Daren McCarty addresses the crowd at PB’s Sports Grille in St. Clair Shores last Wednesday (BEN SOLIS THE WASHTENAW VOICE)
Ben Solis | Contributing Editor
Last Wednesday, the time and date on my cell phone read 7 p.m., Nov. 28, 2012. As I drove over the St. Clair Shores city limits line, however, time began to reverse itself, eventually settling on March 26, 1997.
Any dullard living in Metro Detroit for the past two decades remembers the savage beating that took place on that fateful evening in Joe Louis Arena, when the Detroit Red Wings/Colorado Avalanche match-up resulted in a vicious, vengeful brawl.
As I pulled into PB’s Sports Grille off Harper, the date reads 1997 inside, but in 2012 the National Hockey League is still negotiating its way out of a lockout.
To ease the suffering, PB’s and a local radio station teamed up to “re-air” that iconic March 26 game with the added bonus of guest Darren McCarty – the man who started the brawl – hanging out with the crowd to sign autographs and share beer-drenched tales of violence and sportsmanship.
Watching McCarty watch that game made me wonder what he was thinking in those brief moments before turning to Colorado’s Claude Lemieux, before pummeling him into submission, while every other player was engaged in hand-to-hand combat in a refrigerated war zone.
What was going on inside Mac’s head, beside the obvious? A theme song.
“Walk, by Pantera!” McCarty said. But why?
“Because it was (expletive) war! And I love metal music,” he said, more enthusiastic than before. “The whole song, the sound of it, the DUN DA DUN DUN DUN, DA DUN DUN DUN, the sound of the whole thing just gets me pumped. Like I should have listened to it before I came out.”
Thirty miles away in Canton it is the real March 26, 1997. I am 9 years old and surrounded by my friends watching the madness on screen, screeching as pre-adolescents do when they see something cool on television. My father had been guilty of working too much and had made up for it by allowing 10 hyperactive children to sleep over in his living room.
McCarty’s antics and game-winning goal kept Detroit glued to its television sets, ignoring lit cigarettes or spilt drinks in the wake of the network-sanctioned brutality that hockey markets so well.
The scenes of inexplicable carnage caused us too to ignore the necessities, such as bathroom breaks, while downing gallons of Pepsi. A cigarette can burn a hole in a carpet, but a full bladder can ruin quite a lot more.
During the midnight hours, a greasy-haired neighbor boy — who no one wanted around anyway — was losing the battle to find a proper toilet and decided, in a stupor, that my television looked enough like a urinal to do his deed.
The next day, my father, appropriately high on his own heroism, was met nose-first by an entertainment center covered in dried, sticky urine, VCR and VHS tapes and all destroyed in one foul act of lunacy.
Back at PB’s it is still the fake 1997, 18 minutes into the first period, and the present-day McCarty seemed the least affected by the manufactured nostalgia trip. PB’s patrons were not far behind him.
“I saw this crap 15 years ago,” one drunkard yelled. Another proclaimed her frustrations in poetic verse about abortions pertaining to league Commissioner Gary Bettman and Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby.
Then the fighting began, and fan chants praising McCarty’s outburst filled the room like a pint glass with a thick head forming at the top of their lips.
At last he smiled.
At 11 p.m. in St. Clair Shores, it is 2012 again. I sit and watch the waitresses clean up stale beer, which I know for a fact smells better than stale urine, thankful this time that the memory included cheap beer and meeting McCarty – and not wheeling out another piss-soaked television to the end of my street on garbage day.
Somewhere in America, a father is waking up to a wet television.
The University of Michigan men’s basketball team had plenty to be thankful for over the holiday break as the Wolverines won the NIT Season Tip-Off Championship held at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
The Wolverines defeated Pittsburgh in the semifinal before knocking off Kansas State the day after Thanksgiving to secure the championship.
“That was a key championship for us. It was our first chance at the start of the season to show people that we’re for real about this season,” said freshman Mitch McGary. “We had a lot of expectations and people had a lot of doubts, but we’re showing that we’re a high-caliber team and we can compete with other high-caliber teams in the nation.”
