by | Jun 1, 1995 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Joe Louis Arena might not be the most modern facility in the world, but it’s still the only place where any fan, no matter how much he paid for tickets, can get hit in the face with a fish.

I don’t want to say there are too many octopi flying around the building. I will say the national anthem before Red Wings games now sounds like this:

“O’er the land . . . of the . . . (splat!) . . . free . . . (splat! splat!) . . . and the home (splat-tat-tat-tat- tat!) of the . . . (splat!) . .
. yuck.”

Confess. What was once cute is now contagious. The octopus tradition has gotten out of hand-hand-hand-hand-hand-hand- hand-hand. (That is eight, isn’t it?) The funny thing is, you never see anyone actually walking in with them. Which means fans hide these slimy critters in their purses, or their briefcases — or worse, under their shirts. FAN: Hey, Fred! Long time, no see!
(Slaps Fred’s stomach, hears squishy sound.) FAN: Hmm. Still doing those sit-ups?

Now, based on my visit Wednesday to the local octopus outlet, a.k.a. Superior Fish in Royal Oak, tonight at the Joe could be Mollusk Mania. On an average playoff game day, Superior Fish sells — according to co-owner Kevin Dean, a wonderful man whose hand I refuse to shake — 25 octopi. Twenty-five?

We know these are for tossing at the Wings game, because the customers used to ask, “How long do you cook it?” and now they say, “Do you have one with a really good grip?” EMERGENCY PROCEDURE IF OCTOPUS LANDS ON YOUR SHOULDER Step 1. Say quietly, “Honey, is that you?” Step 2. If no answer, begin to shake violently. Step 3. Hire lawyer from O.J. Simpson defense team.

Wait. Did you say you were from out of town? A visitors guide

In that case, perhaps you don’t know about the tradition of tossing an octopus on the Joe Louis ice, which used to happen once a year, and now happens whenever the Red Wings complete a pass.

OK. I know what you’re thinking. “How did this strange tradition get started?” Frankly, this question has been asked so many times that we in Detroit are tired of answering it, but we will give the same explanation we have given everyone else, which is: “How the hell should we know?”

The most widely accepted theory, of course, is that former coach Jacques Demers, who used to throw his glasses after a big victory, once accidentally hit a fan, and that fan, who was a fish salesman, reached angrily into his bag and grabbed the first thing he could find and tossed it back, and that thing, was, of course, a clock radio, which hit Jacques in the head and caused him to start speaking with a French accent, even though he was raised in Hoboken.

There is also this theory about eight legs and eight games to win the Stanley Cup. But, as you probably suspect, only fools go for that one. COMMONLY HEARD EXPRESSIONS WHEN TOSSING OCTOPUS 1. “Incoming!” 2. “HERE . . . WE . . . GOOO . . . oops, sorry, Ethel.” 3. “Darn, I took the wrong purse.”

Wait. Did I hear you ask for a solution? A hometown guide

Well, that would be appropriate, since clearly we have a problem. For one thing, the NHL is trying to build a national audience, and you can just imagine the family in Kansas trying to get into hockey, and they sit down one night and flip on ESPN just as Sergei Fedorov scores a goal and hey — here come the octopi! — and next thing you know, the kids are throwing up.

This would not be good for ratings.

Nor is it good for the Joe Louis ice. My extensive research has proven that, when an octopus is thrown from the lower bowl seats, it lands as a small

mess that vaguely resembles, to use the scientific term, vomit.

And no matter how hard they try to clean this up, there is always one little gunk stain left on the ice, and you spend the whole period watching to see whether famous NHL stars can skate through octopus guts. ATTENTION: PROPER WAYS TO GRIP OCTOPUS INCORRECT: By the head. This will feel like you sank your hand into a bowl of gray Jell-O. INCORRECT: By the leg. This will feel like you are shaking hands with the inside of a runny nose. INCORRECT: By the eyeball. This is . . . ughh, yuck, I’m so disgusted, I can’t speak.

By the way, fans are not the only ones to blame for Detroit’s octopi epidemic. The Wings organization uses the slimy beast in many of its ads. And the team slogan for the Stanley Cup is “A Call to Arms,” which, I suppose, is better than “Hey! Let’s Hit Someone in the Eye With a Tentacle!” — but still yields the same results.

Which is, of course, too many arms. And suckers. And single eyeballs. So, OK. We have, as they say in the military, a situation here. We don’t want to make people stop buying octopi, because that wouldn’t be fair to merchants, some of whom might have tried to bribe journalists with some nice salmon steaks if they mentioned their name, which I wouldn’t do for THE SUPERIOR FISH COMPANY or anyone else.

And we don’t want to confiscate the octopi at the door, because it already takes too long to get into Joe Louis Arena, and besides, how’d you like to be the guy who has to collect them? It’s not like taking ticket stubs.

So the only solution I see for tonight’s showdown against the Blackhawks is this: When the Wings score a goal, take out your octopus, swing it wildly over your head . . . and throw it at someone from Chicago.

Tell ’em it’s for Michael Jordan.


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