelligence when a player opens up a game like that. And Weber is a player like that.

The Pistons are evolving into a more interesting team with Weber and getting stronger as we move into the second half of the season. Last year was such a bizarre sequence of events, as the Pistons kicked ass in the regular season but by the playoffs we were like a lead race car that missed a pit stop, and just ran out of gas and momentum at the end. It went from talk of a dynasty to the Pistons being over in a matter of a few games.

It seems that Weber has re-energized the Pistons. He adds new facets to the offense and even helps on defense, not so much with his own defense, but getting the other Pistons to play. He’s raised the stakes, kicked things up a notch. I think a lot of the reason we lost to Miami last year is we become so demoralized by our complete inability to make shots and score. With Weber and the effect he is having on the other Pistons, I’m not so worried that we will lose in the same way in the playoffs.

Fully on the Bandwagon

The quick turnaround of the Tigers in their 2006 season continues to boggle the mind. Last year at this time we were hoping for a respectable winning record and today we are 5-1 to win the 2007 World Series (second only to the NY Yankees.)

It felt like we were playing with house money in last season’s playoffs. When the Tigers went up against the Yankees I fully expected them to lose. I remember watching game one with some Yankee friends and after Nate Robertson was hammered and the Tigers blown out, it looked like it was going to be a short and bitter series.

Thankfully, my Yankee friend talked some sense to me, “If there was one game you were going to lose, that was it.” How true his statement would become. Three games later the Tigers beat the Yankees on a beautiful Fall Saturday night in Michigan, setting off a raucous celebration in Detroit, something not seen for the Tigers in 22 years.

This year the expectations are higher but there is still a whole lot of serendipity. I remember when the Wings were coming out of their losing funk in late 80s/early 90s, how many times they would lose early in the playoffs. The expectations built to such a state that at times I think the Red Wings fans made the team play tight and doubt themselves: that oh-no, here-we-again feeling that would spread like a contagion around Joe Louis when the Wings would fall behind.

The Tigers came up so fast and so complete that they have spontaneously developed a swagger and confidence about their abilities to compete and win. Maybe they get a lot of this from their manager and I think the addition of Gary Sheffield can only help. A few people wrote about this last year, but they may have executed the biggest turnaround in the history of professional sports. They now have a potent mixture of experience and youth, a deep pitching staff and a promising farm system of prospects. It’s like a dream, how they turned it around. I still can’t believe it.

This is the first time since I was a kid I looked forward to a new Tigers season. As Ernie Banks would say, "It's a beautiful day for a ballgame... Let's play two!"

Monday, February 12, 2007

Wings in the Times

On Sundays, the New York Times sports section is pretty good about devoting one or two pages to the NHL and ice hockey stories in general. This week was no different as they had a couple of interesting articles that made mention of the Red Wings.

In the NHL, Third Period Leads Usually Hold Up, they point out that NHL teams with the lead going into the third period win 84 percent of the time. The obvious reasons cited are that teams with the lead buckle down and play defense while the teams playing catch up often take chances on the offensive end that leave them susceptible to being scored on. The story mentions that the Wings are tied with the Montreal Canadians for the most come from behind victories in third periods this season with seven (the article was illustrated with a photograph of Henrik Zetterberg.) The Red Wings recently came from behind to beat the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden and the New York Islanders on Long Island with third period goals, perhaps inciting curiosity about how often this takes place in the NHL with the NYT assigning editor.

The Times also ran a statistic called adjusted plus/minus factor that measures a player’s plus/minus figure against his team average. Unsurprisingly, Niklas Lidstrom leads the league with a +27.6. He is the only Wing in the top ten in this category. This is further proof that a good offense is good defense, and with Lidstrom playing nearly 30 minutes a game, that is a huge amount of each game where the Wings net out positive in scoring.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Gotta Love Them Swedes

I’m not sure if Sweden was with us back when we started this war in Iraq, but it has recently come to be my favorite country (besides the US and A, of course) because of their outsized contributions to the Detroit Red Wings hockey club. Sweden has become the country to beat in international hockey competitions (winning the Olympic Gold Medal and the World Championships in 2006) and some key players on the Red Wings have played important roles in those victories.

