Detroit Free Press
Published 5:36 PM EDT Apr 6, 2020
Well, folks, we made it.
Not to the return of live sports. No, we’re far from reaching that milestone, with the coronavirus pandemic still ravaging the country.
But after the cancellation of basically all sporting events led to roughly three weeks of Fox Sports Detroit airing the highlights — and we use that term loosely — of the Pistons’, Red Wings’ and Tigers’ 2019-20 seasons, we finally get a week of glory.
Actually, for eight days, at 8 p.m. from Monday to April 13, FSD will be airing three games each – but no clinchers, unfortunately – from the Wings’ 1997 Stanley Cup Finals and the Pistons’ 2004 NBA Finals, plus the Tigers’ farewell to Tiger Stadium and opener at Comerica Park.
UPDATE: FSD’s run of classic title games will extend deep into next week and also cover the Pistons’ 1989 title, the Wings’ repeat Cup in 1998, the other Wings Cups from 2002 and 2008 and the start of the 1984 World Series.
[Here’s what to watch if you’re craving epic sports action during pandemic]
Do you really have the time to watch all eight games? Probably, if you’re reading this. But just in case you’re looking to limit your FSD viewing, we thought we’d rank all eight on their rewatchability, semi-scientifically.
Each game was rated on a scale of 1-10 in three categories: memorability (aka, how likely you are to remember exactly where you were while watching it); epic-ness (aka, how likely it is to be on “all-time great games” lists); and nostalgia factor (aka, how likely you are to say, “Hey, I remember that … ” during the broadcast).
We’ll try not to spoil the games too much as we go, but if you find yourself getting worried about the outcomes, don’t. These were all wins for Detroit — note the lack of Lions games — and, boy, it’s been a while since we’ve been able to say that.
8. Saturday: Comerica Park’s 2000 debut
Memorability: 6. Epic-ness: 2. Nostalgia: 6. Average: 4.7.
April 11, 2000: The 2000 Tigers actually weren’t that bad — they finished 79-83 and won this one, 5-2, despite not hitting a home run in a much more cavernous “Comerica National Park.” (It took four games, and a visit from the generous Tampa Bay pitching staff, for the first homer at CoPa.)
Three trivia tidbits: 1. Seattle’s John Olerud got the first hit — a double with two outs in the first; 2. Luis Polonia got the Tigers’ first hit, a triple to lead off the bottom of the first, and was driven in by Gregg Jefferies — yes, he was a Tiger, and for two full seasons; 3. Tigers shortstop Deivi Cruz had a double and three sac bunts. No Tigers position player since has had three sacrifices, and just three have done it since World War II.
(Full disclosure: I remember watching this one live despite living on the other side of the country. For me, it aired while I ate lunch in a dining hall at Olerud’s alma mater, Washington State, where I was a senior. I rooted for the Mariners, of course, and, like usual for an M’s fan, I was disappointed.)
7. Thursday: Game 2, 1997 Stanley Cup Finals
Memorability: 5. Epic-ness: 4. Nostalgia: 6. Average: 5.0.
June 3, 1997: No NHL trade is won in a single game. But if there was a game that finally closed the ledger on the October 1996 deal that brought forward Brendan Shanahan to the Wings in exchange for defenseman Paul Coffey, it was this one, won by the Wings, 4-2. Shanahan opened the scoring for the Wings, with a goal that deflected off Coffey’s skate 97 seconds in.
Shanahan finished the scoring for the Wings, too, though mercifully Coffey wasn’t involved — one of just two Detroit goals in the first two games the future Hall of Famer wasn’t on the ice for. In between, the Wings got another goal from The Captain, Steve Yzerman, and another one from a Grind Liner, Kirk Maltby.
But the Wings knew they weren’t done, just as Maltby knew he wasn’t done when he scored the winner: “I didn’t even see it go in,” he told the Freep. “I was already backchecking to play defense when I saw the puck come out.”
[There’s a Big Ten mascot brawl: Here’s who’d be left standing]
6. Tuesday: Game 1, 2004 NBA Finals
Memorability: 6. Epic-ness: 4. Nostalgia: 6. Average: 5.3.
June 6, 2004: The stage was set the day before the game, when Rasheed Wallace, the midseason acquisition that was the final piece of the “Goin’ to Work” puzzle, was asked in a media scrum whether the underdog Pistons were worried about the mighty Lakers: “Ain’t nobody scared here,” he barked. “Ain’t no punks on this team! Get away from me with that scared (expletive).”
Shaquille O’Neal got his, with 34 points, including 20 in the first half. As did Kobe Bryant, who scored 25 (though he needed 27 shots to do it). The rest of the Lakers, though, had just 16 points, with seven from the two other future Hall of Fame starters, Gary Payton and Karl Malone (all in the second half).
5. Monday: Game 1, 1997 Stanley Cup Finals
Memorability: 6. Epic-ness: 4. Nostalgia: 7. Average: 5.7.
May 31, 1997: The Red Wings’ first Stanley Cup Finals victory since 1966 – remember, they’d been swept two seasons earlier – basically followed the recipe for rebuilding their dynasty in the 1990s. First up in Philadelphia, a pair of goals from Grind Liners Maltby and Joe Kocur. Next, add a dash – and we do mean dash – of scoring touch with the winning goal from Sergei Fedorov. And the final ingredient? A goal from just over the blue line by Yzerman.
