There is only one hockey player when you want to compare Detroit and Chicago – as sports towns, as food towns, as bar towns, and as hockey towns – and you know who he is.
Chris Chelios, 47, was born in Chicago and played nine years as a Blackhawk. He now lives in Detroit, where he has played 10 years as a Red Wing. He is the son of a Chicago restaurant owner; and Chelios now owns two restaurants of his own – in Detroit and Dearborn.
He has eaten pizza in both towns, drank beer in both towns, done the late-night thing in both towns, and been cheered and booed in both towns.
If he were a doll, he could be like Barbie – OK, Ken – there’d be a Chicago Cheli, Detroit Cheli, and, since he has a home there as well, a Malibu Cheli.
So I called Chelios as the Wings prepared to invade Chicago for tonight’s Game 3 of the Western Conference finals. And I asked for his picks on a laundry list of comparisons. As the oldest player in the league, and a guy who has never been afraid to speak his mind, the defenseman was pretty candid in his selections.
If you’re keeping score at home, here we go:
BETTER PIZZA: “I’m gonna give it to Chicago. I love Giordano’s thin crust, even though you can’t get in there after 4 o’clock and they don’t care if you’re a hockey player. I give a close second to Little Caesars, just to stay politically correct.”
GREEK FOOD: “Oooh, I’m gonna give it to Detroit. The Greektown in Chicago went south for a while – until the Democratic convention. Detroit’s Greektown, to me, is the best in the United States.”
TRAFFIC: “Detroit wins. The traffic is 10 times worse in Chicago.”
PARKING: “Detroit wins. It’s a nightmare in Chicago.”
SPORTS BARS: “I’m gonna give it to Chicago – aside from Cheli’s Chili Bar in downtown Detroit – because in Chicago, they got a sports bar on every corner.”
MORE LOYAL SPORTS FANS? “The people of Detroit are a lot more forgiving. Chicago, when things are bad, it’s pretty bad.”
BASEBALL PARKS: “I loved the old Tiger Stadium – but I gotta give it to Wrigley Field. That’s the tops.”
NIGHTCLUBS AND MUSIC: “If you’re talking blues, Chicago. Every other kind of music, Detroit.”
TOUGH GUYS: “Oooh, you gotta go with Chicago. They got Dick Butkus and Leroy Brown. And the south side of Chicago is kind of known for that behavior. Kid Rock might not agree with me on this. He knows some pretty tough guys.”
SEE MORE OLD PLAYERS: “Pretty even. Chicago’s got Bobby Hull and Esposito. Here you always have Ted Lindsay, Gordie Howe, Alex Delvecchio. That’s a draw.”
CROOKED POLITICIANS: “Whoooa.” He laughed. “Let’s just say they don’t call it the Windy City because it’s windy.”
TOUGHER WINTERS: “Chicago. Lake Michigan. The wind. That dampness. It’s the lousiest weather. But Detroit is a close second.”
FASTER AT GETTING YOUR CABLE HOOKED UP: “Oh, man!” He laughed. “I find it best to call a friend.”
Of course, we had this talk before Jeremy Roenick’s remarks that Wings coach Mike Babcock doesn’t like Americans and particularly doesn’t like Chelios. Then again, Roenick may have gotten it wrong.
Maybe Babcock doesn’t like thin crust pizza.
Contact MITCH ALBOM: 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).