The prototype Swede for the Red Wings is Nicklas Lidstrom, who has been their steadiest performer for more than a decade. He was the top defenseman on all three of their Stanley Cup Champion teams and is the captain (now that “The Captain” has retired) and the only max contract on the Wings. In the past, he had threatened to return to Sweden so his children could grow up in a colder but perhaps more civilized country but the lure of the winged wheel and the dollars that comes with it appears to have been too great to resist.

The Swedes are the core group of players on the Red Wings, and we drafted them ourselves, with some of them being late round steals. Henrik “Hank” Zetterberg is a prime example of a player poised to be a superstar who the Wings drafted in the 7th round, after 209 other players had been taken.

The Wings have a total of seven Swedish players although two (Andreas Lilja and Mikael Samuelsson) were acquired via trade and/or free agency so they have the taint of other teams and are not pure Red Wings.

The five Swedish players the Red Wings have drafted below, who all average around 20 minutes per game, have helped to keep the Red Wings recent winning tradition alive.

Nicklas Lidstrom (Drafted 1989, 3rd Round 53rd overall): Not sure what happened to their first and second round picks this year, but they picked up Nicklas Lidstrom in the 3rd round (74th overall) and Sergei Federov in the 4th round (95th overall). Add in Vladimir Konstantinov and you have one of the best drafts in Red Wings history. Unfortunately, we lost Konstantinov in that tragic limo crash after the 97 Stanley Cup victory and Federov left the team as a free agent to re-start his career out in Southern California before his unfortunate trade to Columbus last season.

Thomas Holmstrom (Drafted 1994, 10th round 257th overall): Thomas was lucky enough to be a rookie for the first of three Red Wings Stanley Cup champion teams. So he is our good luck charm because his timing was awesome. This guy is a nuisance in front of the net and always scores some big goals.

Henrik Zetterberg (Drafted 1999, 7th round 210th overall): The story about how we got this budding superstar is that they were at a tournament scouting Kronwall and they saw something in Zetterberg. This was before he lifted his former Swedish team, the Timra Red Eagles, into the higher leagues with his outstanding play. It’s awesome that he is signed through 2009 because he is about to become one of the elite stars in the league (according to Wayne Gretzky!)

Niklas Kronwall (Drafted 2000, 1st round, 29th overall): I guess they were actually scouting Niklas when they ran across Hank, so he gets extra credit for that. This guy is going to be an anchor on the blue line for a long time to come (knock on wood) as the Wings have been incredibly unlucky in losing solid defensive players in Konstantinov and Jiri Fisher in the past.

Johan Frenzen (Drafted 2004, 3rd round, 97th overall): I like this Johan player, sounds like a character from Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates. Solid third line center, the kind of kid that maybe would have come from the Ontario Hockey Leagues a generation ago.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

The Pistons Sad Sack Former Arch Rivals

While some hacks may be nostalgic for the days when the Pistons and the Celtics were arch rivals, I personally enjoy the fact that the Pistons kick Boston ass every time we play this mockery of a basketball franchise.

Every year the Celtics became a larger shadow of their former selves, and the Pistons continue to prove the rightness of their cause. The Pistons have won seven straight games and are 12-1 against their former archrivals in the last four seasons.

Of course, no amount of humiliation will ever ease the pain of "the play" – when Larry Bird intercepted the inbound pass of Isiah Thomas that stole a sure Pistons victory and ultimately led to the Celtics taking that series and going to the NBA finals. But it sure makes me feel better that we are on top now and the Celtics appear to be a hopeless cause.

Even in the 80s, when the Celtics played the classic NBA final series against the Showtime L.A. Lakers, this was the team you loved to hate. Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Danny Ainge and most of all Larry Bird. I’m a Spartan and was always biased with Magic running the floor for the Lakers, but Larry Bird was never a hero of mine.

