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Friday, October 17, 2003

Condolences to Bosox fans.

They almost had me pulled in--I was hovering around the event horizon--but I managed to pull back. The joint failures of judgment by Grady Little and Pedro Martinez gave me the momentum.

I can empathize, given Red Wings and Lions fandom. So, let me distract you from your pathos this morning.

I'll dispense with the Lions quickly--they don't get close enough to break your heart. 1--count it--1 playoff victory since 1957. That explains my dad watching them, but not me and most others who have sold out their games ever since.

One word: Cornbread!

The Wings, OTOH--well, they are more comparable to the Sox. They kept doing crap like this from about 1956-96, getting close but never quite able to dispatch the hovering demons, as "1955" became an increasingly powerful chant (after the '55 championship season, the plantation ownership of the NHL arranged trades over the next two years that devastated the organization). The trade of Terrible Ted Lindsay in 1957 was even said to have invoked a curse on the organization....

In my time of fandom, after the rock-bottom of 1985-86, they got better, and fairly quickly, but ran out of gas against the far superior Oilers dynasty. Then came the collapses of 1993 and 1994, seven game first-round humiliations of regular season powerhouses by inferior teams that left the city screaming. Both of these came with legend Scotty Bowman at the helm.

1995--breakthrough--the finals!

Out in four! Broomed. Humiliated. Clueless. Bob Errey is still trying to lace his skates to do battle with the too-appropriately named Devils.

1996--most regular season wins in the history of the league! Dragged to seven games in the second round by a far inferior Blues team with a journeyman goalie, which was won in double-OT by a bullet shot from The Captain. Euphoria!

Now time to play the Avs in the Conference championship. Easy meat, even for the tired Wings, right? They'd crushed the Avs in their last regular season meeting, 7-0. Oops.

They quickly added "battered" and "outskated" to "exhausted", losing in six.

BUT--an odd sign of hope emerged, though it wasn't regarded as such then. A monstrous cheap shot by Claude Lemieux on Kris Draper in game 6 placed a huge chip on the Wings' shoulder. Stewing, they now had a hated rival to dispatch.

Not to mention some ineffective players, which resulted in all world winger Brendan Shanahan coming to these parts.

Following three straight regular season losses to the Avs, the Wings marked March 26, 1997 on the calendar. In what can only be compared to scenes from the movie Slapshot, the Wings and Avs mixed it up in a monster first period brawl that saw goalies and Europeans leaping into the fray, a WWF-style jump by Shanahan to intercept a charging Av, and big winger Darren McCarty beating the snot out of a cowardly, turtling Lemieux. Then, after a furious third period comeback, Darren the Avenger scored the OT winner, which shook the Joe to its foundations.

The best, and most decisive, regular season game in the history of the NHL. I am firmly convinced that the defeat nipped the would have been Avs dynasty in the bud. The Wings, no longer intimidated by the Avs, powered through them in six in the Conference finals, and swept to the Cup over the stunned Flyers and hockey pundits, the game 4 inauguration occuring on home ice.

6/7/97. Real euphoria. A city celebrating--peacefully--into the morning.

BTW, Ted Lindsay was in attendance that night.

It can be done. I know, 1918--a lot longer than 1955--but remember, more than half the teams in hockey make the playoffs, making the Cup drought even more inexplicable. So close this time, and this can be turned to the Sox advantage if they tweak a team with some glaring weaknesses (um, speed?) and don't fall into blame fests.

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