THE VILLAIN OF THIS PIECE? IT DEPENDS ON WHOM YOU ASK

Recently, some nice people from ESPN came to interview me about tonight’s Red Wings-Colorado rematch.

They asked, “Is this the best rivalry in hockey?”

I grinned.

“Do these two teams really hate each other?”

I smiled.

“Why is there such bitterness between these teams?”

I chuckled.

It is hard to explain how a city like Detroit, which gave the world the automobile, can fight a war with Colorado, which gave the world Coors Light.

Detroit and Colorado do not see eye to eye. They would prefer the other guy’s eye be swollen shut.

In fact, if a die-hard Colorado fan and a die-hard Detroit fan were each to take a child, put him on his knee, and tell the story of this rivalry . . .

Well. Allow me to illustrate:

Colorado fan: “Once upon a time there was a team in Canada that needed a new home. The friendly mountain people of Colorado said, ‘Come, live here’ . . .”

Detroit fan: “Once upon a time, there was a team in Canada that was stolen by ski bums in the middle of the night and dragged across the border in chains.”

Colorado: “The new team settled here in the Rocky Mountains, in a building that was charmingly nostalgic.”

Detroit: “They play in a hellhole full of rats. And the ice is mushy.”

Colorado: “One night, during the 1996 semifinals, against a mean and ugly team from Detroit, a player named Kris Draper got tangled with the good and heroic Claude Lemieux. Then for some reason, Draper threw himself into the wall and knocked out his own teeth, which were already loose . . .”

Detroit: “One night, during the 1996 semifinals, the dirtiest player in the history of the world, Claude Lemieux — who has mob connections — shoved Kris Draper into the boards so hard that Draper’s head came off. Only through the magic of surgery was it reattached . . .”

Colorado: “Draper wasn’t really hurt — we heard he was dancing at a disco that night — and our mighty Avalanche not only defeated the mean men from Detroit, but went on to crush the challengers from Florida and win the Stanley Cup.”

Detroit: “They beat a team that threw small rubber rats. Big deal.”

Colorado: “The following year, when our friendly team came to play in the dark and dirty city, a terrible thing happened. The heroic and caring Claude Lemieux was leaning over to help a crippled child when an evil Detroit man named Darren (The Fist) McCarty pummeled him in the face. Claude, remembering his scripture, turned the other cheek — which McCarty whacked like a rug.”

Detroit: “When the dirty bums finally had the courage to show up in Detroit, the good guys were waiting for them. Lemieux — who was also involved in the Lindbergh baby kidnapping — was yelling curses about Joe Louis, Rosa Parks, Chevys and Mackinac Island, until McCarty was forced to say, “I don’t want to hit you, but I may have to if you do not cease with the insults.” To which Lemieux said, “Ha! Little Caesars pizza is gooey!” Darren slapped him and said, “Let that be a warning, young man.” Lemieux collapsed like a ripped tent.

Colorado: “Even as the good and heroic Lemieux lay on the ice, his hands at his side, saying, ‘Hit me if you must, but please don’t touch my teammates,’ the evil Detroiters attacked the Colorado players viciously, with sticks, knives and semi-automatic pistols.”

Detroit: “As Lemieux, the ‘turtle,’ curled into a whining ball of blubber, other misguided members of his team tried to make the ESPN highlight reel. Throwing punches only in self-defense — in many cases, fighting with one hand tied behind their backs — the Wings nonetheless floored the entire Colorado team and its mascot.”

Colorado: “The battle grew so fierce, that even our pacifist goaltender, Patrick Roy — who teaches Sunday school in the off-season — was forced to defend his team’s honor against a charging Mike Vernon.

Detroit: “Patrick Roy had a 12-gauge shotgun hidden in his pads. Vernon’s quick thinking avoided catastrophe.”

Colorado: “After that ugly night, our team lost interest in being champions. Who wants to rule a league that would allow a team like Detroit in?”

Detroit: “We clobbered them and won the Cup.

Colorado: “When we recapture it, we’ll live happily ever after.”

Detroit: Over our dead bodies.

Colorado: “Who you talking to, Wing Nut?

Detroit: “Right here, mountain goat-breath . . .”

Anyhow, you get the point. As I told ESPN, the way folks see this rivalry in Detroit and the way they see it in Colorado are as different as night and day.

“We’re lucky we found a neutral man like yourself,” ESPN said.

No problem, I said.

“Thank you for your objectivity.”

That’s what I’m here for.

“We’re going to interview some Colorado players now.”

How nice. Tell those dirty rotten crybabies we said hi.

Mitch Albom will sign “Tuesdays With Morrie,” 7-8 tonight in the lobby of Henry Ford Village, Dearborn; noon-2 Wednesday at the Jewish Community Center, West Bloomfield; and 7-8 p.m. Wednesday at Borders, Farmington Hills. To leave a message for Albom, call 1-313-223-4581.

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