Detroit has a storied history of winning championships. Some of the Great Lakes city’s finest sports moments coincide with top league prizes for its biggest teams–from the Pistons to the Red Wings to the Tigers to the Lions (yes, even the Detroit Lions). Detroit teams have always stood out.
Let’s take a trip down memory lane and recall some of the greatest highs and lows in Detroit sports.
Detroit’s sports teams (and its athletic programs in general) have had quite a few high points down through the decades, so it’s hard to pinpoint just a few to call the “greatest of all time.” But some moments undeniably stand out among the rest. Here are five of the best moments in Detroit sports history.
You can’t start a list of best Detroit sports moments with any other play. The Detroit Tigers were the team to beat in 1984, and their World Series win at Tiger Stadium wasn’t unexpected. But that didn’t make this moment any less thrilling. In the bottom of the eighth inning of Game 5, the Padres decided not to walk slugger Kirk Gibson intentionally. Big mistake. Gibson hit a major home run waaaay into the upper decks with two runners on base. The play earned the Tigers three runs, effectively securing their World Series win. Ah–sweet victory.
The early aughts roster for the Detroit Pistons had a championship on their minds, so they were out for blood during the 2003-2004 season, establishing a new pinnacle for the franchise (and separate from their legendary run-in the late ’80s). Perhaps their greatest moment came just ahead of the NBA Finals when Tayshaun Prince blocked a shot from the Pacers during the Eastern Conference Finals, securing the win in Game Two and ushering in a series victory. History remembers what comes next. The Pistons dominated the Lakers during the finals, and the team earned their third trophy.
The Red Wings waited four long decades to win the NHL Stanley Cup in 1997. In many ways, this victory was the start of a new era for the franchise, cementing Detroit as “Hockeytown” for the foreseeable future. The decisive win came in Game Four (yes, it was a sweep) with an awe-inspiring breakaway and goal from Darren McCarty in the second period against the Flyers. The Red Wings won the cup again the following year and set themselves up as the dynasty we all know and love today.
The 1988–1990 Pistons were a force to be reckoned with, known around the league and in the hearts of Detroit fans as the Bad Boys. They played aggressively and got away with some basketball that just wouldn’t fly in this day and age. Arguably, their greatest achievement from this time is the unfaltering way they took on Chicago Bulls juggernaut Michael Jordan. No one knew what to do with Michael Jordan when he started to rise on the Bulls–except the Pistons. Their strategy was to force Jordan to shoot from his weaker side, team up on defense, and get physical. This strategy kept the Pistons on top during their match-ups with the Bulls. They won the big prize in 1989 and 1990, and their victories over Jordan helped them get there.
It’s been a long time since the Lions have given their fanbase something to celebrate. Their last playoff win was in 1992. But in 2013, they got their share of the glory, with a play that stunned both fans and the opposing team. Trailing by six points in the fourth quarter, fresh out of time-outs, and inches from the goal line, QB Matthew Stafford rushed his team over to set up another play. Everyone expected him to spike the ball, but Stafford instead extended his arms over the goal line, securing a touchdown and surprising everyone.
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Even the best teams see dark days, and Detroit sports are no exception. These are the moments that have plagued Motor City sports history.
You’ll remember we mentioned the Red Wings’ 1997 Stanley Cup win over the Flyers. Well, just six days after that, Red Wings defensive player, Vladimir Konstantinov, suffered a terrible limousine accident that left him paralyzed. It was one of the lowest moments in the franchise’s history, coming so soon after one of its greatest.
Konstantinov would never play hockey again, but his teammates, whether they were new players or not, rallied around him, sewing “Believe” in Russian and English on their jerseys and going on to win another Stanley Cup the following year. They brought Vladimir Konstantinov out on the ice in a wheelchair and handed him the trophy. Tears ensued.
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Grab the tissues, Lions fans–this one is a doozy. We’ll set the stage: On December 3rd, 2015, at Ford Field, the Lions are up 20-0 at the half and look good to win the game by the end of the fourth quarter. With six seconds left on the clock, Packers QB Aaron Rodgers throws what is now referred to as the “Miracle in Motown” Hail Mary pass. The ball goes 61 yards, is caught, and the Packers sneak out a win.
It was the throw of the year as far as the NFL was concerned.
Do you know how rare it is to pitch a perfect game? To not let a single runner get to base? Before 2010, it had happened only 20 times in major league baseball history. Armando Galarraga was about to do it. It was the final out of the ninth inning, and Galarraga was one pitch away from the MLB history books. He threw the final pitch, but it got hit to the right, fielded to first, and the batter was out. Except he wasn’t because the first base umpire inexplicably called him safe. For what it’s worth, umpire Jim Joyce sincerely apologized for his mistake, and the fanbase forgave him, but we’re still just a little hurt by the whole kerfuffle.
This 2009 match-up was a repeat showing from the year before, but the odds were still in Detroit’s favor. The Red Wings were clearly the better team and were up 3-2 in the Stanley Cup final series. Injuries, exhaustion, and Pittsburgh’s Sid the Kid led to a devastating loss for the Red Wings in Game 7. We’re still mourning this one.
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The last 45 seconds of this Pistons game against the Pacers never got played. It started with a foul by the Pacers’ Metta Sandiford-Artest and ended with a fistfight that involved fans. Pistons fans threw a cup at Artest’s back on the court—which, to be clear, is not okay—but the resulting brawl was beyond anything the NBA has ever seen. Nine players were suspended, and worst of all, the Pistons lost.
There’s no doubt about it–the city of Detroit and its love of sports unifies and inspires sports fans the world over. From the highs to the lows, Detroit has so much to celebrate and memorialize. The city’s sports fans deserve the absolute best threads for showing off their hometown pride!
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