Published July 1, 2017
Detroit, right now, is the City of Chumps.
I’m talking about sports here, so save the political and social backlash.
I’ve been following the teams in this burg for 47 years and the current state is rivaling that of the black hole that was the 1970s.
From 1970-79, the Lions, Tigers, Pistons and Red Wings combined for a grand total of seven playoff appearances, with most of them ending in the first round.
Worse than that, the teams were thin on young, exciting individual talent. The Tigers were old (sound familiar?), the Pistons couldn’t get out of their own way with their veterans, the Lions were superstar-less and the Red Wings were a debacle.
Starting with the ’80s, things perked up. Even if team success was at times elusive, we saw an influx of young stars emerge.
Steve Yzerman. Isiah Thomas. Billy Sims (and, later in the decade, Barry Sanders). The core of the 1984 world champion Tigers arrived on the scene. The 1980s were the antithesis of the previous decade: filled with young, elite, superstar players that thrilled the masses.
With a lull in the action now—the Tigers are treading water and the other teams are in their off-season—I took a virtual look around the landscape of the state of sports affairs in Motown and it’s not pretty.
The Tigers so-called big stars are well past the age of 30 (Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera) and the other is likely going to be traded by the end of this month (J.D. Martinez). Starting pitcher Michael Fulmer won last year’s Rookie of the Year Award but be honest—does he thrill you? Are his starts must-see TV? Not yet. And when you look down the pike at future Tigers, there’s not much there that will move the meter in the anticipation department.
The Lions have a franchise quarterback but haven’t been able to cobble a strong unit around him. Some of their best young players are on the offensive line and one of them (Taylor Decker) will be out for months due to a shoulder injury. The team hasn’t been able to find a consistent running game since Sanders retired 18 years ago. Calvin Johnson’s career seems eons ago. The defense is lacking big time play makers who you’d pay to see play.
The Pistons have youthful players but the fans don’t like them. Whatever honeymoon there was with Andre Drummond is long finished. Drummond is hardly beloved in Detroit. His partner in basketball crime, point guard Reggie Jackson, isn’t exactly Zeke Thomas in the adoration-from-fans category. The fans would like to see both traded, even if for a crate of basketballs.
The Red Wings have 21 year-old Dylan Larkin but his sophomore season was such a disappointment that fans wonder what kind of player he really is. Is he someone to get excited about, or not? The starting goalie is 33 years old. One of the Red Wings’ best players continues to be Henrik Zetterberg, who’s been here since the Bush Administration. Everyone else on the roster is either old, middle of the road or unproven. Hardly anyone on the team elicits anything close to grandiose affection.
Are you depressed yet? I don’t mean to throw cold water on your holiday weekend. That’s not my intent. Feel free to go back to your cookout and your gardening and your fireworks. I’ll understand.
What does it say about the state of things in Detroit that the Lions, whose logo has been appearing in Webster’s for years next to the word “dysfunctional,” are being looked at as the town’s savior, with the other three teams languishing in purgatory?
Forget team success—or lack thereof—for a moment. The bigger concern is, where are all the young, up-and-coming stars?
The Tigers farm system, as has been documented ad nauseam, won’t make the Dodgers or Yankees shake in their cleats anytime soon.
The Red Wings might have something good coming down the road but the GM has a fetish for signing veteran free agents and choking off ice time to the kids.
The Lions have Matt Stafford but he’s not young or up-and-coming. You can salivate over April’s first round draft pick, LB Jarrad Davis, if you’d like, but is he selling tickets? Which young Lions player stokes your fire?
The Pistons are moving back to downtown this fall but wouldn’t that development be much more invigorating if their young PG and C weren’t vilified by the fans everyday on sports talk radio and in the comments section of every Pistons article on the Internet?
Who owns Detroit right now, from an athlete perspective?
Is this Stafford’s town? Miggy’s? JV’s?
Which pro athlete can look at the Motor City as being his oyster?
It was asked of me on social media when I suggested that I was going to write this column: Why does a young athlete have to own the town? Does it matter?
It does, if you choose to cheer for what’s ahead rather than what has passed. Would you rather bite into a fresh, crispy salad, or one that’s been getting soggy in the fridge for days?
Young stars are important because they sell enthusiasm and tickets. They’re a PR and marketing team’s dream. Peach fuzz trumps gray whiskers any day of the week.
Our four major pro sports teams are filled with nostalgia. Trouble is, I’m talking about the guys that are still playing.
When Justin Verlander takes the mound, it’s impossible not to think of yesteryear, when he was dominant. When Miguel Cabrera is batting in the .260s, it makes one long for the glory days of Triple Crowns and MVPs.
You’re practically waiting for the baling wire that is keeping Zetterberg, the aging Red Wings captain, together, to give way. Today, the future inhabitants of Little Caesars Arena signed defenseman Trevor Daley to a three-year contract. Daley is going to be 34 years old by the time the puck drops on the new season, which means he fits right in, sadly.
Stafford is the oldest 29-year-old in football because he’s played for the Lions since 2009.
The Pistons are the one team whose roster isn’t dotted with ties to the past, but as I said, the young guys haven’t captured any hearts.
Still with me? Isn’t that grill looking better by the paragraph?
Well, let’s put on some rose-colored glasses for a moment.
Teams’ fortunes can change quickly. Futures can get bright in a hurry with the right draft selections. An unheralded player could emerge. Your team could fleece another in a trade.
It can happen. Stranger things have.
I now return you to your regularly scheduled summer programming. Flick on the Tigers and wait. Patiently.
How about that Luke Kennard?
Did I hear “WHO?”