Archive for Out of Bounds

So the Red Wings made the playoffs this year. So what?

Isn’t that what they do every year?

It’s spring, and the Red Wings will be playing hockey while the Tigers play baseball. What’s the big deal?

The Red Wings are in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and I may as well have just told you that caffeine is in coffee and GM is in trouble.

The Red Wings are the longest-running post-season show going in professional sports. They are “The Mousetrap” of hockey.

The Red Wings have been doing this playoff thing for 23 seasons in a row. They are the team that has its table by the window, reserved, while other post-season patrons have come and gone.

For all we know, the NHL might not even hold the playoffs if the Red Wings aren’t there to participate in them.

Our daughter turns 21 on Monday and her parents hadn’t even met the last time Detroit didn’t have an entry in the Stanley Cup tournament. And now here is our daughter, who is going to be old enough to legally tip a drink to celebrate the first playoff puck drop next week.

The Red Wings’ 23-year run in the playoffs has outlasted marriages and even the second marriages of those divorced in between. It’s seen four presidents, gobs of Congressmen and dozens of political scandals. It started when Dennis Rodman was normal.

So this is what they do, these Red Wings. They play hockey when the lawn mowers are whirring, the grills are smoking and the trees are blossoming. We start watching them with sweats and fuzzy slippers on and by the time they’re through, we’ve switched to shorts and flip-flops.

The Red Wings are in the playoffs. So what else is new?

Well, there’s this. The Red Wings made their playoff push down the stretch without anyone named Zetterberg and, mostly, without anyone named Datsyuk.

The Red Wings are in the playoffs with a cache of rookies, a few reliable vets and an old man who spent 17 years somewhere else. It seems like everyone on the roster is either 22 or 40.

There’s Tomas Jurco and Tomas Tatar and Riley Sheahan and Gustav Nyquist, which isn’t exactly a Who’s Who of Red Wings lore. Heck, they’re really not even a Who’s Who of last year’s Red Wings.

There’s the old man, Daniel Alfredsson, who is 41 years old and without a Stanley Cup—hockey’s Ernie Banks, though Alfredsson, at least, has seen his share of playoff hockey (16  of his 18 NHL years, to be precise).

But once the puck drops next week to kick off the team’s annual kick at the can, it will only matter that the boys in the blood red sweaters with the winged wheel on their chest are present and accounted for. It won’t matter what the names are on the back of the jerseys.

These are the Red Wings. They have a mystique, like the Raiders had in the NFL or the Yankees have in MLB or the Celtics have in the NBA—all teams whose uniforms never change, nor their marketability.

Don’t for a moment think that the NHL isn’t happy to have the Red Wings along for yet another post-season ride. Hockey fans may tire of seeing Detroit as a playoff team, but the league never will.

The Red Wings are money. Their North American-wide fan base travels well with them, and that will probably be even more so now that the Red Wings are in the Eastern Conference and won’t be starting any playoff series more than 700 miles away from Detroit.

This will be old school playoff hockey, even if the Red Wings may not even face an Original Six team in any round. It’s old school because this will be like hockey in the old days, when there wasn’t a team west of Chicago and all the traveling was done by train.

The Red Wings won’t be taking any trains to Pittsburgh or Boston—their two possible first round opponents—but neither will any playoff game start after 7:30 p.m. No more cross country treks to Los Angeles or San Jose or Anaheim.

Over the past 23 seasons, the Stanley Cup playoff formats have changed, the divisions have changed names and teams, the Red Wings have even switched conferences, have played for four different coaches and through it all, one thing has remained constant.

Springtime hockey in the Motor City.

The Red Wings have accomplished this 23-year post-season streak in a time unlike the Original Six days, when 67% of the teams made the playoffs just by showing up each night. In fact, unless you were the Rangers or the Bruins, you were in the playoffs in the 1950s and much of the ‘60s.

This current streak has been kept alive in a time where just 16 of 30 teams qualify, or barely 53% of the league.

Look at three of the four teams the Red Wings defeated in the Finals in their Stanley Cup championships starting in 1997.

The Philadelphia Flyers, the ’97 victims, barely made the playoffs in 1998 and were dismissed in five games in the first round.

The Washington Capitals, who lost to the Red Wings in the ’98 Finals, finished 14 games below .500 the next year and out of the playoffs.

The Carolina Hurricanes, the 2002 Finals participants, nosedived to 21 games below .500 and were the worst team in the Eastern Conference in 2002-03.

Only the 2009 Penguins, who lost to the Red Wings in the ’08 Finals, rebounded—and they won the Cup.

So it’s not like making it all the way to the Cup Finals guarantees success, even just one year hence.

But the Red Wings have suffered Finals losses, first-round knockouts, Conference Finals disappointments and have won four Cups during this 23-year streak—yet no playoff result of the previous spring has managed to have anything to do with keeping Detroit out of the post-season party the following season.

The Red Wings are in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Again.

And where is Dennis Rodman these days?

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The most consistently successful franchise in pro sports today is located in a city where they beseech you to remember the Alamo—not to mention George Gervin, Larry Kenon and Artis Gilmore.

It’s in a town where there isn’t any other major pro sports team. It’s the Green Bay of the NBA.

The San Antonio Spurs started playing seriously for the NBA championship in the late-1990s, and they haven’t stopped since.

Other NBA franchises, some steeped in history, have been made over—sometimes several times—in the past 20 years.

The Boston Celtics, who in the 1960s were as reliable every spring as the first robin and who won several more titles in the ‘70s and ‘80s, fell on hard times in the late-1990s, early-2000s before regrouping and becoming champions again in 2008.

The Los Angeles Lakers, by the mid-1990s, had become impostors wearing purple, like a bunch of department store Barneys. Then Phil Jackson arrived from Chicago and got the Lakers wearing championship belts again.

The Chicago Bulls sank like a stone after Michael Jordan “retired”, their six championships in the 1990s becoming distant memories almost overnight.

The Detroit Pistons…well, you get the idea.

But the Spurs? They’ve never dipped, really, since center David Robinson finally joined them in 1989 after serving two years in the Naval Academy following his drafting in 1987.

The Spurs’ won/lost records over the past 20 years have been as consistent as a working clock.

The Spurs win 50+ games every year, make the playoffs, and they’re typically one of the last few teams standing in June. Four times since 1999, they’ve been the only team standing.

Their coach, Gregg Popovich, has a career winning percentage of near .700 in over 1400 games. Popovich could win 50 games every season in his sleep.

The blossoming of the Spurs under Popovich came in 1996.

