Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Jelly Has Lost Its Peanut Butter: Darren McCarty, Ex-Red Wing

They are two of the most everlasting images in Detroit sports history, post-Baby Boom Era: Kirk Gibson raising his arms triumphantly after his homerun off Goose Gossage in the 1984 World Series, and Darren McCarty artistically scoring the clinching goal in June 1997 to win the Red Wings first Stanley Cup since 1955. Ask any Motor City sports fan, and I guarantee you these two will be on the top of about 90% of the lists.

Well, McCarty is gone now, an ex-Wing thanks to the pitfalls of the new CBA between NHL players and owners. The club bought out his contract, because there was so much money to be cut and too few options around to spread those cuts. And although it happened in the thick of summer vacation, there was nonetheless a collective sigh heard around Detroit when McCarty got the axe.

Darren McCarty is a classic example of what plays well in Detroit -- hard-nosed, blue-collar, no-nonsense types. McCarty was about as Detroit as it gets when it comes to professional athletes, and he fit this shot-and-beer town like, well, a hockey glove.

This city has always embraced guys that the folks feel they can relate to -- much more so than the fancy-shmancy athlete who would just as soon leave town the moment the season is done, never to return until the curtain opens on the next one. McCarty led a rock band, was active in the McCarty Cancer Foundation, and served on the ice as protector and enforcer for the team's skilled players, of which he would admit he certainly was not one. But he did have the skill, if you want to call it that, to beat the stuffing out of Claude Lemieux when Lemieux was ripe for it, and now that I think about it, the image of McCarty pounding the turtled-up Lemieux may be #3 on that list of everlasting memories, or not much behind.

McCarty, enforcing the rules with Mr. Lemieux

Forget where certain guys are born and reared -- players like Darren McCarty were adopted Detroiters, both ways. The feeling is always mutual between a guy like McCarty and the city's sports fans. If you stay here and work your tail off and don't complain and be visible around town and do some charitable things, Detroit fans will welcome you into their hearts like a new puppy. And McCarty was about as much of the fabric of Detroit sports -- Detroit, period -- as anyone who's played here in the last 25, 30 years, maybe longer.

How many other athletes have written open letters to the fans upon news of their dismissal? McCarty did, and the emails and return letters from the enthusiasts were overflowing. I'm convinced some even shed real tears. Is that corny? Maybe. But isn't it refreshing, in this day and age of the Unapproachable Athlete, to see such genuine affection between player and fan?

The funny thing is, I'm not really sure who the Red Wings plan on replacing McCarty with on the ice -- he may not have been terribly skilled but he was certainly valuable. The team says it was all about money and their hands were tied and I believe some of that propaganda. But I'm not sure how hard management worked to get creative and try to fit McCarty into the scheme of things; wouldn't he have played for less money in a restructured contract? I don't know all the ins and outs, but it would have been awfully nice to see both parties do some fancy footwork that would have enabled Darren McCarty to wear the Winged Wheel this season, and beyond.

The toughest thing may be seeing McCarty playing hockey in another city, wearing another sweater. It is highly possible, you know -- he's not all THAT old. But even if that happens, we all know he is a Detroiter in his heart. And that runs deeper around here than the Detroit River.

1 comment:

Kevin Antcliff said...

Sorry to get off topic, but I wanted to let everybody know that I'll be posting all of the after practice comments from players and coaches on my blog. Some interesting stuff in there.

OK, carry on.