Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Bless You, Boys...

On the day in which GM filed for bankruptcy, I felt the need to write about how much the Wings actually mean to this city right now. A run like this is transformative to an area that's going through tough times. I've seen it time and time again.

In 2006, my family was struggling to get by financially. On top of that, we lost my grandmother that September. We were, for the most part, utterly miserable. But the Tigers' World Series run gave us hope. It was something positive to focus on; something to look forward to. We sat and watched almost every game of the postseason together, and while those few hours a day didn't make our problems go away, they gave us a brief release from the depressing grind that our daily lives had become. The Tigers lost that year, but they helped get me and the rest of my family through the toughest few months of our lives. Even though they didn't win, they were a blessing to our family. If that sounds irrational, you probably don't belong reading a sports blog. Every time I think about it, I can still picture all six of us crowding around our one TV that got antenna reception watching the World Series while Ernie Harwell's voice took me right back to my childhood summers. It still gives me chills.

The same thing occurred last year with the Wings. While the metro area wasn't in nearly as bad of a shape financially as it is right now, we were mired in the Kwame Kilpatrick scandal. It was a disgrace, and we once again found ourselves as a punchline for comedians who could never understand us. Things had taken on an "us vs. them" aspect as suburban folks almost universally called for Kwame to be deposed while Detroiters seemed to view criticism of him as a knock on all of them. And then there were the Wings. They united us once again. They gave us common ground on which to come together. It did nothing to change the political realities that we faced as a region, but it sure made us feel a lot better. I was at Joe Vision the night the Wings won, and after the game, my friend and I were walking to the Joe parking garage, and we found ourselves weaving through traffic running and screaming with hundreds of strangers as cars honked their horns and people leaned out of windows to give us high-fives.

During the parade, the City of Detroit float jackknifed as the truck towing it attempted to make the U-turn in front of Cobo. In order to get it around the corner and reattached to the truck hauling it, the parade staff called for people from the crowd to help push it. My brother and I, lifelong suburbanites, ran in from the sidewalk and helped a bunch of strangers, likely also from the suburbs, push the float around the corner so that it could be hooked up to the truck. I thought it was deliciously ironic that, of all the floats, it was the City of Detroit one that needed our help to make it around the corner so that it didn't hold up the parade. I'll also never forget standing in Hart Plaza while the crowd booed so loudly that it drowned out Kwame's speech, even over the loudspeakers. It didn't matter what he was saying, only that he was the one saying it. For the life of me, I'll never understand why he had the nerve to show up at our party, but I don't think I'm meant to. I don't think I want that kind of insight into a mind like his.

And for a couple of weeks in June of last year, we celebrated. While we weren't the ones on the ice, we felt like part of the team. No other city adopts its sports stars like we do. Nobody cares that most of the guys were born in Sweden or Russia or Canada. We don't care. When they pull on a Detroit sports jersey, they become one of us. It felt like we ourselves had won something. We could point to the Wings and say, "See, not everything from Detroit is a screw-up." We may not be able to keep our jobs, or elect competent leadership, but damned if we don't play some fine hockey.

And so we find ourselves a year later, in June 2009. Kwame's long gone, thankfully someone else's problem now. Yet we find ourselves even worse off than a year ago. Both GM and Chrysler have filed for bankruptcy, and Ford is barely hanging on. People are losing jobs left and right, every day seems to bring more bad news, and it seems like there are more 'For Sale' signs than trees in our subdivisions. This time next year, I'll almost certainly be joining the ranks of transplanted Michiganians forced to watch the home that I love struggle for survival from afar. But there are the Red Wings, beacons of hope for as long as I can remember. They're once again serving as a positive distraction to give folks around here a few hours of joy, or at least the occasion to stress about something other than paying the bills.

And, honestly, what more can you ask of a sports team?

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