Still, it was just Game 1 — there were at least three more games to go, which let Stevie Y keep it in perspective afterward. “It’s OK, I suppose,” he told the Freep’s Keith Gave. “But I’m not overly excited with it. It’s a good start to the series, but this thing is just getting under way and winning the first game isn’t necessarily an indication of the way the series is going to go.”
4. April 13: Game 4, 2004 NBA Finals
Memorability: 6. Epic-ness: 8. Nostalgia: 5. Average: 6.3.
June 13, 2004: In the end, the Lakers were one superstar short. Kobe Bryant put up 20 points despite making just eight of 25 attempts from the field. And Shaquille O’Neal did all he could to carry the Lakers, with 23 points and 17 rebounds in 35 minutes; no matter, as the Pistons cruised and the Lakers slumbered to a 56-56 tie. In L.A., everybody shows up late, right?
But this one was at the Palace, and it was the Pistons showing up late as Rip Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace combined for 21 points and the team shot 58.8% from the field. The Lakers not named Bryant or O’Neal? They went 1-for-5 in the fourth as the Lakers never led in the final period. Was it over? Chauncey Billups was too polite to call it publicly — “It’s nice that we’re up 3-1,” he said, “but it’s still the first one to four.”
T-2. Sunday: Game 3, 1997 Stanley Cup Finals
Memorability: 9. Epic-ness: 6. Nostalgia: 7. Average: 7.3.
June 5, 1997: The record books say the Wings broke their 42-year Stanley Cup drought on June 7. But this game — the Red Wings’ first Finals victory in Detroit since April 16, 1964 — sealed it. The 19,983 fans at Joe Louis Arena knew it even before the puck dropped, serenading Yzerman with 15 seconds of “Stevie” chants during introductions. “It really gets your heart pumping,” he said. “It gave me the chills. … It’s a special feeling.”
The fans had a special feeling, too, even after the Flyers scored first for their only lead of the series. That lead lasted just 120 seconds before Yzerman opened the Wings’ scoring. Three others — Fedorov, Shanahan and Martin Lapointe — made it a 6-1 game and a 3-0 series lead. But it was Yzerman who made the difference. As Shanahan noted after the game: “We’ve been feeding off him all year, especially in these playoffs. He does everything a captain does. And I haven’t played with a better defensive forward.”
T-2. Friday: Game 3, 2004 NBA Finals
Memorability: 8. Epic-ness: 6. Nostalgia: 8. Average: 7.3.
June 10, 2004: Game 1 was a stunner for the basketball world. Game 2 was a stunner for the Pistons, whose failure to foul Bryant while leading late led to an OT crusher. Game 3? That was pure “Deeee-troit bask-et-ball,” as the Pistons locked down on Bryant, holding the Lakers star to just 11 points on 4-for-13 shooting at The Palace. O’Neal didn’t get much either, putting up 14 points and just eight rebounds.
From the start, it was the Pistons’ night and the Lakers never had more than 20 points in a quarter. Oh, and while Bryant was in a shooting funk, Rip Hamilton lit it up for the Pistons: 31 points on 11-for-22 from the field, But it wasn’t just him. Billups had 19 points. Tayshaun Prince had three steals. Rasheed Wallace had two blocks. Prince summed up the approach with a quote that made the team effort clear, telling the Freep’s Perry A. Farrell: “When Rip and Chauncey are going that well, we’re tough to beat,” he said. “People ask me how am I stopping Kobe, but it’s Ben and Rasheed in back of me telling me what’s going on that’s helping me a lot.”
1. Wednesday: The Corner’s 1999 finale
Memorability: 10. Epic-ness: 4. Nostalgia: 11. (This one broke the scale, thanks to FSD’s plan to show the postgame ceremony.) Average: 8.3.
Sept. 27, 1999: For 104 years, the Tigers played at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull. First at Bennett Park, then Navin Field, which grew and became Briggs Stadium, known finally as simply Tiger Stadium. And now, on the final day before the franchise moved a little more than a mile away, the history came flooding back.
The game itself was secondary; the Tigers took the lead on — what else? — a homer in the first, lost it, took it back for good on another homer in the sixth, then put the exclamation point on the day with a grand slam in the eighth inning.
But the history — not the home-run hitters (in order: Polonia, Karim Garcia, Robert Fick) — was the point. The Tigers starters came out wearing nameless jerseys, their numbers paying tribute to the Tiger Stadium all-time team as voted on by the fans.
After the game, a legion of former Tigers passed the American flag 440 feet from the flagpole in center to catcher Brad Ausmus. And then, at the end, as he had been since 1960, there was Ernie Harwell bringing it to a close: “Tonight,” he said, “we say good-bye … but we will not forget. Moments like this shall live on forever.”
Editor’s note: Since the time this article was written, FSD announced more classic games added to their schedule. They are: at 8 p.m. April 14, Game 2, 1989 NBA Finals, Lakers at Pistons; at 8 p.m. April 15, Game 3, 1989 NBA Finals, Pistons at Lakers; 8 p.m. April 16, Game 2, 1998 Stanley Cup final, Capitals at Red Wings; 8 p.m. April 17, Game 2, 2002 Stanley Cup final, Hurricanes at Red Wings; 8 p.m. April 18, Game 4, 2002 Stanley Cup final, Red Wings at Hurricanes and 8 p.m. April 19, Game 1, 1984 World Series, Tigers vs. Padres.
Contact Ryan Ford at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @theford.