The Wolverines were 6-0 as of Nov. 30 and ranked as the No. 3 team in all of college basketball.
It’s still early in the season, but the Wolverines have been impressive in their first few outings, in part because of tremendous depth in the roster. The team has been very vocal about its team motto: “next man up.”
“Everyone can really be relied on out there on the court. That has shown in practice and how we compete,” said senior Eso Akunne. “We’re all fighting really hard for spots, but we all stay united at the same time. Whenever someone has to come out of the game, the next man up is always ready — that’s why we practice that way.”
The Wolverines next big test comes on Dec.15 when they return to New York to play in the Brooklyn Winter Hoops Festival. Michigan will play head coach John Beilein’s former team, West Virginia, during the festival.
What if? That’s a question that fans ask about their favorite teams year after year. And for fans of the Detroit Lions, “what if” has been on their minds for more than a half-century.
With this season essentially over, fans have turned their attention to next year’s draft as a source of hope. But if history tells us anything about the Lions, the draft is usually a disappointing experience.
With that in mind, we took a look at what could have been, had the Lions made different picks over the last seven years. Fans may be shocked to learn how different (and most likely better) the Lions could look had they been more successful in the draft.
But in order to keep things fair, here are the ground rules for our findings. For players selected in the first or second round, we did not select anyone who wasn’t within eight picks of where the Lions actually drafted that season or would have drafted if not for a trade.
In the third round or later, we extended that rule to be within ten picks of a Lions draft choice.
Any undrafted players are fair game. Finally, in the interest of fairness, we went back to 2006 to get the last three years of the Matt Millen era and the current team built by Martin Mayhew.
What could have been: Clay Matthews, linebacker, 26th overall
2nd round pick: Louis Delmas, safety 33rd overall
What could have been: James Laurinaitis, linebacker, 35th overall
What they missed out on: Arian Foster, running back, undrafted
This draft class is the biggest swing and miss for the Lions in recent memory. Pettigrew, while valuable on in the passing game, is a liability with fumbles and a poor blocker. Delmas has only played in 45 games in four years and has yet to play an entire season as a pro without injury.
Matthews was the NFC defensive player of the year in 2010 and led a Green Bay Packers defense that won a Super Bowl that same year. Laurinaitis has been a consistent force and Foster was the league’s leading rusher in 2010.
What could have been: Rob Gronkowski, tight end, 38th overall
Lions 4th round pick: Jason Fox, offensive tackle, 128th overall
What could have been: Kam Chancellor, safety, 133rd overall
What they missed out on: Victor Cruz, wide receiver, undrafted
Many pundits thought it was a stretch when the Lions traded up for Best and they were right. Best’s concussion problems have limited him to a mere 22 games in three seasons and some think his playing days are already over.
Gronkowski had the best single season by a tight end in league history in 2011 and is only continuing to grow. Cruz has proven to be one of the league most dangerous receiving options and we all know how much the Lions love their receivers.
What they missed out on: Chris Harris Jr., cornerback, undrafted
What’s interesting about these missed opportunities is that the Lions biggest weakness over the last few years has been on the defensive side of the ball. However, had the team drafted properly, they could potentially have a defense full of all-pro players.
Also of interest is how many 1st and 2nd round picks are no longer with the team or play no significant role on the team.
Without removing current stars Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Ndamakong Suh these added players would have made the Lions a potential Super Bowl winner. But as has been the case with the Lions for years, “what if,” is as close as they’ll ever get to know that feeling.
Not since the 1996-97 season has the University of Michigan men’s basketball team entered the season ranked in the Associated Press top-10. But with reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year Trey Burke returning, the Wolverines enter this season as the No. 5 team in the nation.
Not bad for a team that lost in the first round of the 2012 NCAA tournament.
“We haven’t spoken about it at all. We are very proud of our Big Ten championship. We know when you get into that the goal is to stay and win until you win it all,” head coach John Beilein said. “But based on our Big Ten championship we felt good about it.