The Spurs had Robinson but hadn’t been able to put the right parts around him. Much of that was on Popovich, who became the team’s GM in 1994.

You have to be lucky to be good, and that was certainly true of the Spurs in 1996. The team got off to a 3-15 start, and Popovich fired coach Bob Hill and replaced him with…Gregg Popovich. I know—it doesn’t sound lucky so far. Give me a moment.

Popovich had been an assistant with the Spurs under Larry Brown for a few years starting in the late-1980s and he figured, what the heck—I’ll coach the team myself.

Robinson broke his foot during that 3-15 start of 1996 and missed all but six games of the ’96-97 season. Other key Spurs players missed significant time with injuries, and it all ended with a 20-62 record.

Popovich didn’t fire himself as coach. He kept wearing the dual hats of coach and GM.

Here’s where the good luck kicked in.

Because of all the injuries, not the least of which was suffered by future Hall of Famer Robinson, the Spurs ended up with the no. 1 overall pick in the 1997 NBA Draft and drafted a big man from Wake Forest named Tim Duncan.

Duncan’s insertion into the lineup and Robinson’s return from injury put the Spurs back in familiar territory with 56 wins in 1997-98.

One year later, with the Spurs’ version of the Twin Towers manning the paint, the Spurs won their first NBA title in 1999, beating the New York Knicks in five games.

Popovich shed the GM label in 2002 to concentrate on coaching, which was like Frank Sinatra quitting acting to focus on singing.

It worked, though, as the Spurs won their second championship in 2003, overcoming the New Jersey Nets in six games. It was Robinson’s swan song as a player.

David Robinson retired, but the Spurs kept winning, which is their—and Popovich’s—genius. Players have come and gone, including Hall of Famers, yet the Spurs have never bottomed out.

The Miami Heat won the championship in 2006, and two years later, despite having Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal, and a Hall of Fame coach in Pat Riley, Miami won 15 games.

Of course, the Heat rebuilt themselves in a hurry, but they had to occupy the outhouse before getting back to the penthouse.

The Spurs don’t do that collapse-before-you-can-get-better thing.

Another NBA crown was won in 2005, and again in 2007. The Spurs’ key trio then, as it is now, was Duncan, point guard Tony Parker and shooting guard Manu Ginobili. The latter two are fine players, but probably not Hall of Famers.

That’s another thing. The Spurs rosters haven’t been filled with iconic names, like the Celtics, Lakers, Pistons and Bulls’ championship teams have been.

The Spurs win about 70 percent of the time under Popovich, but there have been no Bird, McHale, Parish or Kareem, Magic, Worthy-like combinations that Popovich has coached.

The Spurs draft well, trade cunningly and they have Popovich, 65 years old, a two-time Coach of the Year winner (2003, 2012) and four-time world champion.

The Spurs have been relevant for 15 years in a league where literally no other team of the NBA’s 30 franchises can say that.

OK, that’s the NBA, but what about other sports, you might ask.

Let’s look at other sports.

In baseball, even the mighty New York Yankees haven’t won as many World Series as the Spurs have won NBA championships since 1999. The Yanks have won three WS (1999, 2000, 2009) to the Spurs’ four NBA crowns.

In hockey, the Detroit Red Wings, perhaps the Spurs’ stiffest competition when it comes to consistent excellence in pro sports, have won two Stanley Cups (2002, 2008) since 1999.

In football, the New England Patriots have won three Super Bowls (2001, 2003, 2004) during the Spurs’ reign of terror.

Yet the Spurs are rarely mentioned when it comes to which franchises are the best in pro sports today.

Well, now they are, right here.

The beat goes on this season. At this writing, Popovich and the Spurs are 56-16. Another 60-win season, which would be Popovich’s fourth, beckons.

Duncan, Parker and Ginobili aren’t getting any younger, but it doesn’t appear that it will matter going forward, as Popovich has a deft ability of adding key players from the draft or free agency that is unmatched by any basketball man in the NBA—including execs like Pat Riley.

Popovich won with David Robinson and he won without David Robinson. It’s likely that in the near future he’ll win without Tim Duncan, who is going to turn 38 during the playoffs in April.

On second thought, forget the Alamo. Remember Gregg Popovich, the best coach in pro sports who has been hiding in plain sight for 15 years.

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Back in October, when the Pistons were slogging through the exhibition season, a game was won at the Palace when Detroit’s Josh Smith hit a three-point shot at the final buzzer.

It was a meaningless game, as all exhibition matches are.

Yet running onto the court, celebrating as if his team had just won a playoff series, was Pistons owner Tom Gores.

Gores slapped it high with a few of the players, hooted and hollered, and clapped his hands, a big grin on his face.

It was a stinking pre-season game. Even some of the Pistons looked at their owner cross-eyed, as if to say, “What’s with this guy?”

It’s a question that haunts the team to this day, some five months later.

What’s with this guy, Tom Gores?

The Pistons have 12 games remaining. They won’t be making the playoffs. They play now to protect their lottery pick, though you’d be hard-pressed to get anyone within the organization to admit it. But it’s true.

Gores, the Hollywood owner whose Flint roots have been supplanted by Tinsel Town, was quizzed about his team on Saturday night, when the Pistons were halfway through losing to the Los Angeles Clippers at the Staples Center.

Specifically, Gores was asked about the firing of coach Mo Cheeks, which came just 50 games into Cheeks’ tenure as Pistons coach.

“I feel good about it,” Gores said, which tells you something right there. There ought to be some humility and consternation when firing someone. But Gores feels good about giving Cheeks the ziggy.

“I didn’t feel like the young players were developing,” Gores continued in explaining away Cheek’s cashiering.

The Pistons, at the time, were 4-14 after Cheeks was canned and replaced by interim coach John Loyer.

“I think John’s doing a great job,” Gores said about the dead man walking coach Loyer.

Cheeks’ winning percentage was .420. Loyer’s, albeit in a smaller sample size, was .222 at halftime of the Clippers game, which LA won, 112-103.

Gores’ comments at the Staple Center smacked of an owner who doesn’t know what he’s doing.

The words were a mixture of rah-rah and phony, canned exuberance.

“We’re going to get it done,” Gores said. “I believe in this team. I believe in Detroit.”

Then this, perhaps the most damning quote of them all.

“The team is better than its record,” Gores actually said. “It just is.”

The Pistons will play out these remaining 12 games, after which will follow perhaps one of the most important and anticipated off-seasons in franchise history.

How Tom Gores steers the ship this summer will go a long way toward determining the future of the Detroit Pistons for the next 10 years.

That declaration ought to give you the willies.

