Friday, January 01, 2010

2009: My Best (and Worst) of the Year

Happy New Year!

Time once again to look back on the previous year and see what clippings appeared in this space---and how accurate, wrong, or prophetic (or not) I turned out to be...

January 2009

On the outcome of Super Bowl XLIII:

This is the Super Bowl, folks. Aside from Warner (and I know that's like asking Mary Lincoln how she liked the play otherwise, but work with me here), the Cardinals have a bunch of first-timers on their team. Super Bowl rookies. Heck, playoff rookies until just a few weeks ago. The Steelers came to Tampa as if it was their birthright. They're probably still steaming that it took them THIS long to make it back to another Big Game.

Me thinks this one is going to be ugly at times -- sort of like the Ravens' win over the New York Giants eight years ago. Only, the Steelers don't have the handicap of Trent Dilfer as their quarterback. Ben Roethlisberger isn't chopped liver, you know. He has as many Super Bowl wins as Warner does.

I don't do predictions. But if you kidnap my family and force me to make one, here it is: Pittsburgh 17, Arizona 13.

If anyone asks, you didn't hear it here.

(The Steelers won, 27-23; not bad!)
February 2009

On the Pittsburgh Penguins' firing of Michel Therrien and his replacement, Dan Bylsma:

Therrien will be replaced by someone named Dan Bylsma, who was minding his own business, coaching the Pens' top minor league affiliate, when Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero called him up to The Show. The replacement of Therrien with the minor leaguer Bylsma is a repeat of how Therrien himself came to be the Penguins' coach; he was coaching in the minors when Olczyk was ziggied. Bylsma, 38, is a former NHL player and assistant coach, and a little research revealed that he was born in Grand Haven, Michigan. Fancy that.

Bylsma immediately started saying things that sounded just like a new coach who's trying to make an immediate imprint, which he is, of course.

"With the strengths we have, we should be able to go into buildings and make teams deal with the quality of players we have at every position," Bylsma was quoted on "I look at a group that can win games right now, and we need to do that. We can do this, but the players have to believe we can do this."

Yadda, yadda, yadda -- right?

(Umm, the Pens regrouped, big time, and won the Stanley freaking Cup)
On Allen Iverson's legacy:

The Pistons are finding out now, in the only way possible -- that being the hard way -- that what they've long said about Allen Iverson is, unfortunately, true.

Allen Iverson cannot win. Thus, you cannot win with Allen Iverson.

I'm afraid to report that it's true. It really is. I was a proponent of the Chauncey Billups-for-Iverson trade, when it happened in November. I thought that it was about damn time that the Pistons have a ball-hogging, take-the-big-shot guy on their roster. I wrote that the old way of doing things in Pistons-land -- the way that says there is no true superstar -- was proven to be the wrong and futile way. So I pumped the Iverson trade as not only coming around to the reality of the NBA, but doing so in one of the grandest ways possible -- with Iverson, a sure-fire Hall of Famer who was hungry for his first ring.

I was wrong. And all those folks who warned against acquiring a famously selfish player -- and selfish isn't always a bad thing in the NBA, by the way -- like Iverson, who said that you cannot win with AI, were absolutely, spot-on correct.

You really cannot win with Allen Iverson, after all.

(I don't believe this will EVER be proven wrong)

On Chris Osgood's regular season struggles:

Now there's this -- battling regular season demons to the tune of being among the worst goalies, statistically, in the entire NHL. The playoffs fast approaching. A very public and potentially humiliating ten-day "break" having been served. Questions, again, surrounding the Red Wings' goalie situation. The ever-popular backup goalie -- this time it's Ty Conklin -- waiting in the wings, just in case. The familiar cry to "put HIM in, instead!"

Osgood, it says here, will respond. Again. Just like he always has.

(Osgood was a Conn Smythe candidate until the Red Wings dropped Game 7 of the Cup Final on home ice)

March 2009

On the fall of the University of Detroit-Mercy's basketball program:

There was a time when the University of Detroit (before they added the Mercy part to their name) wasn't a-scared of anybody, when it came to basketball opponents.

Powerhouse DePaul? Bring it on! Marquette, on the road? When does the bus leave? Michigan? Just name the time and the place!

That was a long, long time ago.

U-D is now UDM. They added an "M", but lost their nerve.

