A sad morning as I woke up to the news the great Detroit Red Wing Ted Lindsay had passed away at age 93. As a New York Rangers fan, growing up in Queens, I was not amused by “Terrible” Ted”s regular manhandling of the Blueshirts, but as a hockey fan, I respected him.
Fast forward to September, 1998. I had lived in the Detroit area for 9 years and while still a Rangers fan at heart, I grew to love the Red Wings. For our 25th anniversary my wife sent me to the Detroit Red Wings Fantasy Camp after seeing a promo for it during a game. Keep in mind, I hadn’t played ice hockey since college. I graduated in 1973. I still had BOBBY Hull skates. Antiques. And a wooden stick.
I was horrible but what a kick. At the end of the weeklong camp we played a charity game at The Joe and our teams were combined campers and Red Wings–some current, but mostly alums.
So what a thrill when I found myself on a team with the likes of Chris Osgood, John Ogrodnik, and, yes, Ted Lindsay. Indeed, since he wore #7 and I wore #8, I was introduced right after him.
Shortly after, on a line with Ted and Osgood, I got an assist with an outlet pass, then, between the first and second periods, Ted was nice enough to sign my jersey. Watch the video. It’s priceless. It has the introductions, my assist and Ted signing.
It’s an experience I’ll never forget. It was an honor to play with Ted Lindsay, have a few words with him, see a legend up close, and best yet, see, firsthand he wasn’t terrible at all. Ted Lindsay was a gentleman–even when he rocked the bones of his opponents. RIP Ted Lindsay.
Most every sports fan around here has personal memories of Joe Louis Arena and The Palace of Auburn Hills so I’d like to share some that mostly have nothing to do with attending events but range from almost upstaging a Hall of Fame Red Wing to dealing with a Detroit Piston who couldn’t keep his shirt on. Here goes.
I was transferred to Detroit in 1989 by CNN from Atlanta. The timing was awful. Living in Atlanta for 8 years I had become quite the Hawks fan and grew a healthy hatred for the Detroit Pistons who had regularly beaten the Hawks and were in their Bad Boys phase, meaning, to opposing fans, they were loutish jerks–especially Bill Laimbeer.
After they won their second consecutive NBA championship in 1990 I was assigned to a rather slim story as to whether the Pistons were outgrowing their Bad Boys image and were ready to move on. I attended an afternoon shootaround at the Palace then sought some player interviews in the locker room. I had been warned about the Pistons and that they could be rough on reporters. After all, a female producer at our bureau told me how Dennis Rodman dropped his pants in front of her which, I suppose, would be classified a technical foul. I found Bill Laimbeer and he consented to the interview, which surprised me because he was about the baddest of the Bad Boys. He answered all my questions and I thanked him. Holding to his reputation he informs me “you can’t use anything you shot because I didn’t have a shirt on.” Huh? His team mate, former Atlanta Hawk Scott Hastings hears this and says to Laimbeer, “don’t be an asshole. They’re from CNN.” Laimbeer puts his shirt back on and says, OK roll. Now what did you want to know?” I gamely re-asked a couple of the questions just to get a soundbite for my story but I couldn’t escape him. A few months later I’m in line at the local car wash and there’s a guy in big Mercedes-Benz in front of me giving the attendant a hard time. At least he had his shirt on.
I had much better memories at The Joe. This time as an actual player. For our 25th anniversary my wife sent me to the Detroit Red Wings Fantasy Camp. It was September, 1998, a few months after they won their second straight Stanley Cup. The camp was run by assistant coach Dave Lewis. I hadn’t played hockey in over 20 years and my skates showed it. They were Bobby…not Brett..Hull CCM Tacks, which I bought while I was in college in 1972. After posing for the team photo Darren McCarty said, “hey, my father had those same skates!”
But what a thrill to come through the tunnel from the visitors locker room onto the Joe Louis Arena ice and skate over the Hockeytown logo. The big finish to the week was a game to benefit the Save the Children charity. In this video clip, during the introductions, I almost skated onto the blue line when they were talking about Hall of Famer Ted Lindsay. When it was finally my turn, it was awesome to have “Terrible Ted” give me a little pat.
Later in the game I would get an assist on a goal by Chris Osgood, who was skating on my line with Lindsey. Goosebumps.
My second best memory at The Joe was in 2013 while I was working for Fiat Chrysler. We played games against Red Wings alumni to benefit the United Way. The first part of this one being defended by Hall of Famer Larry Murphy. As I’m bringing the puck across the blue line, he whispers to me “take your shot!” I do, but the goalie saves it. But…even better, later in the game, as I was being defended by another Hall of Famer, Dino Ciccarelli, he playfully puts me down on the ice and I’m awarded a penalty shot. The goalie came out to cut my angle but I slipped the puck to my backhand and roofed it home. You can see it all in this video shot with a GoPro mounted on my helmet.