There was that famous Isiah Thomas line about Larry Bird.

"If he were black, he’d be just another good player."

Okay, wrong about that one, but our cause is right, especially since Isiah is no longer here to be a part of the Pistons cause. (Nor is Dennis Rodman who Isiah was agreeing with when he made that statement.)

The truth is, we have new rivals. His name is Shaq and we are up 2-1 on the big man, and we need to make it a trifecta this playoff season. And how about if the Pistons play the Bulls in the playoffs? The Pistons taking on their own monster of a creation. That sounds like a rivalry to me.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Original Six Showdown

See. What are they thinking? Play once a year, visit every other year. The Detroit Red Wings and the New York Rangers have played more than 570 times since the 1930s. Do not disrespect history. Let the teams play!

And what a game it was tonight between the two original six teams. By the time we made our brazen grab for some lower bowl seats right behind the Rangers goalie, the Wings were well on their way to a come from behind victory. They scored three unanswered goals in the third period that erased a two goal deficit.

And for me at least, there is a new hero for the winged wheels - the torch bearer for a new generation of Stanley Cup Champions - and his name is Henrik Zetterberg. Or as the old school Red Wings refer to him: Hank. The guy was everywhere and when the game ended he had scored the game winning goal and was named the first star of the game.

The poor Rangers fans could only boo their team in the final minutes of the game, while the small but vocal minority of Wings fans poured salt into those wounds ("Sorry, guys, no playoffs this year, again!")

I understand how it is to follow a cursed franchise. And despite some (okay, maybe a lot) of early playoff defeats, the Wings are a franchise that rarely lets you down. They could have been forgiven for giving up this game after falling behind by two goals on the road, but no, they kept on scrapping and fighting and now find themselves, once again, one of the top teams in the league.

Free the Red Wings!

Tonight is a beautiful night in New York City (despite the cold weather). For the first time since October 25, 2003, the Detroit Red Wings will be playing the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

You would think that since they are both professional hockey teams in the same league that they would play each other a little more often. But since the NHL has returned from its lockout, they have implemented a schedule that basically Balkanizes the league east and west.

Now the Red Wings only play original six teams like the Montreal Canadians, Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Rangers once a year, at most. Some teams they don’t play at all in a season.

Especially when it comes to the Maple Leafs, this is particularly egregious. Having a rivalry with the Maple Leafs would be healthy for the NHL. These two teams represent the two biggest, most hockey mad markets in the NHL. They are also four hours away by car and train and all the way to London, Ontario you have Wings fan. At least one home and home series between these teams in a season is a must.

The problem is the Wings are in the Western Conference, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Even more curious are division rivals Nashville and Columbus. Time will tell whether expansion to warm weather cities and small television markets was the right move for the league, but so far it has watered down the product and the moves by the league to generate interest have been puzzling.

They want to create rivalries, but playing the same team 8 times in a season can only breed familiarity of contempt. It means 40 percent of the games the Red Wings play are against their divisions rivals. (The Chicago Black Hawks make sense, though. I’ll give the NHL that one.)

There was a recent vote to amend the schedule so there would be more intra-conference play, but the owners voted it down, reportedly because some of them did not want to pay the increased travel costs. That seems to be typical NHL owner thinking, save a few dollars while overall interest in the sport continues to wane. They should be doing everything they can to get back on ESPN (now that they have four of them) and to make sure the Wings play in New York and Toronto at least once a year.

Friday, February 2, 2007

To Spend is Not to Win

Two books from Michael Lewis I’ve read in the past year have changed my perception of how professional sports teams should go about their business. The first was Moneyball about the inner workings of the Oakland Athletics front office told through their general manager Billy Beane. The other was The Blind Side, which explained (among other things) how the evolution of the passing game in the NFL has made the left tackle, the offensive lineman who protects a right handed quarterback’s blind side, one of the highest paid players on professional football teams.