Why, UDM won't even play Oakland University, some 30 miles or so north.

It's not the travel, of course -- it's the quality of the Golden Grizzlies.

UDM is ducking OU. Has been for years.

Oakland coach Greg Kampe was chatting with some Internet fans the other day, and portions of the chat were printed by the Free Press.

Who, Kampe was asked, is Oakland's biggest rival?

"It should be the University of Detroit-Mercy," Kampe said. "But they won't play us. So it's Oral Roberts."

Oral Roberts plays in Oakland's league, in case you were wondering. Which is more than you can say about UDM.

(UDM was never the same after they added the "M" to their name, and never will be---until they replace decrepit Calihan Hall)

On Kris Draper playing in his 1,000th game as a Red Wing:

To get an idea of Kris Draper’s time spent on the ice in a Red Wings uniform, go to the nearest calendar and look ahead ten days. Then add ten hours from the time it is currently.

Now, imagine Draper zooming up and down the ice, forechecking, pestering, winning face-offs, killing penalties, backchecking. Imagine him doing that, 24/7, for those ten days and ten hours. Non-stop.

Draper just played in his 1,000th game as a Red Wing. He’s done so mainly as a fourth-liner, meaning that he plays about a quarter of each game.

So, a little math.

One-thousand games, times sixty minutes per game (not including overtime), equals 60,000 minutes. A quarter of that is 15,000 minutes, or 250 hours. And there’s your ten days, plus ten hours.

It was almost thirteen years ago when it was feared that Draper wouldn’t play another minute in the NHL.

Hockey players aren’t pretty. Their faces are full of scars and crevices and their noses are disjointed and their dentist is on speed dial. Ted Lindsay’s face looks like it’s made of a combination of corduroy and rough-hewn leather, to show you. You half expect to see bolts sticking out from his neck.

Teddy knows he’s not pretty, so I’m not worried about making him angry.

Be aware of the pretty boy hockey player, for he’s probably not worth a hill of beans.

The red-headed Draper isn’t pretty, either. He looks like a Howdy Doody doll that got caught in a garbage disposal. But he’s still playing, thirteen years after they thought it was all over for him.

Hockey is a great sport for those who love to hate the guys who wear the black hats. Lindsay was hated in each of the other five cities that had NHL hockey in his day. They didn’t call him Terrible Ted for nothing. Once, in Toronto, there were death threats during the playoffs.

“We were skating warm-ups, and nobody wanted to be near me,” Teddy recalled once about the threats in Toronto. “I asked Gordie (Howe) why, and he said, ‘What if they’re a bad shot?’”

(Here's to Drapes, who's one of those guys who you'd like to honor by retiring his number, but can't quite move yourself to do it)

On the passing of legendary Tigers announcer George Kell:

I always found it so ironic that George Kell mastered the art of the strikeout call, when he hardly struck out himself.

Kell, who died Tuesday at age 86, won the 1949 batting title, nosing out Ted Williams, no less. That much, you probably know. But how about this? In doing so, Kell struck out 13 times. Total.

A big league season is about six months long. So Kell, in hitting .342, struck out about twice a month. Once every 15 days or so.

Yet of all the signature calls that Kell, as the Tigers' longtime broadcaster, had, I think I'd put his strikeout call in the top two or three.

There were a few versions.

In a non-crucial portion of the game: "He STRUCK him out," in that Arkansas-coated accent.

In a more important situation: "Hey, he struck him out!"

In the last out of the game, a big Tigers' win put to bed: "STRIKE THREE! OH, HE STRUCK HIM OUT!"

I remember on one occasion, channel 4 edited together all of Kell's strikeout calls during a Jack Morris win in Kansas City. Morris fanned ten or eleven guys, and the montage was all of the third strikes, as described by Kell.

They were pretty much all the same. "Heee....struck him out." Nothing too exciting. But the fact that they WERE all the same was, to me, fascinating. For that wasn't a sign of boring repetition, but rather of sameness and reliability and, because of it, the comfort that Kell provided the viewer/listener.

He was a speaker of half-sentences, and that was OK, too.

(Turned out to be a baaaaad year for Detroit sports icons passing away)

On Mike Babcock:
Mike Babcock is the best coach in the NHL, yet he'll likely never win Coach of the Year honors.

Such is how coaches and managers are viewed.

