So where were you when it happened? At the Red Wings game? Watching on TV? Or nowhere near it – buying late-night groceries or helping your kids with homework?
It didn’t matter. This town spreads sports news faster than warriors used to spread word of oncoming armies. So wherever you were Monday night when Jiri Fischer slumped forward on the Wings’ bench, the victim of what they later called a “seizure,” and coaches waved frantically for help, and fans held worried hands to their mouths, and the EMS people arrived, and Steve Yzerman and Kris Draper skated a stretcher across the ice – wherever you were, you were there.
“Did you hear what happened to Fischer? Someone speared him in the chest!”
“Did you hear what happened to Fischer? He got hit in the head by a puck!”
“Did you hear what happened to Fischer? He had a heart attack!”
There was a different version for every neighborhood. I was taking some family out to dinner when the cell phone rang. Then it rang again. Then again. Did you hear? Did you hear?
Jiri Fischer, the talented 25-year-old defenseman from the Czech Republic, who’d had a history of heart concerns, had collapsed on the bench in the first period in a game against Nashville. They were administering CPR. The game had been stopped. Then the game had been cancelled. Fischer had been rushed to the hospital.
Time froze at Joe Louis Arena.
And everywhere else in this town.
We’ve been down this road too often
Now, every city with sports franchises will see players, at some point, get seriously hurt. But maybe because this is a small town disguised as a big city, or maybe because we’ve had more raw brushes, these incidents reverberate more strongly in Detroit. You can’t say “ambulance” and “Red Wings” and “hospital” here without conjuring up visions of a crashed limousine and the names “Vladdie” and “Sergei.”
You can’t say “athlete down” in this city without images of football turf and a worried Lions players and a crowd of medics hovering over Mike Utley, lying immobile, or Reggie Brown, lying immobile.
You can’t say “look at him, he’s not moving” without flashing on the tragedy of October 1971, when wide receiver Chuck Hughes lay on the field after suffering a heart attack.
And for those long, impossible minutes Monday, fans around Detroit wondered if we were going through it all again with Fischer.
As it turned out, when this edition went to press, we were not. The word – and words are all shaky in these cases – is that Fischer is OK, that he was talking at Detroit Receiving Hospital, that he suffered some sort of seizure, although seizures tend to be more neurological in nature and his heart issues – he’d had an abnormal electrocardiogram reading earlier in his career – plus the use of a defibrillator by the medics suggest perhaps the problem was more related to that part of his body.
Details will come. Details are less important than the big picture, and the big picture was the question all of Detroit was asking Monday night:
Is he OK?
We’re all brought together
You don’t need a columnist to tell you about life and death. You could see it on the shaken faces of the Red Wings players. You could see it when captain Steve Yzerman told the TV cameras: “It was kind of an indescribable feeling. We’re all standing there pretty much helpless.”
You could see it when Brendan Shanahan told those same cameras: “It was shocking and scary. Thank goodness our doctors were nearby.”
How will Fischer be in the long run? When will he be released? Will he play again? Is this a medical situation to monitor or the end of his career?
Again, all that comes in time. For now, only this is certain: There is sports. And there is life and death. When they collide, as they did in those frozen moments Monday night, you hold your breath. And it can be awhile before you exhale.
As the fans cleared out of Joe Louis Arena and headed home, as they joined the other citizens who were watching the news on TV, or turning on their radio, or calling one another on the phone -“Did you hear about Fischer?”- it didn’t matter where you were, the streets, your car or your home in the suburbs. We were all one big city, united by a young, ailing hockey player and the prayer that this morning finds him better.
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He will sign books at 11 a.m. Friday at Borders Express in Great Lakes Crossing. For a complete list of his holiday signings, see Page 2D.