When pressed about the future of GM Joe Dumars on Saturday in LA, Gores, as expected, didn’t tip his hand. It may have been the smartest thing he did and said that night.

But what Gores chooses to do about Dumars will speak volumes about the owner’s lucidity.

If Gores brooms Dumars, as expected—and as should happen—that’s only half the deal. The other, and far more important half, is what the owner does in terms of picking a replacement.

Gores’ assertion that the Pistons, a mish-mash of parts that simply don’t mesh—how’s that for alliteration—are better than their 26-44 record, is disturbing.

It plainly proves that the owner doesn’t know a basketball from his rear end.

What Gores needs to do is dispatch Dumars, who probably is ready and even eager to be let go, and go in search of a sound basketball mind to run the show while the owner hob-nobs on Rodeo Drive.

The answer is not Isiah Thomas, who has been rumored to be next in line for the keys to the executive washroom. Isiah was in LA on Saturday, and he chatted with Gores, in plain sight.

“I’m a fan,” Isiah said when cornered. “I’m in no position to critique the team. I hope they play well and win every night.”

The Pistons will be honoring Isiah and the other members of the 1989 Bad Boys championship team on Friday night, when they gather for a 25th anniversary celebration at the Palace. Gores will have to fly to Michigan and face the media. He’d probably rather have a root canal.

Presuming that Gores doesn’t take leave of his senses and hires Thomas, it is up to the owner to settle on a basketball man and let him do his thing. Because it is apparent that Gores’ grasp of professional basketball is shaky at best.

The Pistons could do worse than Troy Weaver.

Weaver is a vice president and assistant GM with the Oklahoma City Thunder. He is regarded as a supreme talent evaluator, and has already been considered for the GM position with the Utah Jazz in 2012. Weaver turned Utah down and chose to remain with the Thunder.

Weaver held the position of Director of Player Personnel for the Jazz in 2007-08. He spent three seasons (2004-07) as head scout for the Jazz before his promotion.

Prior to joining the Jazz, Weaver was an assistant coach at Syracuse University for four seasons (2000-04), working under the great Jim Boeheim.

The man is steeped in basketball knowledge.

In a way, Weaver is the Thunder’s Jim Nill, albeit in a shorter time span.

Nill is the GM of the NHL’s Dallas Stars, but prior to that, he spent almost 20 years in the Detroit Red Wings organization, most of those years in the front office as GM Ken Holland’s lieutenant.

It was accepted that Nill would eventually leave the Red Wings to run a team of his own.

Troy Weaver is ready for such a challenge in the NBA. Tom Gores would be derelict in his position as owner of the Pistons if he didn’t make a run at Weaver.

Weaver wouldn’t be the big name that Isiah Thomas would be, but Weaver would be at least twice as smart of a choice over Isiah—and cheaper.

Gores has displayed his utter lack of basketball prowess. But he can erase all that if he makes a smart hire after Dumars is released.

Whether the Pistons owner is capable of such a hire is ambiguous in its likelihood. But he’s the one making the calls, so all Pistons fans can do is hope.

 

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Jack Adams looked like a lot of things, but a hockey coach wasn’t necessarily one of them.

He was a rotund man with a bulbous nose, a wearer of wire-rimmed glasses. He was one of those haggard-looking men who could never have been young. He could have been a heavy in a gangster film.

If Adams put skates on, he surely could never have seen them past his jelly belly.

Adams ran the Red Wings from behind the bench and behind his desk. He was coach from 1927-1947 and general manager from 1927-63. He presided over the glory days of the 1950s, when the Red Wings were virtually perennial league champions and more than occasional Stanley Cup winners.

The Red Wings’ minor league affiliate in the ‘50s and early 1960s was in Edmonton. Adams, according to Ted Lindsay, would walk around the team train and the dressing room with a pair of train tickets to Edmonton sticking out of his breast pocket, plainly visible.

“You see so many 5-on-3s these days,” the erstwhile left winger Lindsay told me back in 2006 as we chatted during a hockey roundtable discussion. “Back in my day, if you took a second penalty to put our team down two men, Adams would threaten to send you down to Edmonton. Or, he would just send you there.”

Adams coached in the days when the Red Wings were a mostly veteran team that had precious little roster space and ice time for young players. He didn’t suffer youthful indiscretion easily.

The time of Jack Adams and the Red Wings’ heyday of the 1950s was not dissimilar to the Detroit teams from the mid-1990s to the late-2000s.

Scotty Bowman, then Mike Babcock, didn’t have to walk around with train tickets to Grand Rapids stuffed in their breast pockets. The Red Wings were a team of Hall of Famers, steeped with playoff experience.

Today, Babcock coaches a different group.

The coach can’t roll out four lines, each stocked with talent, skill and purpose, like he did when he first came to Detroit in 2005. Because of injuries, it’s a challenge to find 12 healthy forwards to dress each night, period.

Because of injury, Babcock doesn’t have Pavel Datsyuk and he doesn’t have Henrik Zetterberg. Because of retirement, Babcock hasn’t had Nick Lidstrom for a couple years. He doesn’t have the Danny Cleary or Mikael Samuelsson that he had seven or eight years ago—as each of those forwards are now mere shells of their former selves.

Stephen Weiss, the free agent signed away from Florida, is injured, and even when healthy, Weiss was proving to be fraudulent.

Babcock’s team has been held together with baling wire and duct tape—and diapers and baby powder.

The leader by process of elimination now is 41-year-old Daniel Alfredsson, signed away last summer from Ottawa. Alfie’s two decades in the league has proven to be even more valuable than expected when the Red Wings inked him.

Back in 2007, when covering the Stanley Cup playoffs, I wrote a column that playfully asked where in the dressing room the Red Wings were hiding their fountain of youth. It was a time during the post-season when the team was getting key contributions from a collection of players whose ages were much closer to 40 than to 30. Some had already passed 40 with flying colors.

The team didn’t win the Stanley Cup that spring, but it did the following year and came a goal away from winning it again in 2009. In a way, that seems like a million years ago.

The Red Wings of today are now a collection of young, eager, energy-filled kids who started the season in Grand Rapids and figured they’d likely end it there.

Babcock is in un-chartered territory here, coaching this group of players. Behind the bench, he’s used to tapping guys on the shoulder who have resumes, not who need to show ID at the bar.

But the push for a 23rd consecutive playoff appearance this season, while uneven and at times frustrating, hasn’t required Babcock to wave train tickets around.

While some of the veterans have faltered or been hurt, the Griffins-turned-Red Wings have provided depth and an “aw, shucks” mentality that is a desired antidote to the pressure being felt at this time of the year.