You may as well rename the COY award the "Most Improved Team and So Here's an Award for their Coach" Award.

There's a fallacy that great teams can't seem to be coached by great coaches. Or, at the very least, great teams would be great no matter who coaches them.


Sparky Anderson, his critics said, only needed to possess a pen when he managed the Reds. That's all that was required to write in the names of Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench and the rest every day.

Sparky's Big Red Machine -- that could have been managed by anyone and the results would have been the same.

Again, baloney.

If that was the case, if only the most talented teams won championships year after year, then we would be spared the drama of actually having the games be played.

We'd simply feed every team's roster into a computer and have it declare the champion for that year.

(Babcock's greatest challenge may be happening right now)

On the Red Wings' defeat of the Anaheim Ducks in seven games in the conference semi-finals:

Thomas Edison ought to be proud.

It was Edison, the inventor, who famously opined, "Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration."

Ole Tom would have loved the Red Wings' series-winning goal Thursday night at Joe Louis Arena.

It was a typical playoff tally. Devoid of artistry, full of ugly.

Dan Cleary's goal with exactly three minutes left in the third period wouldn't make the highlight reel of a beer league team's end-of-the-year video.

But it was beautiful to the Red Wings, who now move on to face the Chicago Blackhawks in a Western Conference Finals series that can't possibly be any more taxing than what the Wings and Anaheim Ducks just went through.

The series-winning goal, though, might have been drawn up on a playoff chalkboard.

Flick the puck to the net. Charge net. Bull your way in and keep jamming your stick where you think the puck might be. Repeat until red light goes on.

"It was the biggest goal of my career," Cleary said afterward.

So far.

The Red Wings are now rid of these Ducks, who seemed to made up of one line and two defensemen. Yet those five players managed to take the defending champions to the brink of disaster.

Oh, and a goalie. The Ducks did have that. And a good one.

Speaking of goalies, where are all the Chris Osgood bashers this morning?

Anyone? Anyone?

Osgood won the game for the Red Wings. That's all. Won the series for them, too, in the process.

Ozzie, yet again, came up big when the stakes were the highest.

(See above re: Ozzie's bounce back from the regular season)

On the controversial loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 3 of the conference finals:
Go ahead and accuse me of homerism--and I don't mean a man crush on Tomas Holmstrom.

Ignore the following as bleatings from a partisan.

Shake your head and say that my grapes are as sour as Dick Cheney's puss.

I don't care.

The Red Wings lost a hockey game in Chicago Friday night, and can you blame them?

They were playing five-on-seven all night.

It wasn't enough that the two referees got their jollies by watching the Red Wings play just about the entire first period shorthanded.

They also seemed to forget that hockey is a contact sport.

Niklas Kronwall just about killed Marty Havlat last night. But it was perfectly legal.

Legal to everyone, apparently, except for Gary Bettman's minions wearing the zebra stripes and orange arm bands.

(OK, so maybe I went overboard, but the officiating sure was suspect in that game)

On Matthew Stafford being the starter for the 2009 season:
There's a low rumble starting that I'm afraid is only going to get louder and more and more difficult to ignore as time goes by this summer.

Matthew Stafford, the Lions' bonus baby quarterback from Georgia, has his supporters, which is great.

But those supporters are taking their zeal too far.

They want Stafford to be the starting quarterback when the Lions tee it up for real on September 13.

What is it they say about those who forget the past?

If the Lions have even the tiniest peas for brains, they should at least be smart enough to know that Stafford shouldn't so much as warm up during any game this season.

He and his money should remain on the sidelines, from Week One thru Seventeen.

His jersey should be put on and removed week after week, never seeing a washing machine in between.

The Lions baseball cap should adorn his head at all times.

(OK, so I got this one wrong, big time!)

On quiet Red Wing Darren Helm:

Helm is the 22-year-old Manitobian who propelled the Red Wings to where they are now—about to take on the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Finals: The Sequel—thanks to his goal at 3:58 of overtime on Wednesday night in Game Five of the conference finals against Chicago.

Not that you would know it.

The reporters continued to ignore Helm as he told me about how his parents instilled a work ethic into him and that “anyone in this room” could have gotten that series-winning goal—present company excluded, of course—and that he plays “hard between whistles.”

The more I talked to him, the more I either wanted: a) him to be six years younger, or b) my daughter to be six years older.

