Yes, you read that right: The Detroit Lions are hosting Monday Night Football.
Even when the Giants aren't very good -- and, right now, they aren't -- they still have a pretty good organization in place, enabling them to recover quickly.
The Lions? They've gone longer without winning an NFL Championship in one city than any other team: 57 years, since 1957. (The Arizona Cardinals haven't won one since 1947, but have moved twice since, from Chicago to St. Louis in 1960, and to Phoenix in 1988.) Think about it: The last time the Lions won a title, "Jailhouse Rock" was on the charts, and the baseball Giants and the Dodgers were in the process of moving to California.
It's not that the Lions have been terrible the whole time. Even as recently as 1999, they'd been to the Playoffs 6 times in the preceding 9 years, getting to the NFC Championship Game in the 1991 season, although they got slaughtered by the Washington Redskins.
But then their great running back Barry Sanders retired, and within 2 years, they had fallen to 2-14. In 2008, they put together the first 0-16 season in NFL history. (The Tampa Bay Buccaneers went 0-14 in their first season, 1977.) In 2007, '08 and '09, they lost 19 straight games (well short of the Bucs' having lost the first 26 in franchise history, breaking all NFL records); from November 2007 to December 2010, they went 5-47.
Amazingly, they bounced back, making the Playoffs in 2011 -- but their last 2 seasons have again been losing ones, and the Lions remain a joke, above and beyond not having won a title since "Super Bowl -IX." The Giants should beat them, and are currently 5 1/2-point favorites.
Disclaimer: While I have been to Detroit, and I did see a game at Tiger Stadium, it was not against the Yankees, and the Tigers' new home, Comerica Park, was then still under construction. I have no firsthand knowledge of what the ballpark is like. I have, however, been around Tiger fans, both at the old yard and in their visits to the old Yankee Stadium. So I have a pretty good idea of what the game experience will be like.
Before You Go. The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press (or "Freep") websites should be consulted before you decide whether to go. While the game will be indoors, you will be spending some time outdoors. Monday afternoon is forecast to be in the mid-70s, and Monday night in the mid-50s. Most likely, you'll be staying overnight if you go, so let me add that Tuesday's weather is set to be about the same. But since this will be early September, Detroit's placement in the Midwest snowbelt should not be a problem.
Since the July 1967 race riot, Detroit has become known as a city of poverty, crime, decay, and poor city services, the kind of place where even Batman would fear to tread. The legendary comedian Red Skelton once said, "In Detroit, you can go 10 miles and never leave the scene of the crime." It's no wonder the RoboCop film series was set there.
There was a Nike commercial a few years back, in which young basketball players were seated, yoga-style, in front of a TV screen, on which their "master," a fat black man with a turban and sunglasses who looked nothing like an athlete, was dispensing wisdom. At the end, after the Swoosh logo was shown, the camera went back to one of the students, who asked, "But, Master, what if we behave badly?" And the Master lowered his shades, looked over them, and said, "You go to Detroit." This was in the early 1990s, when the Pistons had begun to fall from their 1989-90 "Bad Boys" championship teams, and going to Detroit was not a good option in any sport -- indeed, the only Detroit team doing well at the time was, strangely, the Lions, who were then a perennial Playoff team thanks largely to Barry Sanders.
I once saw a T-shirt that read, "I'm so bad, I vacation in Detroit." As I mentioned, I have. (I'm not saying I'm "bad," or a "hard man," just that I went.) Newark had a race riot 2 weeks before Detroit's. In May 1999, I saw Detroit, and I realized just how far back Newark had come, by seeing how far Detroit had not.
In the 1950 Census, Detroit was the 4th-largest city in America, after New York, Chicago and Philadelphia, with over 2 million people just within the city limits. "White flight" after the '67 riot has led to the Detroit metropolitan area having roughly the same number of people it had then, about 5.3 million, but within the city limits the number has dropped from over 2 million to just 680,000. The suburbs are beautiful, but the city itself is a hole, and good men (and a few bad ones) have busted their humps trying to get it back on its feet.
One of the good men who's tried is Mike Ilitch, probably the most famous American of Macedonian descent, who runs Little Caesar's Pizza, and owns the Tigers and Red Wings. He rebuilt the city's historic Fox Theater, put Little Caesar's headquarters in the building above it, and had Comerica Park built across the street. He, and many others, including Pistons Hall-of-Famer turned major area businessman Dave Bing, who served a term as Mayor, are trying, they really are.
But Governor Rick Snyder, a Tea Party Republican, has ordered a State takeover of Detroit's finances. Apparently, he didn't learn the lesson of Hugh Carey, New York's Governor in 1975, who found another way to get New York City's finances back on their feet. In Detroit's case, as in every other place in which it's tried, austerity hasn't worked.
As for you, the potential visitor, the fear of crime should not keep you away. As with Yankee Stadium during the depth of New York's crime wave from the late 1970s to the early '90s, the ballpark is probably the safest, best-protected place in town.
I should also note that Detroit is a border city. The Detroit River, connecting Lakes Huron and Erie, is one of the few places where you can cross from north to south and go from America to Canada. Windsor, Ontario -- the closest thing to a "South Detroit," making that line in the Journey song "Don't Stop Believin'" problematic -- is considerably safer, and, like Detroit itself, has a gambling casino. If you want to visit, you'll need to bring your passport. You can use either the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel or the Ambassador Bridge.
Tickets. In spite of Detroit's reputation for crime and poverty, and the team's reputation for ineptitude, the Lions averaged 63,696 fans per home game last season -- 24th out of the NFL's 32 teams, but, given Ford Field's capacity, still a sellout. Getting tickets may be difficult, especially since this is a Monday Night Football game. Remember, Detroit is in Michigan, home of the Wolverines and the Spartans, prime Big Ten Country: These people love their football. Even their bad football.
In the Lower Level, Sideline seats go for $195, Corner for $120, and End Zone for $115. In the Upper Level, the "Roar Zone," they're $70.
Getting There. Detroit is 600 land miles from New York. Specifically, it is 616 miles from Times Square to Cadillac Square. Knowing this, your first reaction is going to be to fly out there.