While experience is terrific, there’s also something to be said for never having been there before.

Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist, Riley Sheahan and Tomas Jurco are four forwards whose buzzing around the ice and “It’s great to be young and a Red Wing” attitude is help lifting Babcock’s team into playoff contention.

About that.

This is another place where Babcock and the veteran players remaining on the roster are not familiar.

The Red Wings are used to being in the playoffs when the puck drops on Opening Night in October. Their January-March games have meant little in the standings. Their over/under for points never dipped below 100.

But at this writing, the Red Wings have 13 games remaining, and every one has playoff implications. The team has been scrambling for the post-season since Thanksgiving. There is no cruising; there is no resting guys for the playoff grind.

And you know the NHL.

The Stanley Cup playoffs have been the playground for teams whose scratching and clawing for the few remaining berths in the season’s final weeks have led to terrific post-season success.

The talent-wealthy and elite have often been drummed out in the early rounds by teams who’ve been playing, essentially, playoff hockey for weeks.

The Red Wings have been on that side of the coin before, and the finality when the horn sounds and there is no more hockey to be played, while the so-called lesser team whoops it up, is no fun.

For all the thrills and Stanley Cups since 1997, there have been some long summers in Hockeytown as well, with seasons ruined by “Cinderella” teams.

It’s quite possible that Mike Babcock, Stanley Cup winner, junior World Championship winner and two-time Olympic Gold Medalist coach, won’t be leading a team into the playoffs next month. It’s that dicey for the Red Wings now.

If the Red Wings don’t qualify, it won’t be because they were torpedoed by the silly mistakes made by the young. It will simply be because they weren’t good enough—a team decimated by injuries that didn’t quite have enough skill to squeeze in.

That might make the summer seem not so long, after all.

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Mar
15

Tanking or Not, Pistons’ Irrelevance Continues Unabated

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Scotty Robertson was the coach of the Pistons the same way that Kevyn Orr is an emergency manager—a man who inherited a mess of immense levels.

Scotty was a heart attack survivor, which usually isn’t a desired background to be a professional basketball coach—especially that of the Pistons at the time.

It was the spring of 1980, and Scotty was tabbed by GM Jack McCloskey to take over a Pistons team that had won a grand total of 16 games the season before—a team decimated by the gutting it was given by predecessor Dick Vitale.

The Pistons were bereft of talent and draft choices. Vitale had left the franchise stripped bare.

Robertson must have wanted to be an NBA coach again in the worst way; for that’s exactly what being the coach of the Pistons was when Scotty took the reins.

Scotty put his team through the paces in training camp—his collection of marginal NBA talent and wannabes, and gave a brutally honest assessment to Jerry Green of the Detroit News on the eve of Opening Night in October, 1980.

“We’re gonna try. We’re gonna work hard,” Scotty told Green. “But we’re not very bleeping good.”

The coach was right. The Pistons soldiered through the 1980-81 season, winning at a pace of about once every four tries. Their record was 21-61.

Scotty nailed it. The Pistons weren’t very bleeping good.

There is an ugly word floating around the NBA today—one that wasn’t part of the lexicon back in 1980.

The word is “tanking.”

The NBA’s playoffs aren’t like their winter brother’s in the NHL.

In the NHL, every team from first seed to eighth fancies itself as capable of winning the Stanley Cup. That feeling has been fed by recent history, as lower seeds have managed to skate their way to the Cup Finals.

But in the NBA, a low seed has to be blessed by the basketball gods to win a single playoff game, let alone an entire series. Thoughts of ascending to the Finals are mere fantasy.

The gap between the haves and have-nots in the NBA is Grand Canyon-like in scope.

You can’t fluke your way to the Finals in pro basketball. You can’t ride a hot goalie. There aren’t crazy bounces. There’s no sudden death overtime.

In the NBA, you can pretty much name the conference finals participants when the basketballs are tipped off on Opening Night. There aren’t too many surprises come June.

Hence that ugly word, tanking.

The tanking theory says that since you’re unlikely to score an upset in the playoffs as a low seed, then why try to make the playoffs at all?

Why qualify, when by your exclusion, you get thrown into the draft lottery?

And the lower you finish in the standings, the more ping pong balls you get with your team’s name on it come lottery time.

It’s a twisted reality, but a reality nonetheless.

Scotty Robertson’s 1980-81 Pistons weren’t good enough to “tank.” They were just bad naturally, the old-fashioned way.

Today’s Pistons talk publicly of playoffs and some sense of urgency to qualify. They have been hovering at between two-to-four games out of the no. 8 seed for weeks.

It may all be talk, it may be sincere. We’ll likely never know.

It’s painfully obvious that even if the Pistons wiggle into the post-season, all they’d be doing is extending their season by four games—five if they get incredibly lucky.

The first round of the NBA playoffs is filled with David and Goliath match-ups, with Goliath winning every time.

There really is no incentive for the Pistons to make the playoffs. The comical thing is, there really isn’t any incentive for those “battling” for the final seed to make the playoffs, either.

The withering Pistons fan base in Detroit appears to lean heavily on the side of their team “tanking,” that ugly word that means, basically, lose on purpose. Or, at the very least, don’t try all that hard to win.

It goes against every fiber of what competition is supposed to mean, but there you have it.

The Pistons, if they are indeed “tanking,” really can’t be blamed for simply playing the system—which makes the system all wrong, of course.

On Saturday night at the Palace, the Pistons hosted one of the Goliaths, the Indiana Pacers. And for 24 minutes, the Pistons must have forgotten that they were supposed to be mailing it in.

At halftime, the Pistons led the beasts from Indiana, 60-41.

By the end of regulation, the game was tied, 100-100.

By the end of overtime, the Pacers had won, 112-104.

The Pistons must have remembered to tank just in the nick of time.

Scotty Robertson survived the Pistons, just as he survived his heart attack. After the 21-61 season, the Pistons grabbed Isiah Thomas and Kelly Tripucka in the 1981 Draft.

Scotty’s second and third seasons saw the Pistons win 39 and 37 games, respectively. Then he got fired. Someone named Chuck Daly replaced him.

Pistons interim coach John Loyer is today’s Scotty Robertson, though it looks highly unlikely that Loyer will survive the Pistons.

Elevated to the head coaching position following the cashiering of Maurice Cheeks, Loyer is 4-12 after Saturday’s loss.

Maybe the problem wasn’t Cheeks, after all.

Want another laugh? Pistons owner Tom Gores, after declaring a “playoffs or else” mandate last summer, still expected the team to make the post-season even after firing Cheeks and replacing him with a no-name assistant.