Memo to all you dads out there: you’d be thrilled if your little girl came home with a kid like Darren Helm in tow.

(Helm is still figured mightily into the team's plans, if he can just stay healthy)

On Kirk Maltby and his role in the Red Wings' win in Game 1 of the Cup Final:
After the scintillating, gritty shift, as Maltby willed himself to the bench (he didn’t skate, per se, because skating involves moving the legs one in front of the other, and Maltby couldn’t, so he simply coasted), the partisan crowd got off their feet and gave the trio a rousing ovation.

After the game, I asked Maltby if that shift and the fans’ reaction to it reminded him of the heyday of the Grind Line, on which he played with Kris Draper and Darren McCarty so marvelously in the late-1990s, early-2000s. Won three championships, the Grind Liners did.

“You never like to live in the past, but yeah, this arena is awesome to play in,” Maltby said, appreciating the acknowledgement from the crowd for the hard work–not just on that shift but throughout all those Grind Line seasons.

“The fans are great (in Detroit),” Maltby went on. “They’re very hockey smart. They acknowledge all sorts of big plays, whether it’s a goal, or a hit, or a great save.”

On the way home from the game last night, I was trying to put into words how the Red Wings played, because it wasn’t a typical game for them. Mainly because they seemed to put defense first and offense second.

Then it occurred to me.

The Red Wings had won by playing the perfect road game in their own building.

(Until Game 7, of course)
After winning Game 2:

Barring a collapse, the Red Wings will win their second straight Stanley Cup, fifth in twelve years, and 12th in team history. And Osgood, who’s been amazing in every round, will be the hands down Conn Smythe winner.

(Yeah, about that...)
On The Tigers not seizing control of their division:

The rest of their division is sleeping, and the Tigers aren’t wandering off.

The AL Central, I thought, was going to be a nip-and-tuck, close shave the whole way. A three, maybe four team battle.

The Indians looked like the team to beat. Tells you how much I know.

The Twins are always hovering, thanks to that damned Metrodome.

The White Sox are defending champs, and they have handled the Tigers in recent years.

The Royals, to me, looked improved–a good pitch, no-hit team but pitching is the name of the game, right?

The Tigers?

I had them around 90 wins–which didn’t endear me as a very smart man to a lot of folks.

The pitching, they said, was supposed to be awful. The bullpen would be positively heinous.

Hold up, I countered. They play 162 games on the field, not on paper, for a reason.

Things aren’t always what they seem, I reminded the doubters.

I whiffed on the Indians, but I’ve pegged the Tigers pretty good. So far.

But the Detroiters aren’t getting off scott-free here.

This division, it’s turning out, is so for the taking that you can practically see the GET OUT OF JAIL FREE card lying on the ground and the Tigers stepping right over it. No team is playing particularly well. This is evident in the won/loss records, which show only Detroit playing on the north side of .500.

Oh, if the Tigers could only hit with any consistency! This race would be over with by now.

(It was true in June, and was true at the end of the season)
On the Penguins' winning the Stanley Cup:

Not very far from where Lemieux held court, I found Bylsma—just before he headed into the dressing room to enjoy the Cup with his players.

Was this moment ever, I asked, on his radar when he took over from Therien in February?

To my surprise, it kinda was.

“Actually,” Bylsma said, giving it some thought. “You know, there was a moment where I thought that this team could have a mural on Mellon Arena—a picture with them raising the Cup. But that was fleeting. We were more worried about just getting some wins.”

The coach agreed with the owner: the players “bought in” to the new system, the new way of doing things.

“This isn’t my victory,” Bylsma said. “It’s theirs,” he added, nodding toward the few players still on the ice.

The Penguins’ captain, Sidney Crosby, skated off in terrible pain after a hit early in the second period. It looked to be a knee injury—or something to do with the leg.

The score was 1-0, Pittsburgh. And there went arguably the team’s best overall player, doubled over in pain.

What was going through the coach’s mind at that point?

The deliciousness of the moment wasn’t lost on Bylsma.

“I just thought,” he said, truly giving his answer some time to formulate, “that it just made for a better story. That we didn’t have to rely on just one or two guys to win it.”

Bylsma adjusted his new Stanley Cup Champs hat.

“This is good stuff,” he said. “Good stuff.”