Except... Wayne County Metropolitan Airport is 22 miles southwest of downtown. A taxi to downtown will set you back a bundle. There is a bus, SMART (Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation) bus Number 125, that goes directly from the airport to downtown, but it will take an hour and 20 minutes.
Also, do you remember the Seinfeld episode where George Costanza had a girlfriend, played by a pre-Will & Grace Megan Mullaly (using her real voice, you'd never recognize her as W&G's Karen), and he had to accompany her to a funeral in her hometown of Detroit? "It's kind of an expensive flight," George said. This was not just George being his usual cheap self: At the time, over 20 years ago (wow, it's been that long), it was expensive, more expensive from New York to Detroit than it was to the further-away Chicago.
It's actually cheaper now, but not by much: A check of airline websites shows that, while flights can by had for under $700 round-trip, most will be more like $1,300 -- and you'll have to change planes in Chicago. That's right, you'll have to overshoot Detroit to go to Detroit.
Too rich for your blood? The news gets worse: There is no good way to get to Detroit, and that's got nothing to do with the city's reputation. Forget the train. The only Amtrak route in and out of Detroit is to and from Chicago, which in the opposite direction.
The most direct route is the Lake Shore Limited, formerly known as the Twentieth Century Limited when the old New York Central Railroad ran it from Grand Central Terminal to Chicago's LaSalle Street Station. It leaves New York's Penn Station at 3:40 every afternoon, and arrives at Union Terminal in Toledo at 5:55 every morning. From there, you have to wait until 6:30 to get on a bus to Detroit's Amtrak station, arriving at 7:35. The station is at 11 W. Baltimore Avenue, at Woodward Avenue, 2 1/2 miles north of Comerica, so walking there is not a good option; the number 16 or 53 bus would take you down Woodward. In reverse, the bus leaves Detroit at 9:45 PM, arrives in Toledo at 10:50, and then you have to hang around there until the Lake Shore Limited comes back at 3:20 AM, arriving back in New York at 6:23 PM. Total cost: $199. A lot cheaper than flying, but a tremendous inflammation in the posterior.
How about Greyhound? Yeah, ride a bus for 14 hours to Detroit, there's a great idea. (Rolleyes.) Actually, having done it, I can tell you that it's not that bad. Two Greyhound buses leave Port Authority every day with connections to Detroit. One is at 5:15 PM, and arrives at 7:20 AM, with a 1 hour and 35 minute stopover in Cleveland in the middle of the night (but you won't have to change buses, in case you want to stay on the bus and sleep). The other leaves Port Authority at 10:15 PM, and you will have to change buses in Cleveland, arriving 6:50 AM and leaving 7:50, arriving at 11:25 AM. Despite having to change buses, this one is actually faster, taking 13 hours and 10 minutes, as opposed to the single through bus ride, taking 14 hours and 5 minutes.
Compared to most of Detroit, the bus terminal, at 1001 Howard Street, is relatively new and quite clean. It was just about within walking distance of Tiger Stadium, which really helped me in 1999. It's also not a long walk to Ford Field, but I wouldn't recommend this. Better to take a cab, especially if you're getting a hotel. Round-trip fare: $150 if you make an advanced purchase, $209 if you're buying at Port Authority. So Greyhound is also far cheaper than flying, possibly cheaper (and definitely not much more expensive) than Amtrak, and less of a pain than Amtrak.
If you decide to drive, the directions are rather simple, down to (literally) the last mile. You'll need to get into New Jersey, and take Interstate 80 West. You'll be on I-80 for the vast majority of the trip, through New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio. In Ohio, in the western suburbs of Cleveland, I-80 will merge with Interstate 90. I point this out merely to help you avoid confusion, not because I-90 will become important -- though it is for "How to Be a Yankee Fan in Chicago" and some other cities. In Ohio, you'll take I-80's Exit 64, and get onto Interstate 75 North. This will take you into Michigan. Take Exit 50 for Grand River Avenue. Follow the ramp to Woodward Avenue.
If you do it right, you should spend about an hour and a half in New Jersey, 5 hours and 15 minutes in Pennsylvania, 3 hours in Ohio and an hour in Michigan. That’s 10 hours and 45 minutes. Counting rest stops, preferably halfway through Pennsylvania and in the Cleveland suburbs, and accounting for traffic in both New York and Detroit, it should be about 12 hours.
I strongly recommend finding a hotel with a good, secure parking garage, even if you're only staying for one game.
Once In the City. The city, and its river, were founded in 1701 as Fort Ponchartrain du Detroit du Lac Erie (Day-TWAH, strait of Lake Erie), by Antonie de La Mothe Cadillac, for whom the downtown Cadillac Square and the brand of car was named.
Detroit's centerpoint, in culture and in terms of address numbers, is the Woodward Fountain, where Woodward, Michigan and Gratiot Avenues come together, with Cadillac Square just off to the east. Woodward is the East-West divider.
The suburbs are nearly all-white; the city itself, nearly all-black. If there is another city on the planet that is so segregated, I'm not aware of it. The sales tax in the State of Michigan is 6 percent, and does not go up in either the County of Wayne or the City of Detroit.
Detroit is a weird city in some ways. It often seems like a cross between a past that was once glorious but now impossible to reach, and a future that never quite happened. (That observation was once made about the remaining structures from New York's 1964-65 World’s Fair and the Astrodome in Houston.) Art Deco structures of the 1920s and '30s, such as the Penobscot Building (the tallest building outside New York and Chicago when it opened in 1928, the tallest in Michigan until 1977) stand alongside abandoned, boarded-up or chained-up stores.
But alongside or across from them, there are glassy, modern structures such as the Renaissance Center, shown in the photo above: A 5-tower complex that includes, at its center, the 750-foot tallest building in Michigan (the tallest all-hotel skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere), and, in one of its 4 outer towers, the headquarters of General Motors (although the RenCen was originally financed by Ford).