Loyer is history after the final 16 games are mercifully crossed off the schedule.

A new coach, yet again, will take over the Pistons.

He will be someone who fancies himself capable of turning the franchise around and installing that elusive “winning culture.”

He will be someone for whom “tanking” is not an option.

But the NBA is a player’s league, so how much control does a coach truly have anymore?

The Pistons continue to play fourth fiddle in a four-fiddle town. Their irrelevance is sardonic.

Whether they’re tanking or not, one thing is certain.

They’re not very bleeping good.

 

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The news that the Red Wings are moving to the Eastern Conference should have been announced by one of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, not a league spokesman.

The Five-Star General of choice should have gotten up, like in a military briefing, and announced that the Red Wings’ years-long occupation in the West was finally over with.

It’s peace for our time. We don’t have to fear fear itself anymore. The Korean War is ended. It’s pulling out of Vietnam, without Saigon falling.

The Red Wings’ mission out west has been completed. The NHL is letting the Winged Wheelers pull up their stakes from Los Angeles. That time share in Anaheim is going up for sale. They won’t need the guest house in San Jose.

Vancouver is a beautiful city, but it’ll have to survive without the Red Wings. The oxygen masks marked “Denver” can be put away.

No more looking around Dallas—Dallas—for good ice. The Alberta twins, Calgary and Edmonton, and their 9:30 p.m. Detroit starts won’t be missed.

So long, Minnesota. We hardly knew ye. St. Louis and the Gateway Arch? We’ll miss your breweries but not much else. Somehow we’ll have to live without that hockey Mecca, Phoenix.

Columbus will have to go back to being that town where Ohio State University calls home. Nashville? Love your music, loathe your hockey tradition.

Finally, there’s Chicago. Like Dorothy said in the Wizard of Oz, “Chicago, we’ll miss you most of all.”

But the soon-to-be truncated rivalry with the Blackhawks—which began when they were the Black Hawks—isn’t enough to make the Red Wings grow wistful for the West.

No more 10:30 p.m. Detroit starts. No more playoff games watched by hundreds of thousands who showed up as bleary-eyed zombies the next morning at work.

The Red Wings have carried the West long enough. Their occupation has ended. General Bettman says it’s OK for the Red Wings to join the East.

Fittingly, the news came down this week, with the Red Wings making one of those lovely Western Canada swings through Alberta. They reacted so giddily, you half expected that they would drop their hockey sticks and run to Philadelphia.

Or Boston. Or New York. Heck, even New Jersey, and no one runs to New Jersey unless they’re in the Mob.

The Red Wings are moving to the East for the 2013-14 season. It’s all part of the realignment that was signed off on by the players association.

It’s Christmas in March for the Red Wings and their fans, particularly those old enough to remember the Original Six, when a trip “out west” meant you were taking the train to Chicago and Detroit.

The Red Wings will be placed in a division with four, count ‘em, four, Original Six organ-eye-zayshuns.

Detroit. Montreal. Toronto. Boston. And the New York Rangers are just a division away. Only the Chicago Blackhawks, from the O-6, are left behind in the West. The Blackhawks are a dynamic hockey club with a wealth of young talent, and they started this season with a streak of getting points in their first 24 games. It’s their turn to prop the West up.

That’s what the Red Wings did, you know—prop up the West. Don’t let anyone in the league offices in New York tell you otherwise. But the NHL loved having the Red Wings playing all those games in the Mountain and Pacific Time zones.

The Red Wings, with their expansive fan base and their Stanley Cups and their annual appearance in the playoffs, papered the houses, from the old Fabulous Forum in Inglewood to the arenas in San Jose and Anaheim, and all the way to Columbus. Especially Columbus.

For two decades, the Red Wings’ success was a boon to the attendance out west. It wasn’t unusual to see more blood red and white jerseys in the seats than those of the home teams.

Those days are done. The Red Wings will be rekindling rivalries that go back to before World War II.

The fans are beside themselves. They’re rubbing their hands together at the prospects of seeing the Canadiens and the Maple Leafs and the Bruins in Joe Louis Arena more than once every Leap Year.

The beauty of the move is that, finally, the powers that be saw the value of having the Red Wings in the Eastern Time zone.

It’s what’s best for the NHL, really.

The timing couldn’t be better. Look at the standings. All four of these Original Six brethren—even long-suffering Toronto—are good teams. It’s not just that they share lineage, they’re highly competitive.

NBC is a winner, too. The league’s TV network surely must be busting buttons when they see all the tradition-rich games featuring the league’s top squads that they can schedule for Sunday afternoons.

Remember Detroit-Toronto in Steve Yzerman’s young years? Remember how exciting those games were? And the Maple Leafs weren’t even any good back then.

I can see the smiles on the faces of the old-timers when they see those iconic Canadiens jerseys skating up and down the JLA ice several times a season.

You missed the Bruins’ visit to Detroit? There’ll be another one next month; you won’t have to wait until the next presidential election cycle.

Not all the teams in the new division are filled with tradition, but that’s OK. The Red Wings will also be joined by Florida, Tampa Bay (though Yzerman is the GM), Buffalo and Ottawa. But as Bettman pointed out, the Florida markets are filled with transplanted Michiganders.

The winners, clearly, are the Red Wings and their brand in this league gerrymandering. No more jet lag, and during the playoffs, no less. Fox Sports Detroit will enjoy higher TV ratings. A road trip from Toronto to Detroit is back in play, and vice versa.

The Red Wings’ mission out west is complete. They’ll be able to get through a hockey season without spending half of it waiting for their bodies to adjust to the time.

You miss games in L.A.? I guess you’ll have to wait until the Finals.

Comments (8)

It was done with a wink—a victimless act perpetrated at a rather harmless time. The boys in blue were all over the place, but not one of them sounded the alarm.

The specter of competition took a back seat for the moment, as the Hall of Fame-bound slugger strode to the plate at Tiger Stadium. It was a Thursday afternoon—September 19, 1968—and the Tigers had wrapped up the league pennant a couple of days prior. They led this game over the New York Yankees, 6-1, in the eighth inning.

A quick bit of Internet research says a paltry gathering of 9,063 attended the contest. Given the score, the inning and the relative unimportance of the game, it’s likely just a few thousand remained when Denny McLain, already with his 30 wins for the season, grooved one in to Mickey Mantle.

McLain has come clean. The story isn’t apocryphal. As Stengel would say, “You can look it up.”

It’s a tale in Detroit sports lore that sounds like urban legend, like the one about AlexKarras throwing his helmet at Milt Plum in the Lions locker room after a tough loss.