(So I guess that changing the coach thing worked, after all)

On the potential of Lions receiver Calvin Johnson

A healthier Johnson, in 2008, racked up over 1,300 yards receiving on 78 catches. He caught 12 touchdown passes—all while playing for the only 0-16 team in NFL history.

There’s a fluttering feeling in the tummies of Lions fans—and players and coaches—that this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the potential of Calvin Johnson.

He could be a one-man wrecking crew for years. He’s still a baby, in football terms. More like a bulldozer outfitted with a racing car engine.

Calvin Johnson could own Detroit. He’s the most talented, most physically gifted pass receiver to come down the Lions’ pike in, well…ever.

All the Lions need now is someone to throw the ball in his general direction with some degree of consistency.

(Maybe the Lions found that guy in Matthew Stafford; we'll see)
From July 2009

On Rasheed Wallace leaving the Pistons:

I, for one, won’t miss Rasheed Wallace. Once, he was the fire and brimstone that the Pistons needed to win a title. That was then.

Wallace, by the end of his time with the Pistons, had denegrated into a disinterested, scowling malcontent. It used to be that Sheed saved his disdain for his opponents and the officials. By the end, even his own team wasn’t immune to his toxic behavior.

Now he’s gone, off to Boston, where the Celtics hope he can do for them what he did for the Pistons five years ago — to be that missing piece.

In Detroit, he was just missing.

No Sheed.

On Curtis Granderson's baffling season

Fast forward to 2009, and where are the doubles? Where are the triples? Where’s the annoyance he’s causing opposing pitchers at the leadoff spot? Where’s the .280-.300 batting average?

It’s almost as if Granderson sold his baseball-playing soul to the Devil, in exchange for a season as a home run hitter.

Curtis has 19 dingers, which means he’ll likely eclipse his career high of 23 this season.


So we’re left with a .257 BA, 10 doubles, and four triples.

When Granderson missed the first few weeks of the 2008 season, his absence was used as one of the reasons why the Tigers came out of the gate oh-so-slowly. Made sense, as Grandy was coming off his dynamite 2007 season, when his 2B/3B/HR line read 38/23/23, and his average was .302.

How he failed to make the All-Star team in 2007 is almost as baffling as why he made it this year.

Granderson isn’t an All-Star—not now, and not when the team was announced. Maybe he made it because the center field crop is dry this year. Not sure.

(We all know what happened to Curtis, don't we?)
From August 2009

On the courage of Brandon Inge:

Inge should be on the disabled list, for the rest of the season, and should have had surgery weeks ago. Someone else should be playing third base.

“It affects everything you do,” he said recently. “Anything that gets you in any sort of an athletic position, that’s what hurts. Anything.

“It’s not fun playing like this.”

Even stepping into the batter’s box—stepping into it—causes Inge great discomfort.

But here’s where it gets legendary, as if that wasn’t enough.

“How could I go on the disabled list and not play, when we’re in first place, when there are people all over out of work and struggling to get by? What kind of message would that send?”


Did a professional athlete, being paid millions of dollars, just say that?

The words are Inge’s, said a few weeks ago.

From September 2009

On the news of Ernie Harwell's cancer:

If only the rest of us could accept Ernie Harwell’s fate as well as Ernie Harwell.

Leave it to Ernie to top us again when it comes to level-headedness and spirituality.

The news that Harwell, 91, the longtime Tigers broadcaster, has a cancerous tumor in a bile duct and that the prognosis isn’t terrific, is slowly but surely sinking into the souls of those who’ve listened to him call Bengals baseball for months, years, decades—whichever category you choose, and in whichever you happen to belong.

“I’m ready to face what comes,” Harwell told the Detroit Free Press. “Whether it’s a long time or a short time is all right with me because it’s up to my Lord and savior.”

OK, but what about the rest of us?

Ernie’s health is about to decline, perhaps quickly, because once this dreaded cancer gets started it can get downright insatiable until it achieves its purpose.

So who knows how long we have to prepare for the worst?

On Miguel Cabrera's performance down the stretch:

Miguel Cabrera—he of the big bat, big contract, and big expectations—has pulled another vanishing act, and at the worst possible time.

Cabrera’s talent is in rarified air. When he’s on, he’s a rightfully feared hitter who can break the spirit of entire teams. He has the goods to swing the bat of Albert Pujols or Alex Rodriguez or Ryan Howard. It is company with which he ought to feel comfortable.