Downtown also has the Detroit People Mover, a monorail system that is part of the suggestion of Detroit trying to get from 1928 to 2028 while jumping over the difficult years in between. Like the Washington and Montreal Metro (subway) systems, the company running it prides itself on the artwork in its stations. It has a stop called Times Square, but it won't look anything like the one in New York. It has a stop called Bricktown, but it won't look anything like Brick Township, the sprawling Jersey Shore suburb off Exits 88 to 91 on the Garden State Parkway.
People Mover train, in front of the Renaissance Center
The Grand Circus Park and Broadway Street stations are both 3 blocks from Comerica Park. The DPM also has a stop at Joe Louis Arena, home of the Red Wings. It’s cheap, only 75 cents, and it still uses tokens, although it also accepts cash. Be advised, though, that it stops running at midnight, except on Fridays and Saturdays, when it runs until 2:00 AM. Bus fare is $1.50.
ZIP Codes in the Detroit area start with the digits 480, 481, 482 and 483, and the Area Code is 313, with 248 (overlaid by 947), 586 and 734 serving the suburbs.
Going In. Ford Field is, of course, named for Detroit's greatest corporate icon, the Ford Motor Company. William Clay Ford Jr., a.k.a. Bill Ford, great-grandson of Henry Ford, is the company's CEO and the Lions' vice-chairman and operating owner; his mother, Martha Firestone Ford (granddaughter of tire baron Harvey Firestone, a close friend of Henry), is the team's majority stockholder and thus actual "owner.")
The area around Comerica Park (named for a Midwest-based bank) and Ford Field (home of the NFL's Lions, across Brush Street from Comerica, and named for the automaker), at the northern edge of downtown Detroit, is called Foxtown, after the Fox Theater, which, as I said, Tigers/Wings/Little Caesars owner Mike Ilitch had restored. The ballpark can be entered from gates on Brush, Beacon and St. Antoine's Street, with Montcalm Street also bordering it. The official street address is 2000 Brush Street.
Unlike most indoor stadiums, Ford Field allows a large amount of natural light to reach the artificial FieldTurf field, thanks to immense skylights and large glass windows at the open corners. The windows along the ceiling are frosted, to mimic the automotive factories that are prevalent in the area. The southwest corner provides the seating bowl and concourse with sunlight year-round, and also offers fans a view of downtown.
Ford Field hosted Super Bowl XL in 2006, won by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the final game of Detroit native Jerome Bettis; and the 2009 NCAA Final Four, the only one ever held in the State of Michigan, won by North Carolina, overcoming a "home-court advantage" for Michigan State in the Final.
Ford Field has hosted the U.S. national soccer team once thus far. Appropriately, for a city on the U.S.-Canadian border, it was against Canada, on June 7, 2011. The U.S. won.
Food. When I visited Tiger Stadium in its final season, 1999, it had great food, including the very best ballpark hot dog I've ever had. Since they're owned by Little Caesars mogul Ilitch, and before that were owned by Domino's Pizza boss Tom Monaghan, food is taken very seriously by the club. This is, after all, Big Ten Country, where college football tailgate parties are practically a sacrament. One would hope that the same would be true of the Lions, who, after all, are a football team. It is.
The Breadstick offers deli sandwiches, stadium fare, and a full bar. This open space gives guests a chance to grab something to eat and a spot to sit before, during or after the game. Located on the second level concourse above gate A.
Why a team in a city with a big Polish population would name a concession stand Poletown, and stock it with Mexican food, I don't know. But, in Section 120, Poletown has Poppin’ Nachos layered with tortilla chips, cheese, and deep fried jalapenos; plus Baked Potato Fries with loaded dip.
The Lions work with their team's most recent living legend to present Barry Sanders Fresh and Fit Meal stands, in sections 115, 126, 137, 217, 234 and in the Huntington Club. A Barry Sanders Fresh and Fit Meal which includes a turkey sandwich on whole grain bread, carrots, apples, juice and one limited edition Barry Sanders trading card by Topps. If that's "too healthy" for you, another Heisman Trophy winner who wore Number 20 for the Lions has a stand: Billy Sims' Barbecue, at Section 139.
Team History Displays. While the Lions haven't won a title in over half a century, they do have 4 NFL Championships, and that's more than any team except the Giants, Green Bay, Chicago, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Dallas and Washington. (Cleveland, despite not having won one since 1964, also has 4. The Colts have 4 if you combine their Baltimore and Indianapolis periods.) The title banners hang over one end zone: 1935, 1952, 1953 and 1957.
Billy Sims, Lem Barney, Barry Sanders.
A Heisman winner, a Hall-of-Famer, and a man who is both.
The others are as follows: 7, Dutch Clark, quarterback-defensive back, 1934-38; 22, Bobby Layne, quarterback-placekicker, 1950-58; 37, Doak Walker, runningback-placekicker, 1950-55; 56, Joe Schmidt, linebacker, 1953-65; 85, Chuck Hughes, wide receiver, 1970-71; and 88, Charlie Sanders (no relation to Barry), tight end, 1968-77. (Hughes had a heart attack during a game on October 24, 1971, and remains the last of the 5 NFL or AFL player to die directly as a result of something that happened during a game.)
* From the 1935 NFL Champions: Clark.
* From the 1940s: Center-linebacker Alex Wojciehowicz.
* From the 1952-53 NFL Champions: Layne, Walker, offensive tackle Lou Creekmur, cornerbacks Jack Christiansen and Jim David, safeties Yale Lary and Don Doll.
* From the 1957 NFL Champions: Layne, Creekmur, Christiansen, Lary, Schmidt, and guards Harley Sewell and John Gordy.
* From the 1962 team that went 11-3, and was the only team to beat the Green Bay Packers all season, but missed the Playoffs because they finished 2nd to the Packers in the Western Division: Lary, Schmidt, receiver Gale Cogdill, defensive tackles Alex Karras and Roger Brown, linebacker Wayne Walker (no relation to Doak), and cornerbacks Dick "Night Train" Lane and Dick LeBeau.
* From the 1970 NFC Central Division Champions: Karras, LeBeau, Charlie Sanders, Barney, and center Ed Flanagan.
