SPORTS SECTION BLOG: The Motor City Blues

As a kid from the suburbs, I never got it. Why did the people on TV make fun of Detroit?

The city was the coolest thing to me, because when I was there it was for something special. I would go there for Tiger games, for the occasional play with my parents, or for a random event like hydroplane racing. What was so bad about all of that? What was so special about the other cities in the 1980s that they had a right to clown us?

Cleveland? That city was so bad that they let Lake Erie catch on fire due to chemical pollution. The Browns always choked; the Indians were horrible, and the Cavaliers were hapless. And the Ohio State Buckeyes? Michigan owned them (I miss those days).

Chicago? These guys had no room to talk, as bad as the South Side of Chicago was. The White Sox and Cubs? These teams never won anything! And the Bulls in the ’80s? Nothing made me smile like watching Michael Jordan lose year after year to the brutish Pistons. The Blackhawks? At least their fights were entertaining. They didn’t even have a college football team! If Chicago wants to claim Notre Dame as theirs, then they have to also claim Gary, Ind., as well. Gary is easily the foulest place I’ve ever passed through in the United States. The Bears had the best run of the Chicago teams, winning a Super Bowl in the ’85-’86 season.

New York City? Forget about it! The outlying boroughs of The Bronx, Harlem, and Coney Island were so notorious for crime that Hollywood starting glamorizing them in movies (i.e. The Warriors, Goodfellas, A Bronx Tale, New Jack City). In spite of having huge payrolls every year, the Yankees and Mets could only muster one World Series Champion between them. The Knicks and Nets? Nope. The Giants? One title in the decade. The Jets? Sorry, but the Islanders (NHL Champs ’79-83) were the only sure thing in town – even if they were the second most popular hockey team in the city.

Detroit, in my young eyes, didn’t deserve the abuse from the media and Hollywood. We had great Tiger teams (1984 World Series Champs), the “Bad Boys” era Pistons (NBA Champs in the ’88-’89 and ’89-’90 seasons), and two of the most exciting players in hockey in Red Wings Steve Yzerman and Sergei Federov. University of Michigan athletics thrived, and the basketball team won an NCAA title in ’89.

But what did the media want to show? Crime, unemployment, racial strife, and post-game riots after championship wins. When I tell people how beautiful parts of Detroit are, or explain to them that the suburbs are among the most affluent in the country, I’m answered with a look of confusion or disbelief.

On the occasion when I’m asked why I don’t move back, my answer is never “because I don’t want to.” After finally settling down here in Vero Beach, a move to Detroit isn’t really an option. Old high school classmates tell me how bad the unemployment rate is there, and about the large office building that lie vacant along the major expressways that dissect the city. If my life were different, would that stop me from moving back?

No. Even if it must be from afar, I’ll always love Detroit.

I love the Coney Dogs from National Coney Island, the $2.50 pizza/breadstick/cream cheese dipping sauce combo from Anthony’s Pizza and Party Store, and all the non-chain restaurants that make Detroit a world-class food city.

I love walking on a lawn of real grass in the June, and watching the leaves turn colors in October.

I love the old and new sports legends of the town: Al Kaline, Ernie Harwell, Joe Dumars, Glen Rice, Alan Trammell, Jack Morris, Kirk Gibson, Steve Yzerman, Gordie Howe, Barry Sanders, Chauncey Billups . . . and on, and on.

Can the auto industry recover and save the city? I don’t know, but I don’t think many are giving the Motor City much of a shot. “To Hell with them, let them suffer!” – I hear this all the time here in Vero Beach. What if half of your family were getting laid off, would that still be your point of view? We may find out soon with NASA’s pending layoffs. The auto industry created much of their mess for themselves, but if they are willing to change the way they operate why not try to save the most American of industries? We invented the automobile, and we need strive to be industry leaders again!

To be sure, Detroit, like all big cities, isn’t without flaw. The city’s been plagued with a string of corrupt or inept mayors for 30 years (or more), and you don’t have to dig deep to find their dirt. New Mayor Dave Bing, a successful steel entrepreneur and NBA Hall of Famer, gives Detroit the hero it needs during this time of outright depression.

Last year’s 0-16 Detroit Lions made the city the butt of even more jokes than usual. They were the worst team in NFL history. This year, the Detroit Tigers were beat 6-5 in an extra-innings playoff against the rival Minnesota Twins. The Tigers ended the year with one of the worst collapses in MLB history. Most people will point to these teams and make fun of what deem to be a city on the verge of complete depression.

For those of you who like to kick someone while they are down — pick on someone else. It won’t fade Detroit.

If the past year hasn’t destroyed it, do you think you can?

Not likely, I say.

Related Articles

Leave a Comment