“If we are blessed enough to get back there again, then we’ll talk more about that. But right now it has been more about just getting better and being champions again in everything.”
After weighing his options during the offseason, Burke opted to return to Ann Arbor for his sophomore season and wait to declare his eligibility for the NBA draft.
Burke headlines a team that returns big man Jordan Morgan and Tim Hardaway Jr., alongside of highly-touted freshmen Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III.
While the Wolverines were ranked fifth, they were looking up in the rankings to Big Ten rivals Indiana (No.1) and Ohio State (No.4).
Here is a breakdown of the players on this year’s team and the road ahead for Michigan:
Easily the strength of this year’s team, Burke and Hardaway Jr. comprise one of the nation’s top backcourt duos. As a freshman, Burke averaged 14.8 points and 4.5 assists a game, earning him Big Ten Freshman of the Year award. Hardaway was second on the team in scoring averaging 14.6 points a game.
The two accounted for 44 percent of the team’s scoring last year, but if all goes according to plan, that won’t be the case this season.
Senior Matt Vogrich and freshman Spike Albrect are expected to contribute off the bench. Vogrich played in 34 games last season for the Wolverines.
While the spotlight will no doubt be on the development of McGary and Robinson III, junior Jordan Morgan’s development will be the most important part on the Wolverines frontcourt. Morgan continued to struggle with foul trouble last season and will need to be on the court to provide stability and leadership in the paint.
How much will McGary and Robinson III play? Beilein says finding that balance will be critical as the season progresses.
“That is the balancing act that I’ll really have to work at,” he said. “What’s important now, or what is important to their future or our future? And we are scrambling with that every day.
“That is a thing we have to do. It’s important, and that’s our job and I won’t be perfect at it but I’ll keep working at it to get them to accomplish both goals. No. 1 is for the team to win right now. But No. 2 is to develop them as much as they can for our team in the future and their future after this.”
Jon Horford and Blake McLimans are expected get playing time off the bench for the Wolverines.
After losing seniors Zack Novak and Stu Douglass, Michigan must identify another on-court leader. The obvious choice would be Hardaway Jr. or Burke, but sometimes the not-so-obvious choice is the best. Look for a player like Vogrich to fill the role until a clear choice emerges.
“We are going to really watch these first three weeks and see who the leaders are,” Beliein said. “I don’t think we are in that type of position to name that yet. The players will have a say, the coaches will have a say. We need to gain more information.”
Starting as the No. 5 team in the nation is nice, but with conference foes Ohio State, Indiana, Michigan State and Wisconsin all ranked in the top-25, it’s unlikely that the Wolverines will finish with a Top-5 record at the end of the season.
Luckily for Michigan, its non-conference schedule is light. The Wolverines should enter the Big Ten schedule with few, if any, blemishes on their record.
Once Big Ten play begins, expect Michigan to lose a handful of games. But being in the Big Ten will no doubt prepare the Wolverines for the NCAA tournament in March.
Former Detroit Lions, from left, Billy Sims, Lem Barney and Barry Sanders wear the retired jersey number 20 in a ceremony before a Thanksgiving Day game against Indianapolis in 2004. (MCT COURTESY PHOTO)
Thanksgiving is the source of many traditions. Family gatherings around the dinner table where a freshly cooked turkey is surrounded by side dishes like grandma’s bean casserole. And for fans of the Detroit Lions, it’s a day when dinner is preceded by a football game featuring the Honolulu blue and silver.
It’s what we do – and we share it with the nation.
“We believe our Thanksgiving Day game is the oldest and greatest tradition in the NFL,” Lions Vice Chairman Bill Ford Jr. said in remarks from a Lions’ game release in 2010. “This is a tradition that was started by the fans in Detroit and belongs to the fans of Detroit.”
The Lions started playing on Thanksgiving Day in 1934, when the team’s owner at the time, G.A. Richards, thought up the idea as a way to increase attendance. The idea has worked and 78 years later, the Thanksgiving Day game is still the most sought-after ticket each year.