* From the period in between the 1970 and '83 Division titles: Defensive end Al Baker.
* From the 1983 NFC Central Division Champions: Sims, defensive tackle Doug English, and placekicker Eddie Murray (not to be confused with the 1st baseman on that year's World Champion Baltimore Orioles).
* From the 1991 NFC Central Division Champions: Barry Sanders, running back Mel Gray, receiver Herman Moore, offensive tackle Lomas Brown, linebacker Chris Spielman, safety Bennie Blades, and punter Jim Arnold.
* From the 1990s Playoff teams: In addition to the preceding, running back Cory Schlesinger, center Kevin Glover, defensive end Robert Porcher.
Lane was named to the NFL's 75th Anniversary Team in 1994. He, Christiansen, Layne, Schmidt, Barney and Barry Sanders were named to The Sporting News' 100 Greatest Football Players in 1999. Lane, Schmidt and Barry Sanders were named to the NFL Network's 100 Greatest Players in 2000.
The Lions have also had an unusually high number of Heisman Trophy winners play for them, even for an old team, 8: Doak Walker, 1948; Leon Hart, 1949; Howard Cassady, 1955; Steve Owens, 1969; Billy Sims, 1978; Barry Sanders, 1988; Andre Ware, 1989; and Desmond Howard, 1991.
The following Lions have been elected to the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame, located at Cobo Hall in downtown Detroit: Clark, Wojciechowicz, Layne, Doak and Wayne Walker, Schmidt, Christiansen, Lary, David, Hart, Creekmur, Lane, Karras, LeBeau, Barney, Charlie and Barry Sanders, English, Sims, Murray, Spielman, Lomas Brown (but not Roger), Moore, original owner George Richards, 1930s running back Leroy "Ace" Gutowsky, 1940s running back and later Supreme Court Justice Byron "Whizzer" White, 1950s coaches Buddy Parker and George Wilson, 1950s running backs Cloyce Box and Bob "Hunchy" Hoernschmeyer, 1950s receiver Terry Barr, 1950s lineman Les Bingaman, 1950s broadcaster Van Patrick, 1963-2014 owner William Clay Ford, 1960s linebacker Mike Lucci, and 1990s kicker Jason Hanson.
Stuff. The Lions have souvenir shops throughout Ford Field, selling jerseys, T-shirts, jackets, caps, pennants, helmets turned into various doodads, etc. The main store, the Lions Pro Shop, is in the southwest corner of the stadium.
Don't expect to find team DVDs there. There aren't too many available even on Amazon.com. A notable exception is NFL: A Football Life: Barry Sanders, part of a series.
When your team isn't in a glamorous city, and hasn't won the NFL championship game since it was still called "the NFL Championship Game," not "the Super Bowl," books about it are hard to come by. For whatever reason, there doesn't seem to be a retrospective about the Lions' 75th Anniversary -- probably because that was in 2009, in the wake of their previous year, the 0-16 years. But in 1993, another anniversary year and a time when the Lions were a lot better, Mike Miller wrote Lions Pride: 60 Years of Detroit Lions Football.
Chris Willis wrote Dutch Clark: The Life of an NFL Legend and the Birth of the Detroit Lions. Bob St. John wrote Heart of a Lion: The Wild and Wooly Life of Bobby Layne, about the Hall-of-Famer who quarterbacked the last 3 Lion titles. John A. D'Annunzio wrote When the Lions Roared: The Story of the Detroit Lions' 1957 NFL Championship Season, about the last title.
Charles C. Avison wrote Detroit: City of Champions, telling of how the city produced champion after champion in the Great Depression and World War II: The Tigers winning Pennants in 1934, '35, '40 and '45; the Lions debuting in 1934 and winning the NFL Championship in 1935; the Red Wings winning the Stanley Cup in 1936, '37 and '43; and Alabama-born, Detroit-trained Joe Louis winning the Heavyweight Championship of the World in 1937 and keeping it until his first retirement in 1948. Back then, Detroit was a city where anything was possible.
During the Game. You do not have to worry about wearing Giant or Jet gear in Ford Field. Maybe if it was Chicago Bears or Green Bay Packers stuff. Or if it was a Pistons game and you were wearing Chicago Bulls stuff.Or if it was a Red Wings game and you were wearing Chicago Blackhawks or (due to their nasty late 1990s, early 2000s matchups) Colorado Avalanche stuff. But for a Lions game, you can wear just about any opposing team's cap, jersey, jacket, whatever, and no one will give you a hard time based on that.
The Lions have never had cheerleaders. Their mascot is Roary the Lion (a play on the name "Rory"). The Lions have a fight song that dates to their founding days, the 1930s:
Forward down the field,
A charging team that will not yield.
And when the Blue and Silver wave,
Stand and cheer the brave.
Rah, Rah, Rah.
Go hard, win the game.
With honor you will keep your fame.
Down the field and gain,
A Lion victory!
After the Game. With Detroit's rough reputation, I would recommend not hanging around downtown after a night game. If you want a postgame drink or meal, you're better off sticking to your hotel.
You may have heard of Detroit's classic sports bar, the Lindell Athletic Club, better known as the Lindell AC. USA Today once called it the Number 1 sports bar in America. The late Lions star and actor Alex Karras had a part-ownership, and it got him in trouble with gambling that led to his suspension for the 1963 season. Shortly thereafter, it moved from its original 1949 location to its more familiar one, at Cass & Michigan Avenues. The owners gave out free drinks the night the Tigers clinched the 1968 Pennant.
In 1969, former Yankee player and future Yankee manager Billy Martin, then managing the Minnesota Twins, saw his pitcher Dave Boswell sucker-punch 3rd baseman Bob Allison there, and Martin knocked Boswell out, leading to his own firing. Ironically, Martin's next managing job was with the Tigers. It was Lindell owner James "Jimmy B" Butsicaris who recommended to Billy that he sign speedy center fielder Ron LeFlore, then doing time for armed robbery at Michigan's infamous Jackson State Penitentiary. (LeVar Burton starred in the film One in a Million: The Ron LeFlore Story, and Billy played himself.)