But Cabrera is failing the Tigers now. Maybe it’s a lack of maturity or temerity, but Cabrera is proving to be a fraud in the broad shoulders department.

I’ve seen players of far lesser talent than what Cabrera possesses hunker down and pile the Tigers on their backs.

I thrilled to Kirk Gibson, who returned from the strike of 1981 as if a man on a mission. Gibby destroyed American League pitching in the second half of that divided season, batting a robust .375 from August 10 on, leading the Tigers straight into a truncated but no less real pennant race with the Milwaukee Brewers.

I remember Johnny Grubb—the Gentleman from Virginia—carrying the Tigers for several weeks in 1986 as the team scrambled to give the Boston Red Sox a run for their money.

Neither Gibson nor Grubb had anywhere near the talent that Miguel Cabrera has. Perhaps Cabrera has more of it in his left bicep than Gibson or Grubb had in their entire bodies.

But Kirk Gibson was the greatest money hitter I’ve ever seen in Detroit. By far.

Cabrera has a wonderful chance to own this town, right now. It’s all there for him. He should, by rights, be allowing his teammates to board him as he lugs them across the finish line, quite heroically.

(As with Granderson, we all know how Miggy ended the season)

From October 2009

On the hard-charging Minnesota Twins:

The Twins team that you’re seeing in September is more representative of what they truly are.

The Twins do many things better than the Tigers. They move runners along the basepaths better. They walk fewer hitters. They drive in runs from third base with less than two outs far better than the Tigers do.

They have a better lineup, hitting-wise.

They have Ron Gardenhire as manager, who nullifies Jim Leyland, and then some.

They had the Metrodome for 81 games.

Yet they—the Twins—are still likely to fall short, despite their late run, because they muddled along at or just below .500 most of the season. That’s their fault, of course.

That the Tigers couldn’t put the Twins away is an indictment against the Bengals.

(The Twins, of course, did NOT fall short)

On the eve of the one-game playoff between the Tigers and Twins:

If the Tigers blow this, if they aren’t able to finish this heist—and that’s what it would be—then they ought to issue a public apology for doing such a heinous thing to their financially-decrepit fan base.

Shame on the Tigers, if they raise all those people’s hopes up for five months, teasing them, only to collapse in the season’s final days.

It would be almost too much for these people in this God-forsaken state to bear.

But if the Tigers do win it, they’d be, at the same time, thieves. Took the Twins’ division and away they ran, into the night.

The Twins rightfully own the Central Division. They’re the best team, clearly. So some shame on them, too, for fooling around for 142 games and waking up barely in time for a late, 20-game run.

How fitting it is, both ways, that this playoff is being played in the Dome.

Fitting if the Twins win, because it would be one last “GOTCHA!” for the Tigers under that plastic roof, housing all those trash bags.

And incredible irony if the Tigers win, closing the Dome for good with such a monumental win.

On the fate of Red Wing goalie Chris Osgood's No. 30, post-retirement:

So this much we know.

One evening, in the not-too-distant future, fans will look to the rafters at Joe Louis Arena—or wherever the Red Wings will be playing by then—and see a large red “jersey” with a white No. 5 and the name “LIDSTROM” adorning it, the years played for the Red Wings listed below it, in red on a white band.

That much we know.

But, and I know my timing isn’t great here, I submit that those same fans should also be able to crane their necks and see a big red swatch of fabric with a white No. 30 and the name “OSGOOD” sewn onto it.

You heard me.

It’s a few weeks into the NHL regular season, and that may turn some people on, but this is the perfect time to be an argument starter, if you ask me. Let these October games drone on in the background while we muck it up in the corner, figuratively speaking.

Chris Osgood’s number retired? You betcha.

By the time he hangs them up for good, Osgood will have likely passed the great Terry Sawchuk for most wins by a Red Wings goaltender. For starters.

He has three Stanley Cups, two earned as the starter throughout the playoffs—and ten years apart, which must be some sort of record, somewhere.

Your honor, the defense rests.

From November 2009

On old Olympia Stadium:

Olympia seated about 16,000 for hockey and was just about the most intimate indoor arena you’ll ever enjoy.

The place shook when the crowd reaction was explosive enough. But when the din was low, you could hear the players shout to one another, even if you sat in the upper rows of the balcony. It was like a theatre that way.