While the Lions have not played on every Thanksgiving since 1934, they have played on Thanksgiving each year since 1945. The team’s all-time record on Thanksgiving is 33-35-2.
Interesting Thanksgiving Day game facts:
1934 – The Lions play their first Thanksgiving Day game, losing to the Chicago Bears 19-16.
1956 – The first Thanksgiving game that was nationally televised, the Lions lost to the Green Bay Packers 24-20.
1974 – The Lions lost to Denver 31-27 in what was the last game the team played at Tiger Stadium.
1976 – O.J. Simpson runs for an NFL record 273 yards, but the Lions would prevail, beating the Buffalo Bills 27-14.
1989 – Barry Sanders runs for 145 yards in his first Thanksgiving Day game as a Lion. Sanders and the Lions beat the Cleveland Browns 13-10 in the 50th Thanksgiving game played by the Lions.
1995 – Scott Mitchell set a team-record for passing yards in a game as he threw for 410 yards and four touchdowns in the Lions 44-38 win over the Minnesota Vikings. Herman Moore, Brett Perriman and Johnnie Morton each had more than 100 yards receiving in the game.
2003 – The last time the Lions won on Thanksgiving, beating the Packers 22-14. Dre Bly had two interceptions and forced a fumble.
A little more than 11 years ago, a father and son sat together and listened as close to 1,500 players were selected in the annual Major League Baseball draft. The son, a pitcher, was hoping to hear his name called, but to the dismay of both, it never was.
It was a disappointing day for the father, but instead of letting the disappointment get to him and his son, Richard encouraged the budding young player to keep working hard.
The hard work paid off on July 4, 2005 when Richard’s son took the mound for his first MLB start. On the back of his Detroit Tigers’ jersey was the number 35 and slightly above read the last name: Verlander.
Richard’s son Justin had made it to the big leagues.
The story of how Richard and his wife Kathy raised Justin through encouragement was the inspiration for the Verlanders’ book “Rocks Across the Pond,” a book about parents raising young athletes and supporting the dream of their children.
On Dec. 4 Richard and Kathy will visit the campus of Washtenaw Community College to sign copies of the book before speaking to attendees inside the Morris Lawrence building.
“After sharing our story about raising children, it really became more about life than so much about baseball or Justin,” Richard Verlander said in a telephone phone interview with The Voice. “It’s (the book) really about parenting and some of the decisions and game-changing events we experienced that can be helpful to parents and young players.”
The Verlanders have been a whirlwind book tour in Michigan to promote the book over the last week. Richard said that getting out and speaking to groups about what they went through and how their experiences can help others.
Typically after the signings, the Verlanders speak to attendees and then open things up for a questions and answers session. Discussed are the struggles of helping Justin get to where he is today and how that helped Richard and Kathy with their younger son Ben, who plays college baseball at Old Dominion, the same college Justin attended.
“Both of our boys were late bloomers and if you looked at either of them early on, even up through high school, Justin was always really good, but he was never what you would look at and say ‘this guy is going to be the next Major League pitcher,’” Richard said. “He had to really stay with it and really work.”
Richard said that keeping a positive attitude was a key for his family’s success and if others follow those sentiments, they too can be successful.
“We enforced the notion with our children that you don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do anything,” Richard said. “At the end of the day, the message for kids is ‘don’t listen to negatives and naysayers because they will wear you out.’”
Richard and Kathy Verlander will be signing copies of their book on Tuesday Dec. 4 at the Morris Lawrence building starting at 7 p.m. Admission is free and doors open at 6 p.m.
That’s how many days the University of Michigan went without a victory against the hated Ohio State Buckeyes before last year’s 40-34 win. Fans stormed the field, coach Brady Hoke and Athletic Director Dave Brandon shared a hug at midfield as the Wolverines declared a return to prominence.
As great as that day was for the Wolverines, none of it matters if they cannot beat the Buckeyes again on Saturday. This year’s contest, held in Columbus, is the real measuring stick for a Michigan program that is clamoring for national respect again.