Sadly, it's gone. But the move of the Tigers out of Tiger Stadium hurt the bar, and it closed in 2002. The Stanley Cup, which the Wings had won a few months earlier, was a guest of honor at the closing ceremony. Another famous Tiger Stadium bar is still open: Nemo's, at 1384 Michigan Avenue at 8th Street. By all means, visit the Tiger Stadium site in daylight -- but not at night.
Giants gather at the Town Pump Tavern, 100 W. Montcalm Street at Park Avenue, 2 blocks from Comerica Park. Harry's Detroit Bar is also said to be a Giants' fan haven. It's right over the Fisher Freeway overpass from Comerica and the Town Pump, at 2482 Clifford Street, near the famous Cass Tech High School. Be warned, though, that over the freeway is not an area to traverse at night.
Expatriate Jet fans are said to gather at Cobo Joe's Smokehouse BBQ & Sports Bar, 422 W. Congress Street at Cass Avenue, across from the Joe Louis Arena/Cobo Hall complex. Cheli's Chili Bar is owned by hockey legend and Detroit native Chris Chelios, at 47 E. Adams Avenue, across Witherell from Comerica and thus a short walk from Ford Field.
If your visit to Detroit is during the European soccer season, which is now in full gear, most of the better choices to watch games are in the suburbs. Thomas Magee's is the home pub of the Detroit branch of the U.S. national team fan group, the American Outlaws. 1408 East Fisher Service Drive, in the Lafayette Park neighborhood, a 5-minute walk from Comerica Park and Ford Field. SMART Bus 34 to Gratiot and Russell.
Another possibility is the Red Fox English Pub. Definitely not to be confused with the now-defunct Machus Red Fox restaurant, where Jimmy Hoffa was last publicly seen. This one is at 100 S. Main Street in Royal Oak, about 14 miles northwest of downtown. Bus 498 to Woodward & 11 Mile.
Sidelights. For all its problems, Detroit is a great city, not just a great baseball city or even a great sports city.
UPDATE: On February 3, 2017, Thrillist made a list ranking the 30 NFL cities (New York and Los Angeles each having 2 teams), and Detroit came in 19th, in the bottom half. They wrote:
Detroit has , dammit. Many of the people who would bash it have never experienced the wonders of one of America'smost underrated pizza styles, taken in the tranquil beauty of Belle Isle, or emerged as an improbable hero at a rap battle hosted by Mekhi Phifer. Indeed, Detroit is an underdog all of America can get behind. If only the same could be said for the Lions.
Check out the following – but do it in daylight:
* Site of Tiger Stadium. The first ballpark on the site was called Bennett Park, after Charlie Bennett, a catcher for the NL's Detroit Wolverines, who didn’t play there. Bennett Park opened in 1896, for the Detroit team in the Western League, which became the American League in 1901. However, the team we know as the Tigers (so named because the orange stripes on their socks evoked not just tigers but the teams at New Jersey’s Princeton University, also called the Tigers) are officially dated from 1901.
After the 1911 season, the wooden Bennett Park was demolished, and replaced with a concrete and steel structure, opening on April 20, 1912 (the same day as Fenway Park in Boston) and named Navin Field, after Tiger owner Frank Navin. He died in 1935, and his co-owner, Walter Briggs, expanded the place to its more familiar configuration in 1938, renaming it Briggs Stadium. In 1961, new owner John Fetzer renamed it Tiger Stadium.
The Tigers played there from 1912 to 1999, and the NFL's Lions did so from 1938 to 1974. The Tigers won the World Series while playing there in 1935, 1945, 1968 and 1984; the Lions won the NFL Championship while playing there in 1952, 1953 and 1957. (The '52 Championship Game was played in Cleveland against the Browns; the '53 and '57 editions, also against the Browns, at Tiger Stadum.) In addition, early NFL teams the Detroit Heralds played there in 1920 and '21, and the Detroit Panthers in 1926.
* Comerica Park. Home to the Tigers since 2000, the team has seen the good (Pennants in 2006 and '12), the bad (a nosedive that cost them the American League Central Division title in 2008), and the ugly (losing an AL record 119 games in 2003). The official address is 2100 Woodward Avenue, but Woodward does not border the park; Witherell, Montcalm and Brush Streets, and Adams Avenue, do.
The Red Wings have come a long way from the building's early days, when they were nicknamed the Dead Things, winning 4 Stanley Cups in 6 trips to the Finals between 1995 and 2009. It's considered one of the loudest arenas in the NHL: In 1992, a writer for Hockey Digest compared it to Chicago Stadium, the now-demolished home of their arch-rivals, the Chicago Blackhawks, and said that, if the visiting team scores 2 early goals, the Chicago fans quiet down, but Detroit fans stay loud throughout the game.
The Joe hosts college hockey, including the Great Lakes Invitational, in the week between Christmas and New Year's. Michigan Tech is the host, with Michigan and Michigan State usually participating, and a 4th team in rotation -- this year, it's Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan. (Comerica Park hosted it in 2013, since the NHL Winter Classic of January 1, 2014 was being held there between the Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs.)
The Joe was built next-door to Cobo Center, which was named for Albert E. Cobo, Mayor from 1950 to 1957. Its centerpiece, a building originally known as Cobo Hall, has been Detroit’s major convention center since its opening in 1960, and, following the rejection of a plan to demolish it and put a new Pistons-Red Wings arena on the site, it recently underwent a renovation and expansion.
It includes a 12,000-seat arena that was home to the Pistons from 1961 to 1978, the Michigan Stags of the World Hockey Association in the 1974-75 season, and a convention complex that includes the city’s famed annual auto show. It is known for some legendary rock concerts, including the KISS album Alive! and area native Bob Seger’s Live Bullet. Unfortunately, it may be best known for the January 6, 1994 attack on Nancy Kerrigan during a practice session for the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. 600 Civic Center Drive at Jefferson Avenue. Each arena has its own station on the Detroit People Mover.