The Karras tidbit is true, and so is this one about Denny and The Mick.

Yeah, McLain has said, I served up a fat ball to Mantle on that overcast September afternoon in 1968. Yeah, I hoped he would drive it out of the ballpark for a home run. It was his 535th career dinger, after all.

Mantle, a boyhood idol of McLain’s, came into the game—his last ever in Detroit—tied with Jimmie Foxx for third in all-time home runs, with 534. Only Babe Ruth and Willie Mays had clubbed more.

McLain wanted Mantle to break the tie, and shoot into third place all by his lonesome, on McLain’s watch.

So yeah, McLain grooved it, after Mantle told catcher Jim Price that a belt-high batting practice pitch would be lovely, in response to McLain’s query as to where Mantle would like the next pitch.

SMACK!

Mantle clubbed McLain’s offering into the green seats, which were barely dotted with paying customers.

Tie broken.

McLain was among those applauding as Mantle rounded the bases on his gimpy, almost 37-year-old legs. The Mick nodded McLain’s way, a subtle act of respectful thanks.

The victimless crime had been perpetrated.

Twenty-six years and some change later, the gauntlet was again temporarily picked up, like a wayward penalty flag. But this instance was hardly victimless. Shameless, yes.

Here’s former Lions offensive tackle Lomas Brown, crowing on ESPN Radio last week, about a 1994 game quarterbacked by (then) newly-signed free agent Scott Mitchell:

“We were playing Green Bay in Milwaukee. We were getting beat, 24-3, at that time and (Mitchell) just stunk up the place. He’s throwing interceptions, just everything. So I looked at Kevin Glover, our All-Pro center and I said, “Glove, that is it.” I said, “I’m getting him out the game.” … So I got the gator arms on the guy at the last minute, he got around me, he hit Scott Mitchell, he did something to his finger … and he came out the game. Dave Kriegcame in the game. We ended up losing that game, 27-24. ”

Or, the Reader’s Digest version: “I purposely let my quarterback get waylaid, so he’d get hurt.”

No shame. No honor. No class.

Brown played for the Lions from 1985 to ’95. He was the team’s starting left tackle for every one of those seasons. Mitchell, a lefty thrower, didn’t need Brown to protect his blind side; that job was fulfilled by the right tackle.

No matter.

Brown’s self-revelation of his blatant disregard for his own quarterback’s health should be a bigger story than it is. Maybe it was the timing, coming right before Christmas, today’s Lions out of the playoff picture.

Denny McLain’s fat pitch to Mickey Mantle, while done on purpose, caused no one any physical harm. It didn’t imperil the game; Mantle’s knock (in the eighth inning) made the score 6-2, which turned out to be final. The only thing McLain’s act hurt was one of the old green, wooden seats that Mantle’s home run ball nicked.

Lomas Brown’s recollection of his “gator arms,” a clever way of saying that he let his man beat him and have a free shot at the quarterback, is one of the darkest admissions I’ve ever read in sports.

Don’t snicker. Don’t chortle because the victim was Mitchell, who was hardly beloved in this town. I wasn’t a fan of Mitchell’s, either. The last image of him that I have is of Mitchell lying face down on the turf in Tampa during a playoff game in 1997, acting as if he’d been shot, when he was apparently injured during a quarterback sneak, of all things. You can question Mitchell’s toughness (and it was questioned a lot while he was the quarterback in Detroit from 1994 to ’98); that’s fine.

But Mitchell should no more have been the victim of Brown’s friendly fire than Bobby Layne. Brown wanted Dave Krieg in the game. So what if Krieg had stunk up the joint?

Pro football is a brutal game, and that’s not hyperbole. In fact, that’s a statement that should stand along with “water is wet” and “it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.”

Pro football is locomotives crashing into each other every Sunday afternoon. It’s the perfect storm of size, speed and crossing paths. There’s a reason why the average length of an NFL career is less than three years. Too often, players walk onto the field as rookies and their careers are ended by being carted off it.

It’s a dangerous enough sport without being double-crossed by your teammates.

Mitchell was lucky that all he hurt that day was his finger. Damn lucky.

Brown’s recollection, according to the fact checkers, is less than accurate, by the way—when it comes to the score. That was confirmed by Kirkland Crawford of the Free Press.

“Detroit was actually down, 24-0, in the second quarter and never trailed 24-3, as Brown said,” Crawford wrote, putting facts front and center. “Mitchell suffered a broken bone in his right hand when he was hit by Green Bay’s Sean Jones. At the time, the Lions were only down, 10-0, and Mitchell was 5-for-15 for 63 yards and two picks.”

Oh, and the Lions lost the game, 38-30—not 27-24 as Brown “recalled.”

Brown not only inexplicably confessed to his shameful act, he made it into a fish story. You know who does that? A braggart.

Mitchell, understandably, was appalled. “Reprehensible” was the word he used when he responded on Wednesday. He recalled of having Brown over to his house for dinner when they were teammates, with the other O-linemen.

It matters not that Brown, several days later, backed off and showed some remorse. The deed was done.

“You get frustrated during the course of the game,” Brown told ESPN2’s First Take a couple of days ago. “You do things that, a lot of the time, you think about later in life—you don’t think about right there, because it’s in the heat of the moment…

“The one thing I can say is I should have been more tactful at how I said that. That was wrong on my part. I should have humbly said that. It came off as boastful. I shouldn’t have said it that way.”

No, Lomas, you shouldn’t have done it that way.

Reprehensible, indeed.