The Buckeyes should enter the contest at 11-0 on the year (The Voice went to print before the game with Wisconsin was played) and have the best record in the Big Ten. If not for the sanctions against their team for the Jim Tressel scandal, they would be in the national championship picture.
Quarterback Braxton Miller, who was a freshman last year when OSU nearly beat the Wolverines, leads the Buckeyes. More importantly, OSU has Urban Meyer patrolling its sideline. Meyer, a two-time national championship-winning coach at Florida, has changed the culture in Columbus in a mater of months and has convinced Buckeye Nation that its reign of dominance over the Big Ten did not end because of the problems Tressel created.
No one in Columbus really thinks last year mattered. The Buckeyes had a first-year coach in place, the team started a freshman most of the season and they were rattled by the scandal from the offseason. That was not a true OSU team, much the same way that the Rich Rodriguez-era Wolverines were not a real Michigan team.
Michigan needs to beat this OSU team. After going 11-2 last season, the Wolverines have taken a step back this year after suffering high-profile losses to Alabama and Notre Dame.
Beating Ohio State makes those losses irrelevant and also would send a message to OSU that the Wolverines are back for real.
There are already questions about what the Wolverines will be once Denard Robinson graduates. Hoke has recruited well in the two classes he has brought to Ann Arbor, but no one knows how those recruits will develop. But the recruiting war between the two coaches has already started and whoever wins this year has a leg up on the other guy for at least another year.
Hoke has to know that even though his team still has a chance at a Big Ten title, a win over OSU in “The Game” would mean even more to the fan base and future recruits. Players and coaches like to say that one of the reasons they came to Michigan was to play against Ohio State.
So, six weeks into the fantasy football season and your team is in the dumps. Your No. 1 pick is a bust, and everyone else in the league seems like they found a gem in the ninth round while you’re stuck starting Jonathon Stewart at running back every week.
Have no fear, my fantasy football friends. I’m here to reassure you that there is still plenty of time to make the moves necessary to not only improve your lineup, but to have it ready for the all important playoff-push.
Here are some tips that will get you back on top of your fantasy standings:
Look for underachieving players with good backgrounds
Odds are, you’re not the only one in the league with players who aren’t living up to expectations. Use that to your advantage. Players like Matthew Stafford, Maurice Jones-Drew and Andre Johnson are first-round caliber talent that have underperformed. Guys like this will turn it around, and when they do they will rack up points.
Do your homework! Find the guys everyone else ignores
Did you know Baltimore’s Dennis Pitta is third in receiving target for a tight end? Probably not. While everyone wishes they had Jimmy Graham, Pitta is a nice TE who is either still available in free agency or can be acquired for minimal cost
Study the waiver wire and look at the different trends each week. Find out which players are likely to get goal-line carries or which defenses are facing the NFL’s worst offenses.
Kickers don’t matter
We’ve all had those weeks where a last-second field goal won you a game and put a soft spot in your heart for Dan Bailey. But the truth is, the difference between a top-3 kicker and a top-15 kicker is usually between 20-30 points in an entire season. Or a point or two a game.
When it comes to kickers, don’t worry about having to drop your backup to pick up a running back during bye week. You’ll be able to find a suitable replacement at any time.
On the flip side, many people will tell you that your defense doesn’t matter. These are usually the same guys who finish near the middle of the pack every year. Having a good defense and special teams is a great way to score points each week.
But you don’t have to keep the same team all year. Find the ones playing the worst offenses and get them in your lineup. In most leagues, defenses get 10 points at the start of every week. If that defense gives up 17 points, but scores a TD of its own or forces a couple turnovers it can guarantee you between 10-20 points
Don’t just assume a player is going to live up to his projections
Last, but certainly not least, don’t believe everything that you read about how great or how poor a player is going to perform. If predicting who was going to score was that easy, none of these “experts” would be covering fantasy football for a living, They would be in Las Vegas cleaning up each week.
I’ll give you an example. Recently, I started Jeremy Maclin and Jordy Nelson at wide receiver over Denarius Moore even though both were predicted to get fewer points than Moore. While Moore went on to have a good game, 16 points, Maclin and Nelson scored 21 and 32 points respectively, helping lead my team to its fifth win of the season.