* Site of Olympia Stadium. From the outside, it looked more like a big brick movie theater, complete with the Art Deco marquee out front. But "The Old Red Barn" was home to the Red Wings from 1927 to 1979, during which time they won the Stanley Cup in 1936, '37, '43, '50, '52, '54 and '55. In 1950, they hosted Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, and Pete Babando’s overtime winner defeated the Rangers. In '54, they had another overtime Game 7 winner, as "Tough Tony" Leswick hit a shot that deflected off Doug Harvey, the great defenseman of the Montreal Canadiens. (In hockey, the shooter is still credited; in soccer, this would have been officially listed as an "own goal" on Harvey.)
The Olympia was also home to the Pistons from 1957 to 1961, the Falcons in the NBA's inaugural season of 1946-47, and the site of some great prizefights, including Jake LaMotta's 1942 win over Sugar Ray Robinson – the only fight Robinson would lose in his career until 1952, and the only one of the 6 fights he had with LaMotta that LaMotta won.
It was the neighborhood, not the building, that was falling apart: Lincoln Cavalieri, its general manager in its last years, once said, "If an atom bomb landed, I'd want to be in Olympia." It was not a nuclear attack, but an ordinary demolition crew, that took it down in 1987. The Olympia Armory, home of the Michigan National Guard, is now on the site. 5920 Grand River Avenue, corner of McGraw Street, on the Northwest Side. Number 21 bus. If you’re a hockey fan, by all means, visit – but do it in daylight.
* University of Detroit Stadium. Also known as Dinan Field and Titan Stadium, this was the Lions' 1st home, from 1934 to 1937, until what became Tiger Stadium was double-decked. The Lions played and won the 1935 NFL Championship Game there, beating the Giants.
* Silverdome. Originally Pontiac Metropolitan Stadium, this stadium was home to the Lions from 1975 to 2001 (after which they moved back downtown to Ford Field), and very nearly became home to the Tigers as well, before owner John Fetzer decided to commit himself to Tiger Stadium. Heisman-winning running backs Billy Sims and Barry Sanders ran wild for the Lions here, but the closest they got to a Super Bowl was reaching the NFC Championship Game in January 1992 – unless you count hosting Super Bowl XVI, 10 years earlier, the beginning of the San Francisco 49er dynasty led by Bill Walsh and Joe Montana.
In 1994, it hosted 4 World Cup matches, including 1 by the U.S. and 1 by eventual winner Brazil. It hosted 2 games by the U.S. national soccer team, in 1992 win over Russia and the 1994 World Cup draw against Switzerland. Elvis had his biggest crowd ever at the Silverdome, 60,500, on New Year's Eve, December 31, 1975.
Without the Lions and Pistons, its future is unclear. It hosted a Don King-promoted boxing card in January 2011, and in August 2010 hosted a friendly between Italian soccer giant A.C. Milan and leading Greek club Panathinaikos – appropriate, considering the area’s ethnic makeup.
In 2013, the roof was deflated as an energy-saving measure; if a new tenant is found, a new roof will be put in as part of renovations. A current rumor is that a group trying to get an MLS expansion franchise for Detroit will use it, or demolish it and build a new facility on the site. But in March of this year, the owners announced that they would be auctioning off the contents of the facility, including seats and fixtures -- suggesting that they're not optimistic that anything new will be coming anytime soon.
1200 Featherstone Road, Pontiac. Getting there by public transportation is a pain: The Number 465 bus takes an hour and 25 minutes, and then you gotta walk a mile down Featherstone from Oakland Community College. So if you didn't drive in (or rent a car at the airport), unless you have to see everything on this list, or if you're a Lions fan living in New York who has to see it one more time, or if you're a soccer nut on a pilgrimage to all World Cup sites, I'd suggest skipping it.
One idea for the Silverdome was to make it the home of a Major League soccer team. Detroit is the largest metropolitan area in North America without a Major League Soccer team. Detroit City FC plays in the 4th tier of American soccer, at Keyworth Stadium in Hamtramck, a 7,000-seat high school football stadium, 5 1/2 miles north of downtown. Number 10 bus. The closest MLS team to Detroit is the Columbus Crew, 204 miles away. However, the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry may complicate that. The next-closest team, Toronto FC, may be preferred by Detroiters.
* The Palace. Home to the Pistons since 1988, they won the 1989, 1990 and 2004 NBA Championships here, and almost won another in 2005. The Detroit Shock won 3 WNBA Championships here, and, as a result, every time a title is won, the address changes: Currently, it's "Six Championship Drive, Auburn Hills, MI 48326." However, the Shock moved to Tulsa in 2010, so unless the NBA tries again with a new WNBA team, only the Pistons (theoretically) will be able to change the address to "Seven Championship Drive."
* Mack Park. The Negro Leagues' Detroit Stars played here from 1920 to 1929, featuring center fielder Norman "Turkey" Stearnes and pitcher Andy Cooper, who would both be posthumously elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. A senior citizens' complex, the Fairview Apartments, is on the site now. 3568 Fairview Street at Mack Avenue, about 5 miles east of downtown. Bus 7 will get you within a 15-minute walk.
* Hamtramck Stadium. After Mack Park burned down in 1929, they moved into this nearby facility for the 1930 season. Pronounced "Ham-TRAM-ick," this city is actually completely surrounded by Detroit. But between the Mack Park fire and the start of the Great Depression at the end of the year, the Stars' fate was sealed.
New teams with the name would occasionally be revived. At its peak, Hamtramck Stadium seated over 8,000 people. However, the decline of the Negro Leagues and the "industrial leagues" in the 1950s doomed it to high school use, it hasn't been used at all since 2012, and its sideline wings have been removed, reducing its capacity to 1,500. Nevertheless, it is 1 of 12 Negro League ballparks still standing. 3201 Dan Street.
When the Dodge Brothers (who later sold the car company bearing their name to Chrysler) opened an auto plant in Hamtramck in 1914, it became a hub for Polish immigration. However, the Polish population of the city has dropped from 90 percent in 1970 to 22 percent today. And Arabs and South Asians have moved in, making it Michigan’s most internationally diverse city.