Wax up the sleigh. Check it for flight. Shine St. Nick’s boots. Make sure Rudy’s nose is bright and squeaky clean.
Test the GPS. Gather the weather reports. Check the sack for rips. Tell Mrs. C not to wait up.
It’s gonna be another long night, but then it always is on December 24.
The jolly, old, fat man is set to make his annual trek. Chimneys the world over wait. Fireplaces are about to be pounced on.
Santa has something for everyone, or so they say. Keeping the faith, I’m going to accept that statement as fact. So, with that in mind, let’s see if he can find room in his big, red pack, upon his back—as Andy Williams sang—for these goodies.
For Calvin Johnson, a new NFL record, but more importantly, a football team worthy of his gargantuan talent.
For Matthew Stafford, highlight reels of Slinging Sammy Baugh and Fran Tarkenton, so the kid knows that you don’t have to have perfect “mechanics” to be a winner in this league.
For Jim Schwartz, a general manager who will draft him some defense.
For Rick Porcello, a team who wants him.
For Jhonny Peralta, a new nickname: The Kitchenette, because they say he has no range.
For Torii Hunter, nothing—because he already had his Christmas when he signed with the Tigers.
For traffic lights throughout Metro Detroit, Anibal Sanchez’s timing.
For Alex Avila, health and happiness—and for him, they’re one and the same.
For Miguel Cabrera, the abolition of sabermetrics.
For Tigers fans, also nothing—because they already have their new third base coach.
For Tommy Brookens, the new third base coach, the best of luck.
For the NHL, coal in its hockey boot.
For Mark Dantonio, a quarterback.
For Brady Hoke, a headset.
For Joe Dumars, a slashing, scoring small forward in the draft, because it sure isn’t on his current roster.
For Lawrence Frank, a book on the Pistons of the 1960s—oh, wait, he’s already writing the remake.
For Andre Drummond, the career of Shaquille O’Neal, because Ray Scott told me that Andre reminds him of a young Shaq.
For Greg Monroe, the career of Bob Lanier, because (see above).
For Pistons fans, a new RV, because you can all fit in one.
For George Blaha, some recognition (finally) as a damn good football play-by-play guy.
For Charlie Villanueva, no regrets.
For Tayshaun Prince, a nice twilight so his career will be properly book-ended.
For all of us working stiffs, the longevity of Jim Brandstatter.
For all of us husbands, Brandy’s marriage, too.
For Cecil Fielder, Prince Fielder’s smile at the next Thanksgiving table.
For Notre Dame football fans, you don’t get anything—your prayers were already answered.
For NHL fans, never Fehr.
For Alex Karras’ legacy, a diabolical plan to gain induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
For Miguel Cabrera, whatever he wants.
For Dominic Raiola, a seven-second delay.
For Ndamukong Suh, peace.
For Louis Delmas, two good knees.
For the two Vs, Vinnie Goodwill and Vince Ellis (Pistons beat writers), a thesaurus to help them describe what they are forced to watch nightly.
For Jerry Green, many more Super Bowls.
For Rob Parker, see Dominic Raiola.
For Mark Sanchez, the hell out of New York.
For Toronto Blue Jays fans, somebody to pinch them.
For Chicago Cubs and Lions fans, a support group.
For Billy Crystal, the only known celebrity Los Angeles Clippers fan, a winner.
For Billy Crystal’s movie career, the same, for it’s as overdue as are the Clippers.
For Magic Johnson, all the success with the Dodgers as he had on the basketball court.
For the San Francisco Giants, the antithesis for Magic.
For Linda McCoy-Murray, happiness with her new man. But he’ll never write like Jim.
For Jim Leyland, we folks off his back already.
For our daughter, anything she wants, because she tamed Oakland University as a freshman like she had ice water in her veins.
For my wife, see Charlie Villanueva.
For all of you who read me every week, a year’s supply of Zantac.
Ho-ho-ho!!!

For eight years, every Saturday, I have pumped out 1,000+ words about pastimes—kids games played by grown-up millionaires. I have mused about the merits of the Lions’ latest draft, the Tigers’ latest free agent signing, the Pistons’ latest implosion, the Red Wings’ latest Stanley Cup.

Not this Saturday.

This Saturday, there won’t be any hand-wringing over the NHL’s (latest) lockout. There won’t be any fussing about another Lions season gone wrong. No analysis about whether the Tigers should have committed $80 million to a pitcher. No unsolicited solutions to all that ails the Pistons.

Who cares?

What does any of that matter, when 20 precious children woke up, went to school, and ended up being carried out of their classrooms in body bags?

For many, sports is a diversion—a way to unplug, for 2-3 hours, the cord that connects us to our troubled lives. We shove our money problems, our marriage troubles, and our job worries to the back burner, so we can yell and scream at the TV and bring our sports teams’ troubles to the fore. Sometimes the logic seems ill, actually.

But it’s not real life, in the strictest definition. The drama is played out on the field, or on the ice, or on the hardwood. At the end there is a winner and there is a loser but none of it really matters.

Even Reggie Jackson, who didn’t meet a spotlight he didn’t like, once tried to put sports in perspective.

“I was reminded that when we lose and I strike out, a billion people in China don’t care,” Reggie said.

Sports is a diversion, but even that is kind of disingenuous to say. The line between sports and real life is being blurred, almost daily. The off-the-court, off-the-field, off-the ice news is capturing a larger slice of the information pie. Sports isn’t, any longer, just about hitting a curve or sacking the quarterback. It’s not just about how to defend the pick-and-roll or getting the puck out of your own zone.

They used to do a lot of killing in sports, but it was all figurative.

Kill the umpire! Kill a penalty. Kill the clock.

Lately, as we’ve seen with recent incidents involving players of the Kansas City Chiefs and Dallas Cowboys, they’re killing people for real.

But on this day we don’t look to sports to divert us. The games go on, but today we are glued to our TV sets, tied to the Internet, frantically searching for answers that may never come, to a one-word question.

Why?

That three-letter word starts so many of our queries.

Why did a 20-year-old young man kill his mother? Why did he then drive to the school where she reportedly worked, and gun down the principal and a school psychologist?

And, the biggest “Why?” of them all.

Why did this young man, reportedly identified as Adam Lanza, march into a classroom and start shooting grade schoolers?

More whys.

Why did his mother have such powerful weapons registered in her name, to which Lanza had access? Why didn’t anyone see this coming?

After the why come the next big questions, and those all start with “How?”

How will the parents of the dead children cope? How will the parents of the surviving children ever hope to re-instill a sense of security in their kids? How will the town of Newtown, Connecticut, a small burg of about 27,000 people (not unlike the size of Madison Heights, where I live), manage to carry on after the slaughter that occurred in their town?

You want to keep sports in this discussion, in an allegorical way?

Well, here it is.

The country has hit its two-minute warning. But it needs to get the football back from the gun lobbies before it can mount a game-winning rally.

We’re out of timeouts, too.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in the wake of the news of the shootings that “today isn’t the day” to talk about gun control. Someone should remind Carney that we have no timeouts remaining.

If the day to talk about gun control isn’t the day in which 20 of our babies are shot dead, sitting at their desks in a kindergarten class, then we’ll never have that talk.

The nightmare in Connecticut has pushed us to the brink. Our backs are against the wall and all that sports rot. The gun violence keeps getting worse, backing us closer to that wall. It wasn’t bad enough after Columbine, apparently. Wasn’t bad enough after a Congresswoman was gunned down at a public appearance.

We edged closer to the wall after the theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado. And even closer, after the mall shooting in Oregon, just this week.