After reading these books, I no longer think it’s necessary to spend a lot of money on players and coaches, because most of the time you are wasting money anyway. The premise of Moneyball was that the Oakland A’s front office built a winning team while maintaining a low payroll by finding players that had high on-base percentages. This was not a valued skill for most of the other front offices in baseball at the time, so the A’s could get players with high on-base percentages cheap. The advantage of having a player like that spilled over to the rest of the team, because the players with the high OBP often times wear out the pitchers in the process of getting their free passes to first base.

In football, and I got into this in my last post, if you are a losing team who needs to turn it around, it doesn’t make sense to hire an experienced winning coach, because you have to pay them so much more money. In the NFL, it is the rare coach who doesn't ultimately fail. I think if your team has been winning ands need to take it to that next step, it makes sense. Like the Colts hiring Tony Dungy (although he never did win the Super Bowl in Tampa, he built the team that eventually won the Super Bowl.) In the majority of cases, finding a good assistant is as good a route to winning as finding one who previously coached with success. (Latest case in point, the Raiders Al Davis hiring a 31 year old coach, who had been the offensive coordinator at USC.)

In other sports, the coach is less important. For the Oakland A’s, the manager doesn’t factor at all and he is paid an almost insultingly low salary by Billy Beane. In the interview I link to above, Michael Lewis mentions that anybody could manage a baseball team and nothing too bad would happen. You put a guy with no knowledge of football in charge of a NFL team and you would have a disaster.

Remember Larry Brown and his 30 million dollar contract with the Knicks, this after the Pistons bought out his $5 million per year salary. He didn’t last long in New York and they would have been better off making Herb Brown the coach, at a fifth of the price.

The conventional wisdom is that it’s good when an owner spends to win. But in almost all circumstances where this happens, they spend badly. So it’s best to be smart with your money and the winning will follow.

Monday, January 29, 2007

The Six Million Dollar Man

I got to thinking recently with Chicago in the Super Bowl how the fates of the Lions and the Bears have diverged since I saw them play at Soldier Field in the second game of the 2004 season.

That game was notable for a few reasons. One is that both teams looked pretty poor but the Lions ultimately won, thus ending their 24 straight road loss streak (three whole seasons). It was also the game where Charles Roger extended his broken collar bone streak to two consecutive seasons (nice work trainers). And it was the home debut of Bears Coach Lovie Smith, who was and still is paid less than a quarter of the salary (1.4M vs. 6M) than Steve Maruicci, the coach of the Lions in that game. Two and a half years later, Smith is in the Super Bowl and Maruicci, who was fired towards the end of the 2005 season is in broadcasting (though is still due to be paid 6 million dollars by the Lions next year.)

If the Lions were running a real business, Matt Millen would be fired on his disastrous financial decisions alone. Last year, the Lions paid 6 million dollars to a coach who didn’t coach (and is still the highest paid coach in the NFL), 2 million dollars to a first year coach who moved from a position rather than coordinator job (so here too they may have overpaid) and another 2 million or so for their offensive coordinator. All this money to coach a team who won three games. If you break that down per win, the Lions paid just over $2.5 million in head coaching salary for each of their three wins this season while the Bears paid less than 100K for their wins.

Millen fired his original coach Marty Morningwhig before the 2003 season (after giving him a vote of public confidence days earlier) to hire his Six Million Dollar Man. And in his haste to bring in the man they call Mooch, he did not interview any other coaching candidates, and was subsequently fined by the NFL for not considering a minority candidate. This whole episode just further proves that Lions owner William Clay Ford has absolutely no business sense. It's one thing to be the owner of a losing football franchise but to get hosed for millions by the complete incompetence of your own manager is quite another. Even if the team was winning, Mr. Ford should be upset that they have unnecessarily wasted millions of dollars.

If they were a real business enterprise (I know far fetched), and had looked at how overpriced a winning coach is in the NFL, and how many times qualified assistants go on to become successful head coaches, and how they can get those individuals for a lot less, why would you make any other decision (especially when you are going to lose three quarters of your game anyway.)

