David Aldridge | Detroit is example (mostly) for title-starved fans
DETROIT - Here, in the best pro sports town in America, the locals are agonizing because their basketball team didn't sweep another playoff series, and the city and team grow impatient because these early rounds of the postseason don't mean anything.
DETROIT - Here, in the best pro sports town in America, the locals are agonizing because their basketball team didn't sweep
playoff series, and the city and team grow impatient because these early rounds of the postseason don't mean anything.
Here, in the best pro sports town in America, the countdown is on for the local hockey team - entering last night, seven more victories and the team, which has made the playoffs in 16 straight seasons, would win its, um, 11th Stanley Cup championship.
Here, in the best pro sports town in America, the baseball team - which famously lost 119 games just four years ago - is back in first place in its division, the season after getting back to the World Series. The turnaround, apparently, involved investing in young starting pitchers who have developed into some of the best in the game. A few clutch hitters and a strong bullpen were involved as well.
Here, in the best pro sports town in America, the local football team has been horrible, give or take a year, going on four decades now. The owner is reviled; the general manager is thought to be a boob; the draft picks are almost always universally condemned; talk radio sears with calls to fire the coach, trade the starting quarterback, and cut all the useless players.
Finally! Something that sounds familiar.
Of course, you care not a whit about Detroit; you're agonizing about The Streaks: 47, 32, 27 and 24 (the number of years since the Eagles, Flyers, Phillies and Sixers have won titles). But this is not a tease, or an admonition; consider the Detroit turnaround as inspiration. What happened here could happen anywhere - even in our little burgh - if you have the right management and the right coaches and the right plan.
(Before you say it - yes, I'd like to have Joe Dumars and Dave Dombrowski running my teams, too. Are they available?)
So while the Phillies, Sixers and Flyers look dead in the water, and the Eagles appear to be stuck in neutral, fortunes can change quicker than you think. Consider these Tales from the Motor City.
The Pistons have become the standard for consistent excellence in the NBA's Eastern Conference; they are about to reach the conference finals for the fifth straight season. But they weren't always this good. When Dumars, the team's president, took over in 2000, the Pistons were first-round losers, and Grant Hill - who soon would leave via free agency - had yet to win a playoff series.
But Dumars saw something special in Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton, brought Ben Wallace to town, and gambled that Rasheed Wallace would be worth the trouble. Yet Dumars has also drafted Rodney White and Darko Milicic in the top 10.
He's not a genius; he just works at it.
The Red Wings - the city's nickname is "Hockeytown" for a reason - have the most Cup titles of any U.S. team, not to mention a who's who of NHL greats of this generation: Yzerman, Hull, Hasek, Lidstrom, Shanahan, Chelios. And they've rebuilt on the fly as many in their core group aged and retired.
But before this stretch of unbroken success, the Wings were as futile as, well, the Flyers have been of late. They missed the playoffs in 15 of 17 years from 1966 to 1983 - a period known as the "Dead Wings" era.
The Tigers started 3-25 in 2003, finished that season with the eighth-worst record in major-league history, and traded a bunch of prospects for a useless Juan Gonzalez. But they turned things around faster than you can say "former general manager Randy Smith." After Dombrowski took over as general manager, the Tigers went from 43 wins to 72 in one season.
And when they needed a closer as manager, they went out and got . . . Jim Leyland. (I understand that's a sore subject back home.)
The Lions? Well . . .
"I haven't been able to go to the barbershop during football season in a long time," Chris Webber, a Lions fan, noted earlier this season.
They'd kill for the Eagles' quarterback controversies here, because at least the Eagles have a quarterback worth quarreling over. The Lions have stunk longer than Pig Pen, with blame spread equally among a series of rancid throwers, coaches without clue one, indifferent ownership, and, for the last five seasons, drafting by general manager Matt Millen that is off-the-charts bad. They have won exactly one playoff game since 1957.
Consider that when you light up the phone lines to light up the Birds' brain trust. It could be worse. Not by much, mind you. But it could be worse.