Remember, most players don’t score more than 10 touchdowns a season, so there are plenty of guys who will find the end zone each week. By the way, I acquired both Maclin and Nelson earlier in the week in a deal that also netted me Jones-Drew. Thanks Joel!
So there you have it. Follow these tips and your Sundays will be more pleasant. At the end of the season, and your wallet may be a bit heavier, too.
OK, I know we’re only 13 years into the new millennium, but Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander has already made a strong case for being called the greatest pitcher of the new millennium.
At just 29 years old, Verlander is in his prime as a pitcher and he appears to be only getting better at his craft.
Last season, JV won his first American League Cy Young Award, given to the league’s best pitcher. He followed that by being named the league’s Most Valuable Player, the first pitcher to do so since 1992. Verlander was 24-5 with a 2.40 earned run average. It stands as one of the most impressive seasons by a pitcher in the last 40 years.
While his season this year was not as spectacular, he will still be a Cy Young candidate and could very well win the award for a second consecutive season. But it’s been his utter dominance in the playoffs that has pushed him even further ahead of the game’s other great pitchers, as the best in baseball.
In his first three postseason starts this year, Verlander is 3-0 with a staggering 0.74 ERA, and 25 strikeouts in 24.1 innings pitched. Both earned runs he has allowed have come on solo homeruns. There was a stretch where he pitched 23 consecutive scoreless innings before surrendering a home run to New York Yankee Eduardo Nunez.
Down the stretch when his team needed him to help get it into the postseason, Verlander was 5-1 with a 1.93 ERA and won his last four games, helping secure a spot for his team in the playoffs.
Not only does he give his team the confidence that they will win when he pitches, his presence on the mound almost assures the other team that they have no chance of winning.
The next item on his career bucket list is, obviously, a World Series ring, and with the Tigers just four wins away from that task, I have to believe JV will have the chance to win at least two of those games.
While winning the World Series for the first time since 1984 would be magical for Tigers’ fans, enjoying the dominance of the game’s best pitcher of the last three decades, on baseball’s biggest stage, will be what I remember about this season.
As a life-long, die-hard fan of the New York Yankees, I have to admit this year’s American League Championship Series was the most pathetic four-game series in Major League Baseball history.
Before I rail against the “Bronx Bombers,” let me first say that the Detroit Tigers were absolutely dominant. To put it into perspective, the Tigers scored 19 runs in the series and the Yankees had 22 hits. In Game 4, the Tigers scored eight runs. The Yankees scored six runs in the entire series. Series MVP Delmon Young drove in six runs by himself!
Looking at the numbers, the Tigers completed one of the most impressive series in not only baseball, but in sports history.
Now that I got that ass-kissing out of the way, let me dive into why exactly the Yankees should be ashamed to even put on the sacred pinstripes.
Aside from Derek Jeter and Ichiro Suzuki, no one in that lineup even tried to have a major league-worthy at bat. A typical Yankee at bat consisted of staring at strikes one and two and then swinging for the fences on strike three. Which usually ended in another Yankee strikeout or a pop up to the second baseman.
After struggling to get hits against Baltimore in the previous series, one would think that Yankees manager Joe Girardi and hitting coach Kevin “swing and miss” Long would tell their players to take a different approach at the plate.
Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeria, Nick Swisher, Alex Rodriguez and former Tiger Curtis Granderson were a combined 8-for-65 in the series for an astounding .123 batting average. Those five players make a combined $87.375 million according to USA Today, and that is a more than the entire payroll of 15 teams. Five of those teams made the playoffs this season.
After coming back in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 1, the “Bombers” looked like they were going to bring the fight to the Tigers. But once Jeter broke his ankle, the rest of the Yankees rolled over like a visitor to Charlie Sheen’s house.
Be proud, Tigers fans. The legacy of the Yankees is a storied one, filled with some of the greatest moments in sports. But what the Tigers did to the Yankees last week will stand as the darkest days in the 111-year history of the franchise.