Friday, January 26, 2007

Nurturing Our Young

Last season was a wonderful, magical year for the Detroit Tigers. I knew it was for real when I read a baseball column in the New York Post over last year’s Memorial Day weekend that said, “Talking to AL executives, they say while the Tigers are a big surprise, they are no fluke.”

I guess it was hard to notice in 2003 as they lost game after game, that they were playing the youngsters that would lead them to an American League Championship in 2006.

The good fortunes of the Tigers and the Red Wings have been possible because of the talent they have drafted and developed. The Tigers exodus from winning baseball for the 12 seasons before their World Series appearance was the direct result of not drafting well and not developing their talent. Now that they are back on top, they are back to their old proven ways.

The Pistons have been winners too but have historically acquired their players though trades and free agent signings. While they did draft the anchor of their first championships (Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars) they traded for Bill Liamber, Rick Mahorn, Vinnie Johnson and Mark Aquire. Even now, with their All Star starting five, the only player they drafted was Tashyn Prince. Their second overall draft park Darko Milicic, after three pissy years in Detroit, turned out to be a bust and was traded (about the time they really needed him.) It has worked out well for the Pistons and the NBA is a league where you can trade yourself into contention, or as the case is with Isiah in New York, trade yourself into oblivion. (Let’s hope that the Pistons develop some of their new young players like Jason Maxiel and Amir Johnson.)

The Wings, though they did have the rent a high priced veteran method for much of the pre-lock out NHL, were able to do this even as they traded high draft picks because of their outstanding European scouting. The players the Wings have acquired via trade or free agency have always played a supporting role to their core group players, whom they drafted and developed. And it has had an international flavor. The Russian Five have been replaced by the Swedes as of late, but the result is the same. The Wings keep on winning.

Then there is the Detroit Lions. This pathetic franchise has done a poor job drafting and developing their own players, hence their horrible performance as a competitive professional football enterprise. And in professional football, you have no other choice. You can not build through free agency and trades and the Lions have proved this again and again through their horrible free agency signings. The Lions, as always, a disgrace to Detroit Sports City.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Lindell AC History Primer

MOTOR CITY JOURNAL: Legendary Lindell bar to fade into city's storied sports history

December 4, 2002
Detroit Free Press

The aroma from the grill smelled the same Tuesday evening at the Lindell A.C., and former Detroit Lion Wayne Walker's bronzed jockstrap hung augustly from the wall alongside museum-quality hockey sticks, bats and black-and-white photos.

But it felt like a wake inside the cramped, mythical, formerly rowdy saloon at Cass and Michigan in downtown Detroit. That was an appropriate feeling, because the Lindell is closing Sunday night after 52 years of serving burgers, beers and sports as one of the state's best-known bars.

"I've done my share of crying already," said waitress Lisa Soria, 42, who began working the counter in 1979.

Owner John Butsicaris, 82, said the bar will close with a party featuring an appearance by the Stanley Cup.

"There are so many years here," Butsicaris said. "So many people. So many incidents. My whole life has been here."

Butsicaris said he would like to reopen the Lindell near the downtown stadiums, but he is not close to a deal. The new owner, who could not be reached, plans to open a nightclub in the Lindell location. Butsicaris will take the memorabilia with him.

The Lindell attracted little attention in recent years, but it was one of Detroit's true hot spots into the 1970s -- when all of Detroit's professional teams played nearby, numerous local stars and visiting VIPs made the bar their home-away-from-home, and many people believed several vodka tonics before bedtime was good for you.

In 1968, the Tigers gathered at the Lindell with hundreds of patrons the night they clinched the American League pennant just blocks away at Tiger Stadium.

In 1963, National Football League Commissioner Pete Rozelle charged that the Lindell was a center for illegal sports betting, and forced Lions tackle Alex Karras, the future actor, to sell his share in the bar.The Lindell also was the site of a brawl between Karras and flamboyant wrestler Dick the Bruiser, whose real name was Richard Afflis.

