The Ultimate Detroit Fans’ Sports Glossary

This man isn't allowed to do this anymore.

This man isn’t allowed to do this anymore.

There are certain things every Detroit sports fan must know, and he/she probably does know them, though they may not understand it as fully as they think they do.

Here’s my first installment of a glossary that attempts to catalog the most important terms, expressions and events in Detroit sports, and also to explain just what it means to be a Detroit sports fan.

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The 28-Out Perfect Game (n.) — on June 2, 2010, Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga retired the first 26 batters he faced in a game at Comerica Park. One out from a perfect game, Galraggara coaxed Cleveland’s Jason Donald to hit a groundball to first base. Galarraga took the throw at first to retire Donald, except umpire Jim Joyce ruled that Donald beat the throw. Replays clearly showed that Joyce was wrong. Galarraga retired the next batter and settled for a one-hitter, while fans at the ballpark reacted with venom toward Joyce. The next night, prior to the game, Joyce apologized to Galarraga publicly. Tigers’ fans still consider Galaragga to have tossed a perfecto.

0-and-16 (exp.) — the abysmal record of the Detroit Lions in 2008, the 50th — and final — season of The Bobby Layne Curse (see The Bobby Layne Curse). The Lions became the first (and still the only) team to go 0-16 in an NFL season. It was generally considered to be the darkest season in Lions’ history to that point.

Another One Bites the Dust (esp.) — rock song written and recorded by Queen that was adopted by the Detroit Lions when they started the 1980 season with four consecutive victories. They finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs. This was generally considered to be the darkest season in Lions’ history to that point.

ARod (n.) — nickname for third baseman Aurelio Rodriguez, a popular Gold Glove winner for the Tigers in the 1970s. The original ARod was never accused of using steroids or being a whiny little punk, unlike the current ARod. (see also PEDs)

Bad Boys (n.) — nickname for the Pistons in the 1980s and early 1990s when they enjoyed their greatest success in franchise history. Also a derisive nickname for the Lions when they stink or commit unbelievably asinine penalties, which is often. (see Suh Helmet Stomp)

Ball Don’t Lie! (exp.) — phrase popularized by Pistons’ trash-talking forward Rasheed Wallace to indicate that the basketball is the ultimate arbiter of on-court justice. Can be used to exclaim any outrage or to assert something to be supremely true. For example, on a date if the man performs a perfect parallel park and is offered a less-than-stellar compliment from his companion, he can bark, “Ball don’t lie!” while stepping onto the curb. Not the best way to get a second date, but proven to earn an ejection.

Black and Blue Division (n.) — the name used to describe the NFC Central division, which from 1970-2001 contained at minimum the Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, and Minnesota Vikings, four heated rivals in the midwest known for playing hard-nosed, bruising football. The quartet are now in the NFC North, which for some reason doesn’t get called Black and Blue, probably because the Lions stunk for so many years. The brand of football played in the “Black and Blue Division” was incredibly boring by the way, a fact stubborn old Lions fans refuse to admit because they are numb from the pain and embarrassment the Lions have inflicted upon them for the last several decades.

Bleacher Bums (n.) — the fans who used to sit in the bleachers at Tiger Stadium (see The Corner). The core of this unit consisted of drunks, loudmouths, homeless, or just plain redasses. You could be sure that if you sat there, you and your family would be called any number of creative names, all of them signifying that you were a piece of crap. The Bleacher Bums were often disciplined by Tigers’ management, most notably in 1980, when team GM Jim Campbell, who was slightly more conservative than Attila the Hun and slightly more cranky than Mr. Burns from The Simpsons, closed the bleachers for a few homestands. The Bums had been chanting phrases that included bad, bad words. Campbell also responded by reducing the alcohol level of the beer sold at Tiger Stadium and cutting off sales completely after the 5th inning. This only forced most of the Bleacher Bums to get drunker before they entered the ballpark.

The Block (n.) — famous play where Pistons’ forward Tayshaun Prince sprinted down the court and blocked a layup attempt by Reggie Miller of the Indiana Pacers in the 2004 playoffs. The block preserved a Detroit victory and sparked the underdog Pistons to the NBA Finals where they upset the Los Angeles Lakers, something no one outside of the 313 area code thought was possible.

