EVEN LIONS ARE UNDEFEATED IN NATION’S TOP SPORTS TOWN

I am getting a little tired of traveling around the country and hearing sports fans say: “Oh, you’re from Detroit? How are they doing?” The next person who says that to me, I kick.

The fact is, Detroit is doing better than any other sports city in 1987, thank you. And I am sure people in such high- cultured, well-educated places such as New York and Los Angeles would quickly realize this, if they ever stopped shopping.

Are you looking for evidence? I will give you evidence. The other day, at a charity golf tournament, I ran into Bill Laimbeer, the center from the Pistons, and Steve Yzerman, the center from the Red Wings, and when they asked how things were going I said things were really busy, because the Tigers were in first place, making a run at the playoffs, just like, uh . . .

. . . just like the Pistons . . .

. . . and the Red Wings.

Evidence.

“When was the last time we had this?” I asked myself as I walked away.
“When was the last time three of our major teams, none of them favored at the start of the season, all wound up in — or headed for — division championships?

“When was the last time you heard the words “first-place Detroit” in February, April and September? When was the last time one city had three potential division winners on three different playing surfaces — grass, wood and ice? When, I ask you? When?”

And someone came up to me and said, “Why are you talking to yourself?”

And I kicked him. Sparky outsmarted Sparky Look. We are being treated to something special here. Forget that there are no world championships. Yet. Did anyone even expect playoff tickets when these seasons began? From the Red Wings? You have to be joking. From the Pistons? The way they started?

From the Tigers? Ha. Let me tell you a quick story about the Tigers. In spring training, Sparky Anderson asked me where the rest of the country was picking Detroit to finish. And I said, “Fifth place.” And he said, “Well, I got it made.” And I said, “How’s that?” And he said, “All we have to do is finish fourth, and I look like a genius.”

Now, it’s that sort of clear-minded thinking that this country lacks. If more people thought like that in New York and Los Angeles, they wouldn’t spend so much time shopping. They would be at home. In front of the TV. Watching the Tigers.

“Hello?” I say to my friend in California. “How is your baseball team doing?”

“Oh, well,” he says, “it’s not our year. The Angels are slumping and the Dodgers are lousy and the Padres are pathetic–“

Wait. Hold it. Let me get a sandwich while you answer. Two teams? Three teams? How many chances do you get? New York has a pair of everything. Even Chicago sees eight at-bats for every four in Detroit. That makes this even better: Detroit is a one- team-per-sport town, and our teams this year are following a pattern; average expectations, high results. “We think we can, we think we can . . . ” goes the chug-a-lug of our franchises. Has this been a blast, or what?

OK. I will talk about football now. The Lions. You have been waiting for me to fit them into my theory, right? Well. I believe the Lions are undefeated

this season, correct?

‘Nuff said. Who came before Nokes? A word about college. Didn’t Michigan begin this year with a Rose Bowl appearance? Big Ten champions? Don’t they start again Saturday, against Notre Dame? Didn’t Michigan State just knock off the mighty Southern Cal Trojans?

Am I getting through? This is a great time to be a Detroit sports fan. We have gone from asking “Can Dantley fit in?” to “What if Dantley hadn’t banged his head?” We have gone from “Who is Jacques Demers?” to “Frere Jacques.” We have gone from “Poor Lance Parrish” to “Good old Lance Parrish” to “Remember the guy they had before Nokes?”

We are the city that quietly awaits the high-gloss powers, like the Celtics and Oilers and Yankees. We are inevitable. Remember that scene in “On the Waterfront” when Marlon Brando says, “I coulda been a contender”? We are no longer Marlon Brando. We are the waterfront. Sooner or later, you’ll hit us.

I know this. You know this. And to make it easier for the rest of the country, which insists on lumping Detroit into the great void of its Midwest knowledge, I am proposing a name change. From now on, in the sporting world, we will not be known as “Detroit.” We will be known as “Detroit-Again.”

This way, when the Tigers reach the playoffs, the TV guys will say,
“TONIGHT, THE CHAMPIONS OF THE EAST, DETROIT-AGAIN. . . . ” Next year, in the NBA playoffs: “IT’S BOSTON VS. DETROIT-AGAIN. . . . ” We will keep this up, again and again, until it is no longer a surprise to anyone that we are there, and deserve to be.

Or else, I kick everybody.

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