Like any flourishing economy or high flying tech stock Detroit’s sports bubble was sure to burst. Things were just doing far too well. The Tigers were two wins away from going to the World Series, the Michigan Wolverines were 5-0 and #11 in the polls, and the Lions were 5-0; fresh off two epic comebacks and a Monday night beat down of Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears. What could be greater than this for a city that’s incredibly passionate about their teams and has been hit exceptionally hard by the “Great Recession?” The answer is absolutely nothing, but in the matter of 24 hours it all came screeching to a halt.
The Tigers are one of baseball’s storied baseball franchises. They’ve won four World Series championships, Hall of Famers Ty Cobb and Hank Greenberg have their jersey’s retired by the team, previous stars such as Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Cecil Fielder, Jack Morris, and Kirk Gibson have donned the uniform, legendary manager Sparky Anderson was a fixture on the bench, and they played in the iconic Tiger Stadium for over 80 years. That all went away when they went on a streak of not having a winning record from 1993-2006. This included the debacle of a season in 2003 when they lost an American League record of 119 games. Things have changed since 2006 as they made it to the World Series (but lost to a big underdog St. Louis team), have another legendary manager (Jim Leyland), and have some of the top players in the league (Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera). No one expected the 2011 team to run away with the division and beat the New York Yankees in the playoffs … despite Verlander only pitching 9 innings in the entire series! At any rate, things looked promising against a Texas team despite being down 3-2 in the series and having to play on the road. Game 6 started well as two solo home runs gave Detroit a 2-0 lead heading into the third inning. One inning, 14 batters, and 9 runs later Detroit was essentially done, and Texas won the game 15-5 and the series 4-2.
The Michigan Wolverines have one of the greatest football legacies in all of division I, but things haven’t been so great in recent years (I’m not geographically challenged; I understand that the university is in Ann Arbor not Detroit, but it was at one point in Detroit). Lloyd Carr was a good coach but was run out of town for not being able to beat Ohio State, the Rich Rodriguez experiment was beyond a disaster (the team finished 6-18 in conference play under his “guidance”), and the team is 1-5 in their last six bowl games. Things were looking up this weekend as team was 5-0, ranked just outside the top ten, Heisman favorite Denard Robinson was playing flawlessly, and rival Michigan State was next on the schedule. The game was really no contest, as Michigan State took an early lead, and Michigan was never able to generate substantial offense. In all reality the team was highly overrated, considering the only team they beat of any note was another overrated team, Notre Dame. In retrospect Denard Robinson had no real shot at winning the Heisman as his rushing numbers were in no way sustainable (in light of how terrible he throws the ball and the lack of weapons around him), and despite the Big 10 being down, Wisconsin would crush them in the Big 10 championship game if they miraculously win the Legends division of the conference. But on Saturday October 15, right before tipoff, everything seemed so magical.
There hasn’t been much to cheer about for Detroit Lions fans in many, many years. Not including this year, Detroit has more preseason wins in the last 3 years than they do regular season wins (10-8). Not only that, in 2008 the Lions became the first team in NFL history to go winless in a season. Since Barry Sanders’ abrupt retirement all Detroit can hang its hat on is missing the playoffs (no appearances since 1999), Matt Millen being the worst team president in NFL history, drafting wide receivers in the first round three straight years, and losing an NFL record 24 straight road games. Yuck. All those years of sucktitude helped build a decent team of young stars: Calvin Johnson, Jahvid Best, Matthew Stafford, Ndamukong Suh. Everything came together this year’s as Detroit started out 5-0 and joined the Packers as the only undefeated teams in the league. Even more surprising is that the once hapless Lions had a few improbable, second half, come from behind victories amongst their total. With a chance to go 6-0, Detroit was hosting the surprising 4-1 San Francisco 49ers. Despite having a 10-0 lead to begin the 2nd quarter, the Lions were defeated 25-19. Calvin Johnson (Megatron) was held without a touchdown for the 1st time this season, Jahvid Best had to leave the game with a concussion, and head coach Jim Schwartz got into a ridiculous postgame altercation with 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh. It was a loss on so many levels, and probably conjured up memories of things like Joey Harrington that Lions fans have tried to repress.
The Tigers’ season is over, so they have no way to make amends for this year unless they make it to a World Series in 2012. They have a loaded roster, so this isn’t entirely unlikely. Michigan is off this week, and plays a winnable game next week against Purdue. Robinson’s Heisman chances are over, as are the Wolverines’ possibility of playing in a BCS bowl. Considering their roster and schedule they realistically didn’t have much of a chance anyway. The Lions play a tough game against Atlanta, but this is their chance to show the culture of losing in Motown is over. The future remains to be seen, but this week lots of things have been imported from Detroit, but victories are not one of them. On the bright side, thank goodness the NBA lockout is still in effect; Detroit citizens are exonerated from watching the horror show that is the Pistons.