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.