Now 20 little boys and girls are dead. If this doesn’t cause us to start kicking, clawing and scratching, trying to fight our way back from the edge of insanity, then the clock will run out and the game will be over.

For decades, the gun people have put all their chips on “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” It’s a rallying cry that lacks common sense and immediately puts blinders on those who utter it.

It’s catchy, I grant you that. It’s also true in the most literal sense. A Glock or an assault rifle won’t, of course, kill someone if no one takes hold of it, aims it, and pulls the trigger. You got me there.

But people with guns kill people. Why doesn’t the gun camp think that’s as catchy?

Get ready for the argument of, “If only someone at the school was armed, then a lot of lives might have been saved.”

The old OK Corral argument. The notion that, like in the movies, a hero will draw his weapon, and pick off the bad guy with one shot, with no possible chance of collateral damage or stray bullets striking and killing others.

You think that’s really how it would go down if everyone walked around with a pistol on their hip? Or is it more likely that more people might choose to go for their weapons to “solve” problems, in a horrific moment of indiscretion?

Is the way to put out a fire, to throw more fire at it?

We’re at the two-minute warning. We have no more timeouts remaining. We need the ball back. The situation is just that dire.

We can’t put off the rally any longer. Twenty babies are dead. If that’s not a game changer, then we’re doomed.

Comments (9)

There was a time, believe it or not, when Bill Ford wasn’t a very patient man.

There was a time when coaches of his football team were held accountable for their records, for their incompetence. There was a time when he showed some urgency to win.

There was a time when he acted as if he was in his 80s.

It was when he was in his 40s.

Ford, the Lions owner, used to know a bad pony when he saw one.

And he saw one, big time, in the form of Harry Gilmer, the cowboy hat-wearing former quarterback from Alabama who Ford hired as Lions coach for the 1965 season.

The job became available because the coach for 1964, and for seven years before that, George Wilson, was the first to fall victim to Ford’s long ago impetuousness.

Not long after Ford bought out his partners to become Lions sole owner in 1964, he rolled up his sleeves and went after Wilson, ordering the coach to fire some of his assistants. Wilson told the owner to shove it and resigned.

Enter Gilmer, and after two lousy seasons, Ford had seen enough, rendering the dreaded ziggy.

Gilmer’s records in those two seasons were 6-7-1 and 4-9-1. You have records like that now, and you get a contract extension.

When last seen in Detroit, Gilmer and his cowboy hat were the targets of snowballs being heaved by the fans at Tiger Stadium after a loss to the Minnesota Vikings, his last home game as Lions coach.

After Gilmer came Joe Schmidt, who coached the Lions for six seasons before becoming mystified and frustrated, the loser in a power struggle with GM Russ Thomas.

Enter Don McCafferty, and in his only season as Lions coach (1973), he felt the wrath of Ford’s impatience. There were public grumblings from the owner after an embarrassing home loss to the putrid Baltimore Colts, in which Ford questioned the players’ will to win.

Ford was 48 years old when he levied that disgusted review of his football team.

That was a long time ago.

McCafferty died the following summer. Assistant Rick Forzano became the head coach. Ford, still showing a tendency to be impatient, fired Forzano after a little more than two full seasons.

Tommy Hudspeth was next. Ford gave Tommy a season-and-a-half before canning him and bringing in Monte Clark.

It was then that Ford, for whatever reason, seemed to lose his zeal to hold his coaches’ feet to the fire.

Clark stayed on for seven seasons, perhaps one year too long. Darryl Rogers—the hires were starting to become really inexplicable at this point—was brought in. Rogers was so bad that he openly asked reporters, “What does a guy have to do to get fired around here?”

Rogers stayed on too long. His defensive coordinator, Wayne Fontes, replaced Rogers in 1988. Fontes coached for eight full seasons, which was also too long.

Bobby Ross, brought in to replace Fontes, committed a self-ziggy in 2000, in his fourth season as Lions coach. Had he not canned himself, who knows how much more rope he would have been given.

Then there’s Matt Millen, perhaps the most hated man in Detroit sports. Ever.

Look what it took for Ford to fire Millen, after nearly eight years of slapstick.

The older Bill Ford has gotten, the more passive he’s become.

Now compare this to Mike Ilitch.

Ilitch is 83. You could make a case that he looks physically gaunt—frail, even. His appearance at the trophy ceremony when the Tigers captured the 2012 American League pennant caused some stage whispers about the owner’s health. At times, it looked as if Ilitch was being propped up, literally, by GM Dave Dombrowski on the mini-stage as the league trophy was being presented.

Yet as the autumn of his life is upon him, Mike Ilitch—owner of two teams, a pizza empire and other holdings—seems to be just getting started.

There’s urgency with his baseball team. It envelopes the organization.

“Win one for Mr. I” seems to be the mantra.

There’s always urgency with his hockey team. The Red Wings have been a Stanley Cup contender for about 20 years and don’t show any proclivity to being tired of that stature.

There’s urgency with Ilitch’s city, too. Just this week, grandiose plans were revealed for a new hockey arena for the Red Wings surrounded by an entertainment district, reportedly not far from Ilitch’s Fox Theatre.

Ilitch’s hockey brain trust of VP Jimmy Devellano, GM Kenny Holland, assistant GM JimNill and coach Mike Babcock have been together forever, but it’s a good forever. There’s been no real reason to change, so why do so?

Dombrowski and manager Jim Leyland have been Tigers since 2001 and 2006, respectively, but there is a feeling of urgency. There’s a feeling of accountability. Their still being with the Tigers doesn’t smack of complacency, nor of passivity.

Win one for Mr. I—that’s the marching order, up and down the Tigers organization. And it’s not a phony, Knute Rockne kind of thing.

Ilitch, at 83, frail or not, burns with the desire to slay his white whale—a World Series championship. Just ask new Tiger Torii Hunter, signed last month.

Hunter spoke of meeting Ilitch and shaking his hand and seeing a fire in the old man’s eyes. The fire to win a World Series, an accomplishment that has also eluded the 37-year-old outfielder.

Hunter couldn’t wait to sign on the dotted line after seeing that fire in Ilitch’s eyes.

The two octogenarian owners in town, Bill Ford and Mike Ilitch, each have white whales. One is bereft of a Super Bowl, the other a World Series.

Both are proud, loyal and considered to be very nice men who are respected within their respective circles.

But when compared, side by side, it just isn’t close when it comes to rendering a verdict as to which man has the stronger sense of urgency to win.

Does Bill Ford want to win a Super Bowl before he dies? Of course he does.

Mike Ilitch just seems to want to win a World Series more.