Those incidents gave the Lindell a raucous reputation, as did its association with Billy Martin, the rambunctious Tigers manager who became the bar's patron saint. Martin, who began drinking there as a New York Yankees infielder with teammates Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle, befriended Butsicaris and his late brother Jimmy.

"They would come to town and borrow my car," said Butsicaris. "I had a real snazzy Buick convertible."

Martin soon suggested they convert the place to a sports theme. Martin told them how they could split a baseball bat lengthwise to better fasten it to the wall, and he procured bats from all the American League teams.

In 1969, Martin added to the bar's legend when he made national news by punching out one of his pitchers, Dave Boswell, in the alley behind the bar. Boswell received 20 stitches; Martin got seven. At the time, Martin was manager of the Minnesota Twins.

The Lindell also drew notice because John and Jimmy Butsicaris promoted the career of Ron LeFlore, a Jackson prison inmate who became a Tigers star.

Jimmy Butsicaris was the subject of a 1979 TV movie on CBS, "Andre and Jimmy B," the story of how Butsicaris became a foster father to young Andre Reynolds, son of a heroin addict. Karras played Jimmy B in the film. Jimmy Butsicaris played a bartender in the movie "The Paper Lion," George Plimpton's saga about the Lions, starring Karras.

The Lindell began to fade when the Lions moved from nearby Tiger Stadium to distant Pontiac.

"I took that personally," said Butsicaris. "I have never been to the Silverdome."

The Lindell began life in a fleabag hotel nearby at Cass and Bagley, when the area was Detroit's skid row. It moved to Cass and Michigan in 1963.

"Jimmy never let a hooker work the bar," said longtime radio personality Sonny Eliot, a close friend of the Butsicaris brothers. "It was a neighborhood bar in downtown Detroit.

"It saddens me to see it die. Well, not really die, but fade away."

Remembering Detroit's Original Original Sports Bar: The Lindelll AC [Detroit Athletic Co. Blog]

Photos from the Lindell AC in Detroit Facebook Page [Facebook]

Lindell A.C. No More [Faded Detroit]

Lindell AC in Detroit [Facebook Group]

Discuss Detroit: Lindell A.C. [Discuss Detroit]

Last of the Lindell AC [Flickr]

Lindel AC (sic) (Athletic Club) []

Lindell AC 1310 Cass Avenue Detroit [DetroitYES]

Lindell AC owner John Butsicaris dead at 91 [WXYZ Detroit]

Detroit is more than Detroit Rock City!

Okay to kick this thing off I thought I’d answer one of the stock questions I sometimes throw out to the ladies I hit on. It can be an interesting and revealing question. “What was the first concert you attended?” Mine was Billy Idol during the Rebel Yell tour (in case you’re interested.) Anyway, that is not the question here. The question is “What was the first time I saw a live sporting event for each of the Detroit pro teams?”

Detroit Red Wings: When I first came to and started to comprehend sports, I grew to love hockey. In Detroit, you are fed a steady diet of the great Canadian game via the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC). The basement where I would get out the hockey sticks and tennis balls and pound my parent’s new paneling into submission always had Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday nights. And being on the east side and less than a mile from the territorial waters that pointed South into Canada, the station received better reception than a lot of the Detroit stations with their west side broadcast towers. The Red Wings were horrible in the late 70s and early 80s, and didn’t make the playoffs even when 16 of 17 NHL teams were invited. They were known as the Dead Wings at the time although you would not know this if you wanted to get tickets to a game. They had a rolling method of selling individual game tickets and would announce a certain game would go on sale at 3 in the afternoon and they would be sold out in a couple hours. Somehow one time we did get tickets and this would be the only game I attended at the old Olympia Stadium. I remember my father being quite horrified at the west side Grand River location and even more so by the narrow passageways in and out of the stadium. Even to this day the most nostalgic words he will express about the old stadium are, “that place was a fire trap.” The game was against the St. Louis Blues and the Wings were in the middle of the first season with their big free agency signing that season, the goalie Rogie Vachon (BTW, awesome hockey name). The game was a high scoring affair and when it was over the Wings had lost 6-5. (Don’t know how I remember that.) Anyway, the next morning in the sports pages there was a story about how Rogie Vachon was actually nearly blind in one eye and he somehow finessed his way through his physical. It would be a while before the Wings got good including a heartbreaking loss to the San Jose Sharks in the 1994 quarterfinals and a sweep by the New Jersey Devils in 95 (I had tickets to Game 5) but three Stanley Cups, and a lot of Russian and Swedish players later, it’s all good.