Nevertheless, if you want the best kielbasa, kapusta, golumpkis and paczkis this side of the Oder, this is the place to go. Hamtramck Town Shopping Center, Joseph Campau Street and Hewitt Street.
Detroit City FC plays in the 4th tier of American soccer, at Keyworth Stadium in Hamtramck, a 7,000-seat high school football stadium, 5 1/2 miles north of downtown. All of these Hamtramck locations can be reached via the Number 10 bus.
Detroit is the largest metropolitan area in North America without a Major League Soccer team, although there is a drive to get an expansion team. The closest MLS team to Detroit is the Columbus Crew, 204 miles away. However, the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry may complicate that.
* Motown Historical Museum. As always, I’m going to include some non-sports items. Detroit is generally known for 3 good things: Sports, music and cars. The Motown Historical Museum is the former Motown Records studio, which company founder Berry Gordy Jr. labeled “Hitsville, U.S.A.” His sister, Esther Gordy Edwards, now runs it, and it features records and costumes of performers such as the Supremes, the Temptations and the Four Tops. 2648 W. Grand Blvd., on the North Side. Number 16 bus.
* Henry Ford Museum. The centerpiece of the nation’s foremost automotive-themed museum is a replica of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Henry Ford himself established the museum: “I am collecting the history of our people as written into things their hands made and used... When we are through, we shall have reproduced American life as lived, and that, I think, is the best way of preserving at least a part of our history and tradition.”
It contains the fascinating, including early cars and bicycles, Henry Ford’s first car (his 1896 "Quadricycle"), Igor Sikorsky’s prototype for the helicopter, the bus Rosa Parks was riding in when she refused to give up her seat to start the 1955-56 Montgomery Bus Boycott, and a Buckminster Fuller “Dymaxion house.” It also contains the macabre, with the chair Abraham Lincoln was supposedly sitting in when he was assassinated at Ford’s Theater in Washington (the theater owner was no relation to Henry); and the chair, and the rest of the car as well, that John F. Kennedy was definitely sitting in when he was assassinated, the back seat of in the 1961 Lincoln Continental convertible limousine he was riding in through downtown Dallas.
Next door to the museum is Greenfield Village, which Ford imagined as a kind of historical park, a more modern version of Colonial Williamsburg – that is, celebrating what was, in 1929 when it opened, considered modern American life, including a reconstruction of the Menlo Park, New Jersey laboratory of his good friend Thomas Edison. Ford and Edison were both friends of rubber magnate Henry Firestone (whose tires certainly made Ford’s cars easier to make), and Firestone’s family farm is reconstructed on the site.
Please note that I am not excusing Henry Ford’s control-freak attitude toward his employees' private lives, nor his despicable anti-Semitism, nor his failed union-busting in the 1930s. To be fair, he did give his black auto workers the same pay and benefits as his white ones. But I am recommending the museum. It's a tribute to the role of technology, including the automobile, in American life, not to the man himself. Oakwood Blvd. and Village Road. Number 200 bus to Michigan Avenue and Oakwood Blvd., then a short walk down Oakwood.
* Greektown Historic District. Although Detroit is famed for its Irish (Corktown, including the site of Tiger Stadium) and Italian communities, and has the largest Arab-American community of any major city, its best-known ethnic neighborhoods are Greektown and the Polish community of Hamtramck. New York's Astoria, Queens has nothing on Detroit's Greektown, which not only has some of the country's finest Greek restaurants, but also the Greektown Casino, which is at 555 E. Lafayette Street, at Beaubien Street. Greektown Station on the People Mover.
* Mariners' Church. On my 1999 visit to Detroit, I discovered this church by accident, walking past it without realizing it was there until I saw the historical marker. Every March, it holds a Blessing of the Fleet for every person and ship going to sea. Every November, it holds a Great Lakes Memorial Service for those who have lost their lives at sea within the past year.
The most famous of these ceremonies was for the 29 men lost on the iron ore freighter SS Edmund Fitzgerald in Lake Superior on November 10, 1975. Built and homeported in Detroit, the Big Fitz was commemorated by Gordon Lightfoot, whose 1976 song “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” mistakenly, but poetically, called the church “The Maritime Sailors’ Cathedral.” (Edmund Fitzgerald himself was the president of Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company, which invested in the ship's construction, because it was heavily invested in the ore industry.)
170 E. Jefferson Avenue, at Randolph Street, across from the Renaissance Center. If you're going to visit the church, be careful, because Randolph Street empties into the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel.
* Spirit of Detroit. In front of the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center, the city hall named for the 1974-93 Mayor, stands a marble monument with a bronze statue of a kneeling man, the seals of the City of Detroit and Wayne County, and a Biblical inscription, from 2nd Corinthians 3:17: "Now the Lord is that spirit, and where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty."
In his left hand, the 26-foot-high kneeling figure holds a gilt bronze sphere emanating rays, to symbolize God. The people in the figure's right hand are a family group. The statue was dedicated in 1958, 4 years after the Municipal Center opened. In recent years, a large jersey has been placed over it when the Tigers, Pistons or Wings have been in their sport's finals. As yet, this has never been done for the Lions, who haven't been to an NFL Championship Game since 1957, 9 seasons before they started calling it the Super Bowl. So they do it for Thanksgiving week. 2 Woodward Avenue at Jefferson Avenue.
The Spirit of Detroit, dressed in a Lions jersey
for Thanksgiving week
* Monument to Joe Louis. Erected in 1986, on a traffic island at the intersection of Woodward & Jefferson, it is a 24-foot-long arm with a fisted hand suspended by a 24-foot-high pyramidal framework. Since it is a monument to Louis, the great black heavyweight champion, the arm and fist are black bronze.
The Louis Monument, with the Spirit of Detroit behind it
Gerald Ford was President from August 9, 1974 to January 20, 1977, and was a graduate of (and an All-American football player at) Michigan in the 1930s. His Presidential Library, and a School of Public Policy named for him, are on the Ann Arbor campus, at 1000 Beal Avenue. However, he is the only President whose Library and Museum are separated, and his Presidential Museum is in his hometown of Grand Rapids, at 303 Pearl Street NW, 158 miles northwest of Detroit. You'll need Greyhound if you want to visit Grand Rapids.
