Michigan is a state with rich sports history. Detroit is represented by a team from all 4 major sports all with a long history: the Tigers (founded 1894), Red Wings (1926), Lions (1929), and Pistons (1941). The University of Michigan is the winningest program and has the highest win percentage in college football with a long, rich history. Michigan State, on the other hand, is known for its success in basketball. Michigan is well represented in the world of sports.
Not only have Michigan teams been around for a long time, they’ve brought home their share of hardware. The Wolverines and Red Wings both have 11 championships and a plethora of other trophies and awards. The Lions and Tigers both have 4 championships (although both have had significant droughts since their latest title), the Pistons have 3, and the Spartans have a pair. Not too shabby.
While Michigan teams had their share of ups and downs (some more downs than others), nothing was like the devastation that the 2008-09 season brought. Sports fans in Motown were high off of the Red Wings’ championship at the beginning of the summer with so much to look forward to in the rest of the year. Little did we know what what was in store.
Bringing the Stanley Cup back to Detroit helped fans overlook the poor start by the Tigers (they lost the first 7 games). Unfortunately, the second largest payroll in the MLB couldn’t live up to expectations. In stead of winning the Central Division, they came in last place. The disappointments from the very underachieved 2008 Tigers team (just two years removed from an appearance in the World Series) are too many to list here but can be found here. In 2009, the Tigers took the Twins to a 12-inning tie breaker game before losing. But the Twins got swept by the Yankees in the first round, and I’d rather not go to the playoffs. (So it was a blessing in disguise?) And I’m sure I don’t have to remind you of the robbery of Armando Galarraga’s perfect game. It still makes me sick.
Yes, it was that bad.
Rich Rodriguez replaced Lloyd Carr as head coach of the Michigan Wolverines football team in 2008. He had almost led West Virginia to the championship game the year before so expectations were high (as they always are in Ann Arbor). Not to mention, the last couple of seasons under Carr with an All-Star cast went disappointingly and Wolverine fans were anxious to start a new chapter. And start a new chapter they did. A loss at home to Utah (as a BYU fan too this was an extra hard kick to the crotch) began what turned out to be the worst season in school history and left them out of a bowl game for the first time in 33 years. The following seasons were not too much of an improvement. (Read more, if you dare…)
The Maize and Blue were not the only Michigan football team setting records for ultimate failures. In 2008, the Lions were the only team to ever lose all 16 games in the NFL. They also ran the second longest losing streak in NFL history beginning 2007 and carrying over to the 2009 season. When the Lions are hitting new lows, you know something is up.
That says it all.
On November 3, 2008, between classes I received a text from my cousin informing me that Chauncey Billups had been traded to the Denver Nuggets. I still remember the sinking feeling in my stomach. The worst part was that the Pistons traded for Allen Iverson. One of my favorites for one of the players I loathed most. I get the logic here behind the trade, but I still can’t get over the effects it’s had. Besides handing the Lakers an embarrassing loss in LA, the entire season was focused on drama surrounding the Canswer. After six seasons of playing in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Pistons barley made the 8th seed where they got swept by the Cavs. In the Summer, the team let both Rasheed Wallace and Antonio McDyess go. The major free-agent pick-ups were Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, neither of which personify the tough, blue-collar play the Pistons have symbolized over the years. The 2009-10 season was plagued with injury (including Tayshaun Prince who hadn’t missed a single game in his first 6 years), and they missed the playoffs. Talk of selling the team, line-up confusion, and trade rumors have infested the team ever since.
2009 appeared to be a new beginning. Both the Wings and the Sparty basketball team led successful seasons (Red Wings won their division and had the 3rd best record while State was ranked 8th) and played for their respective championships. First, State went to the Final Four, which was held in Detroit, and beat Louisville by 12. They then were absolutely outmatched by UNC (which is like the Lakers of college basketball) in the championship. Then the
It felt like the entire state had the wind knocked out of it.
Wings went to the Stanley Cup Finals for a rematch against the Penguins. The led the series 3-2 before dropping the last two games (game 7 was in Detroit) by 1 goal! Back-to-back Stanley Cups would have helped erase the horrible sports year that had befallen the state, but to come so close and to come up short in some ways hurt even more.
It did not help that this depressing sports year in Michigan coincided with the economic downturn, much of which was centered around the auto industry. With the automakers slashing jobs, the entire state was hurting in a very real way, and it didn’t even have sports to help lift spirits. The Pistons’ attendance was down, the Wings couldn’t sell out playoff games, and even the Tigers experienced a decline down the stretch with the pennant in sight. Even the Motor City Bowl had to change sponsors in 2009 and is now known as the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. It was so bad that I got to the point where I was holding onto the Detroit Shock’s WNBA championship from October of 2008. (I can’t believe the little sports luck that remained in the state was used up in the WNBA.) So it actually came as a shock (no pun intended) when the Shock were moved to Tulsa a year after winning its third championship. The fact I missed the Shock clued me in that something was terribly wrong with Michigan sports.
The good thing about hitting rock bottom is that there’s nowhere to go but up. The Tigers still have potential and haven’t reverted to the 2003 season. U0fM fired Rich-Rod and hired Brady Hoke. Denard “Shoelace” Robinson is going to stay and willing to learn from Hoke. (And if you’re not convinced by Hoke then check out this article, because I see this as a good thing.) Drafting Matt Stafford (who has shown real grit) and Ndamukong Suh has been the beginning of the Lions rebuilding and making progress in the right direction. They ended this season on a 4 game winning streak. 7 of their loses came by one score and they lost the first game of the season on a controversial call.
It's even safe for Lions fans to show their faces again.
The Pistons are riding their first 3-game win streak this season and seem to be some figuring things out (crossing my fingers) and still have a shot at the playoffs. I’m also choosing to view the inevitable trade of Rip as a positive because it will allow both parties to move forward. (Let’s just hope it happens sooner than later.) Sparty appears to have been overrated, but they have a lot of experienced talent and Tom Izzo so we can’t count them out. They just may make their 3rd Final Four appearance. And the Wings are back to battling for a top seed throughout the playoffs.
While it may still take some time to get Michigan sports back to their winning ways (the Lions having to go quite a ways back), it’s not as far away as it seems. The state of sports in the Great Lake State is looking up so don’t bail on Michigan teams just yet.
What do Michigan sports really need to get moving in the right direction again? How will we know when it’s out of its slump?