The skates etching the ice, the puck being smacked from tape to tape as it was being passed around, the crunch of the glass during a solid bodycheck—those are hockey sounds to be treasured. And you could hear them at Olympia as if you were wearing personal earphones.

The acoustics were tremendous—which made it a wonderful concert venue, too. All the big name acts played the Olympia: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, you name it.

The Pistons called Olympia home for a few seasons before Cobo Arena opened on the riverfront in 1960.

Olympia’s front doors—it literally had a lobby—were just a sidewalk away from Grand River. Kind of like the old Maple Leaf Gardens on Yonge Street. The old-fashioned marquee with the hand-posted red letters would announce that evening’s festivities: “HOCKEY TONIGHT RED WINGS VS MONTREAL 8:00.”

Then the escalators, which were, frankly, a nightmare for anyone with either claustrophobia or a fear of heights. If you had both, you were in trouble. The steps were barely wide enough for two people. And that steep angle made you feel like you’d tumble backward on the people behind you if you leaned back a bit too much.

I feel sorry for those who never got a chance to take in a Red Wings game at Olympia Stadium.

I feel that way, because they’ll never make hockey palaces like that again. No one has it in them, I guess.

On the retirement of former Red Wing Brendan Shanahan:

Shanahan played long enough. He said so, retiring yesterday at age 40, which in the NHL is the new 30 anymore.

Before Shanahan, power forward was a basketball designation. “Cerebral” and “hockey player” were antonyms. Someone named Brendan was probably a Pistons assistant coach.

Shanahan started and ended a Devil, and it’s only fitting that he bookended his career, because he was a library on skates.

He knew his movies, for one. Shanahan didn’t only play on lines, he could recite them. From many a flick. That’s another thing he could have been: a movie reviewer. He wouldn’t have looked out of place in a camel jacket, a sweater vest, and glasses.

Brendan Shanahan brought the word “refined” to hockey, both in terms of his demeanor off the ice and his goal-scoring skills on it. He was, at his best, perhaps the most complete player in hockey. He might have led the league many a season in the Gordie Howe Hat Trick: a goal, an assist, a fight.

Yeah, he could fight. Can’t all Irish men?

(Almost immediately, Shanahan took a job in the NHL front office)

On the current state of the Michigan-Ohio State football rivalry:

Everything was better back in the day, wasn’t it?

Gas prices. McDonald’s. The “Tonight” show. And Michigan-Ohio State.

It wasn’t a game, it was High Noon. It was the fight with the kid after school. Be there or else. They didn’t finish it, they reconvened. The winner went to the Rose Bowl and the loser’s intestines got gnarled for 364 days.

MichiganOhioState. It was a two school rivalry said in one word. You could empty a crowded theatre in Ann Arbor or Columbus by saying it, more so than if you yelled “Fire!”

Now it’s been reduced, like a sauce that’s been sitting on the stove for too long. Its stock has fallen faster than General Motors. Ohio State so outclasses Michigan anymore that it’s not a rivalry, it’s a chore—something that has to be done before you can close up the cottage for the winter.

This pairing has all the drama and suspense of a “Brady Bunch” episode. They should put it on “Nick at Nite,” not ABC.

Michigan-Ohio State. I have one question for you.

That show’s still on?

On Curtis Granderson being traded to the Yankees, of all teams:

But New York? As if they need any more effervescence. Adding Granderson to New York is like spritzing champagne with carbonated water.

What a waste of a good guy. New York won’t appreciate what Granderson does for life outside of baseball. He’ll be able to walk the streets of Manhattan and the only time he’ll be stopped is if someone happens to ask him for the time. In Detroit, Grandy might one day have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Mayor Dave Bing in front of the groundbreaking for a new playground. In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg might not even have time to take his call—if he even knows who Curtis is.

But from a purely baseball perspective, the Yankees will love what Granderson brings to their team. If he ever learns to hit left-handed pitchers, his only days off will come from November thru March.

The Yankees got their man. Again. Comcast just bought NBC and 20 percent of your cable lineup, so why not Granderson to the Yankees? While we’re at it, let’s sell Yahoo to Google and give Nestle’s a great deal on Hershey. Hey, how about getting McBurger King done?

So there it is---2009 at in a nutshell.

How'd I do?


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