Detroit Pistons: Before they moved out to the Palace, the Pistons were a nomadic team in terms of a home stadium. They started to play at Olympia Stadium and then downtown at Cobo Hall (after the big move from the Fort Wayne) before they made the move to the ‘burbs to play at Pontiac Silverdome. There was a window when Isiah Thomas had been drafted (1981) and they were not quite the ‘Bad Boys’ yet and you could get awesome tickets down close to the floor at the Silverdome. They had built this huge contraption that sealed off much of Silverdome and added floor seats but they could hold a lot of people, in fact they had huge crowds of 60,000 people at times (trying to find the citation for this). That is the great thing about basketball; you can get seats that are scary close to the action. I remember walking by the floor during their warm-ups and the players would be inches from your face as they retrieved the practice balls. So we were courtside at the Pontiac Silverdome but I can’t remember who they played or what happened. I remember it was not tough to get tickets, which changed when they got good. It was the era of Greg Kelser and Kelly Tripucka, in other words, a mediocre era. But that would change with the Bad Boys and as George Blaha refers to him, the arrival of “the prophet Isiah.”

Detroit Lions:
This also took place at the Silverdome, the home (for one game) to Super Bowl champions the 1984 San Francisco 49ers. This was a game that took place on a December 15 (not sure what year) I think Billy Sims was on the team on that point (which only lasted four or five seasons). They won that game. The best time for me as Lions fans growing up was Billy Sims rookie year, where they won their first four games and their safety Jimmy ‘Spiderman” Allen, receiver Freddie “Doc” Scott and Tight End David Hill recorded the song "Another One Bites The Dust" and rewrote the lyrics to make them Lions centric (ex. “See Billy Run, You couldn’t catch him with a gun.) I had a Billy Sims poster on my bedroom wall that year and it included a Q and A that said his favorite actor was Tony Curtis, which I didn't think of much at the time but seems interesting now. The Lions were always hopeless. I remember in High School after getting done with a hockey game wanting to get home because it was the first game that Chuck Long was starting as a Lion in his rookie year. Kind of like rushing to the scene of an accident just so you can gawk.

Detroit Tigers:
When I was a kid, I was a Tigers fan above all other teams. Going to Tiger Stadium was like going to a cathedral. When I walked through those tunnels and saw that beautiful field, with the groundskeeper smoothing out the infield dirt and watering the outfield grass, it was like a mystical place. I don’t remember my first game but a couple games stand out. The first was a doubleheader where I earned free tickets from a paperboy route I had at the time. This was when I was confused and thought seeing two games was better than one. The more the better and it’s all free. Life is good. It was cool that my dad agreed to stay for the two games (hope I’m as patient with my son). It was a horribly hot and humid and sticky day and the game ruined my pair of shoes (evening out the savings for the two tickets.) I believe it was against the Blue Jays. And the best game of them all was the 1984 American League Championship Series when the Detroit Tigers defeated the Kansas City Royals and earned a place in the World Series (which they won) and created the prototype for all celebratory riots that followed. And there was a third game that stands out, the return of Mark “The Bird” Fidrych. I remember the news of his start in the 1980 season was all the radio chatter and my dad scored the seats, and the Bird came back, pitched a great game and the Tigers win, but sadly that would be the last season of his career. I love the Bird, man, he was awesome.