Michigan Stadium is at 1201 S. Main Street at Stadium Blvd. "The Big House" has hosted UM football since 1927. Its peak attendance is 115,109 for Michigan's 2013 win over Notre Dame. This past year, it set new records for highest U.S. attendance for soccer (109,318 for Manchester United beating Real Madrid in the International Champions Cup), and for highest attendance anywhere on the planet for hockey (105,491 for the NHL Winter Classic, the Toronto Maple Leafs beating the Detroit Red Wings).
Adjacent is Crisler Arena, named for Herbert "Fritz" Crisler, the UM football coach from 1938 to 1947, who, in another connection between Princeton University sports and the State of Michigan, had previously coached Princeton's Tigers, and brought his "winged" helmet design with him, making Michigan's "maize and blue" helmets among the most famous in college football. Elvis sang at Crisler Arena on April 24, 1977. The other sports facilities, including Yost Arena (hockey) and Fisher Stadium (named for Ray Fisher, who pitched for the Yankees in the 1910s before they got good and then coached at Michigan, including Charlie Gehringer), are adjacent.
Michigan State University is 88 miles northwest of Detroit, in East Lansing, adjacent to Lansing, the State capital. Greyhound runs 4 buses a day from Detroit to East Lansing, at 8:00 AM, 12:10 PM, 2:20 PM and 7:40 PM, and it takes about 2 hours. Two buses go back to Detroit, at 3:40 and 5:55 PM. $38 round-trip.
Spartan Stadium, formerly Macklin Field, is at 325 W. Shaw Lane at Red Cedar Road, which is named for the river that bisects the MSU campus. Jenison Field House (the old basketball arena, where Magic Johnson starred on their 1979 National Champions), Breslin Events Center (their new arena), and Munn Arena (hockey) are a short walk away, at Kalamazoo Street & Birch Road.
UPDATE: According to an October 3, 2014 article in The New York Times, UM has a decided, though not overwhelming, advantage in fans in the Detroit area. Only around the State capital of Lansing do you get an edge for MSU.
In addition to the preceding, Elvis sang in Michigan at Wings Stadium (a minor-league hockey arena, now named Wings Event Center) in Kalamazoo on October 21, 1976 and April 26, 1977; and the Saginaw County Event Center (now the Dow Event Center) in Saginaw on April 25 and May 3, 1977.
* Jimmy Hoffa. No, I don't know where Hoffa is buried. All I know for sure is that, when they demolished Giants Stadium in 2010, they found no human remains. Hoffa, who was born in Indiana but lived most of his life in and around Detroit, was last seen alive on July 30, 1975, sitting in his car in the parking lot of Machus' Red Fox.
A fine-dining establishment open from 1965 to 1996, the building is still there, occupied by an Italian restaurant named Andiamo's. 6676 Telegraph Road (U.S. Route 24) at Country Club Drive, Bloomfield, 22 miles northwest of Cadillac Square. As with most sites in Detroit's outer suburbs, getting there by public transportation is a hassle: In this case, you'd need 3 buses.
* Windsor. Across the Detroit River is Windsor, Ontario. Most Americans know it for Caesar's Windsor, one of 4 casinos in the area. Like its namesakes in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, it has a Roman theme. It may be only 2 miles from downtown Detroit, but because it's in Canada, where they have things like sensible gun laws and national health care, it may feel like the other side of the world (if not Rome itself). And, because it's in Canada, you'll need a passport.
377 Riverside Drive East. There is bus service available -- less for Michiganders wanting to gamble, more for Windsorites wanting to go to Red Wings games and concerts -- and you can contact Transit Windsor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Wings' first home was actually in Windsor: They played their first season, 1926-27, at the Border Cities Arena, which still stands, and is now named Windsor Arena. Like a lot of old arenas (this one was built in 1924), it looks like a barn, and so is nicknamed The Barn. It seats only 4,400 people in its current configuration.
Its long-term tenants, the University of Windsor hockey team and the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League, now play elsewhere. The City of Windsor has approved a plan to tear it down and build the new building for Catholic Central High School on the site. 334 Wyandotte Street East, at McDougall Street.
Since 2008, the Spitfires have played at the WFCU Centre. No, that's not named for a radio station: Canadian radio stations' call letters always been with a C. The naming rights are held by the Windsor Family Credit Union. The Spitfires won the Memorial Cup, the championship of Canadian junior hockey, while playing there, in 2009 and '10, and one of the streets bordering is named Memorial Cu Way.
* Home Improvement. The 1991-99 ABC sitcom is easily the best-known TV show to have been set in Detroit, with Tool Time's studio being in the city and the Taylors' house in the suburbs, possibly in Bloomfield Hills. But, as far as I know, there were no location shots, not even in the episode in which the Taylors got to see the Lions' annual Thanksgiving game from a Silverdome skybox. So if you're looking for the Taylors' house, you're not going to find it -- if there was ever a house, not just a studio set, it was likely in or around Los Angeles. Other shows set in or around Detroit have included Martin, Freaks and Geeks, Sister, Sister, and 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter.
Several films have been set, but not necessarily filmed, in Detroit. Axel Foley, Eddie Murphy's character in the Beverly Hills Cop films, was a Detroit police detective, but most of the film, including the Detroit scenes, was shot in Los Angeles. While RoboCop was set in Detroit, it was filmed in Dallas. (And you thought "Dallas sucks" was just a sports chant.)
Billy Crystal's movie about the 1961 home run record chase, 61*, used Tiger Stadium as a stand-in (with computer-generated help) for the original Yankee Stadium (since the 1973-76 renovation left it looking very little like it did in 1961). Other recent movies set in Detroit include Eminem's Roman à clef, 8 Mile; and Clint Eastwood's retired autoworker vs. gangs film Gran Torino.
A visit to Detroit does not have to be a scary experience. These people love football. And, while they don't necessarily like the Yankees, they don't have a problem with Giant or Jet fans. They love football, and their city should be able to show you a good time.