How can I forget what happened at the Palace in 1998? That’s when we scored tickets to see the Spice Girls. I was covering a long strike against General Motors in Flint but CNN was nice enough to get Gary Tuchman to fill in for me so I could run down I-75 to take my family to the show. My ears are still ringing from being among 20.000 screaming 10-year old girls and a thousand shell-shocked dads. When I got back to the picket lines Flint Congressman Dale Kildee tried his best in asking me “How were those Spice Babies?”
But my best memory of all was during the 1990 NBA finals at the Palace. I was given two tickets behind the Los Angeles Lakers bench. My father-in-law was in town from Rochester, N.Y. He’d never before attended an NBA game so who else would I take? Right before our eyes there was Magic and Kareem and James Worthy and down the line all the defending champ Pistons–Isaiah Thomas, Joe Dumars et.al. My father-in-law’s eyes lit up, seeing these famous athletes close up. It was a night we both cherished and I always will.
There will be no conversation in my house tonight. There will be no conviviality. There will be only conflict…and deathly stares, possibly combined with smug looks of superiority. The husband and wife will set in separate chairs, watching the same hockey game, but seeing it quite differently. The husband calls it “the Rangers game.” The wife calls it “the Red Wings game.” The husband, I, am from New York. The New York Rangers of the 1960s and 70s spent the season in furnished apartments in the sprawling apartment complex in Queens where I lived. It exists today. It’s called Glen Oaks Village. The Rangers were part of my childhood. Boom Boom Geoffrion lived next door to my aunt and uncle and slammed the walls, screaming bad words in French when he returned to the apartment after a loss. Andy Bathgate swung his kids on the swings in the playground of our grade school, P.S. 186. We ran into the Rangers in the Silver Moon diner, and if we paid a buck, we could watch them practice at Skateland, a mile away. Rod Gilbert and Jean Ratelle and Reggie Fleming and Vic Hatfield waited for us afterwards and signed autographs. Ed Giacomin would put a cigar in the mouth hole of his goalie mask and dare his teammates to shoot it out. For $1.50 and our high school ID card we could get tickets to see the Rangers in the old Madison Square Garden. We lived for Marv Alpert to yell “Shot! Score!” The Rangers were life.
But life took me away from the Rangers when my wife and I moved across the country to Tucson, Arizona in 1978. The Coyotes were years from howling in Phoenix or Glendale, or wherever they are now. The only hockey was a pathetic minor league team called the Tucson Rustlers. We lost track of the NHL.
When I was hired by CNN in late 1981 I was excited to move to Atlanta, only to find out the Flames flamed out and moved to Calgary.
In 1989 I was transferred to Detroit to take over the bureau and we were reunited with the NHL. I could lustily root for the Rangers again when they invaded Joe Louis Arena. But over the past 26 years I’ve also become a loyal Red Wings fan and even attended a Red Wings fantasy camp playing alongside Chris Osgood and Hall of Famer Ted Lindsay.
How can you root for both the Red Wings and the Rangers? When does the team loyalty statute of limitations run out. How long do you have to be away from your hometown before you can’t root for your hometown team anymore?
I contend you never have to stop. Yes, I’m also a Yankees fan, but when the Tigers faced the Yanks in the playoffs a couple of years ago, I decided it was the Tigers turn to win my loyalty in hopes our town would see its first World Series victory since 1984. Another Yankee fan called me a traitor and said I could never go back. But it got me thinking about letting go. I’ve now lived in Detroit longer than I’ve lived anywhere. Must I give up my childhood loyalties in favor of teams representing the town where I’ve spent the most time? I don’t think so. I have specific reasons for rooting for my teams. I wish Detroit’s teams the best of luck. The teams that represent my adopted city. But I remain loyal to the teams that represent the first time I attended Yankee Stadium with my dad and brother, saw Roger Maris hit two of his 61 homers in ’61, attended my first NFL game with my brother and saw Joe Namath as the last man between the opponent and end zone take him down, even on gimpy knees. I remain loyal to the team that exposed me to Walt Frazier and Willis Reed even though they are, today, a pathetic shadow of past glory.
It’s OK. We will be sportsman and sports lady like watching the hockey game tonight. I will cheer if the Rangers score…but quietly smile when the Red Wings do too. My wife won’t say a word…unless of course, the Rangers get smoked. Then we’ll have a problem.