For 23 straight seasons, the Detroit Red Wings have reached at least the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. During that span, the Wings have brought home 6 conference championships and 4 Stanley Cup championships, most of any team in the NHL. In that same span, the Tigers have also enjoyed considerable success, tallying 4 ALCS championships and two World Series appearances. In that same 23 year span, the Pistons have brought home two conference championships and 1 NBA championship. Of course, the Lions remain the only NFC team to never appear in a Super Bowl, but they have found recent success in the last few years, reaching the playoffs two of the past four seasons. All told, that adds up to 12 conference titles and 5 championship seasons.
During those same 23 years, Detroit experienced other highs and lows both economically and socially. The 90’s and 2000’s saw the creation of new casinos in the city, growth of the auto industry, improvements to the Riverfront and several Detroit hospitals. Super Bowl XL, two World Series, and an NCAA Final Four were all decided in the Motor City. During that same span, however, Detroit saw a mayoral scandal, an economic nose dive leading to bankruptcy (the largest metropolitan area ever to declare) and over 5,400+ murders. The population of the city fell by nearly 400,000, while the unemployment rate climbed to over 27% in 2009.
Detroit had every reason to crumble and fall to ruin, but throughout the hardships, Detroit’s fans stood by their teams. The Pistons led the NBA in average attendance 6 times between 2000-2010, while the Red Wings have been in the Top-5 in average attendance during that stretch every year but one. Even at the depth of the economic downturn in 2009, the Tigers welcomed over 2.5 million fans to Comerica Park. For a city where the median income is $26,000 – less than half the national average – fans continue to show up, game in and game out.
Despite the hardships, Detroit’s sports teams have, in a way, given hope to the downtrodden citizens of the Motor City. Fans can find shelter in the sacred grounds of a ball game, or feel unified as they cheer on their Lions clad in Honolulu blue and silver. Detroit once built itself into an international power, where jobs were plentiful and life was good. It helped the world get going, gave us Vernors, Madonna and 8 Mile. It’s been beaten down, but it’s always bounced right back, often on the shoulders of the athletes who call Detroit home.