The Bobby Layne Curse (n.) — supposedly when Detroit QB Bobby Layne was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1958 he vowed that “The lions won’t win another championship for 50 years.” The hard-drinking, fun-loving QB, who led the Lions to three NFL titles in the 1950s, never said it of course, but that fact doesn’t stop Detroit from feeling like there’s a big, ominous, black cloud over their football team. It’s actually the shadow of owner William Clay Ford.

Bo-zoing (v.) — when an executive of a Detroit team makes a decision so terrible, so unfathomable, that he destroys all goodwill the franchise has with the public. First known instance is when Tigers’ president Bo Schembechler (inspiration for the term) fired popular broadcaster Ernie Harwell in 1991. Also popped up with the Lions when Matt Millen drafted a wide receiver in the first round in three of four seasons, and when William Clay Ford continued to employ Millen despite annual failures. (see Fire Millen)

Bullpen (n.) — three definitions: (1) the place where relievers sit during games at Comerica Park; (2) the final resting place of the Tigers hopes in the 2013 postseason when right fielder Torii Hunter fell into the visiting bullpen at Fenway Park after a failed attempt to catch a grand slam off the bat of David Ortiz which resulted in a disgraceful loss to the Red Sox (phew!); and (3) the name sportswriters gave to Jim Leyland’s post-game press conferences when he spewed unintelligible cliches and spit food out of the corner of his mouth.

The Calvin Johnson Rule (n.) — the type of thing that only happens to the Detroit Lions. In the first game of the 2010 season at Soldier Field, the Lions’ receiver caught a pass in the end zone with no time left on the clock that appeared to be the game-winning score. However, after securing the ball, Johnson went to the ground, rolled one-and-a-half times, and as he was coming up he let the ball go as he came to his feet. Referees ruled that Johnson had failed to control the ball long enough, even though 45,000+ fans on hand and hundreds of thousands watching on TV knew it was a touchdown, and the play had always been a TD. The official rule is: “If a player is going to the ground in the process of making a catch, he must maintain control throughout the entire process of contacting the ground. If the player does not maintain control of the ball throughout the process of contacting the ground, the pass is incomplete.” No one understands yet to this day what the hell that means nor how the Lions could lose the game on such a stupid ruling. But of course, it’s the Lions. (see also Megatron)

City of Champions (n.) — in 1935-36, Detroit was called this when the Lions, Red Wings, and Tigers were all defending champs in their sports. At the same time, Joe Louis was the heavyweight champion of the world.

Cocaine Wayne (n.) — nickname for the head coach of the Detroit Lions from 1988 to 1996, the most recent “least-sucky” era in franchise history. Wayne Fontes was rumored to be hooked on the drug of the ’80s. He was fired after the team went 5-11 in 1996, and even his chummy relationship with star running back Barry Sanders couldn’t save his job. (see also The Decision)

The Coin Flip (n.) — an event that Lions’ fans would like to forget. In 2002 in a game that was heading into OT against the Chicago Bears, head coach Marty Mornhinweg won the coin toss but elected to kick the ball away, feeling he would be better served to have the wind at his back. However, the Lions never got the ball as the Bears went down the field and kicked a game-winning field goal. Generally considered to be the darkest point in Lions’ history up to that time.

The Corner (n.) — the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Trumbull Avenue in downtown Detroit, location of Tiger Stadium (formerly known as Briggs Stadium and Navin Field) from 1912 to 1999. The site of many legendary Detroit sports events, including World Series titles, NFL title games, championship boxing matches, and much more. Now sits empty but manicured through the kindness of the Navin Field Grounds Crew.

CoPa (n.) — cutesy nickname for Comerica Park, home to the Detroit Tigers. A mall-like, modern amenity with a Ferris Wheel and a merry-go-round that old school Tigers fans will never really accept because they hold a vise-like attachment to Tiger Stadium, (see The Corner).

The D (n.) — shorthand for Detroit, a term that started to pop up in the late 1990s and is used by Detroit fans to make themselves seem hip.

The Decision (n.) — two meanings: (1) when Barry Sanders shocked Detroit fans by announcing his retirement prior to the 1999 season via fax at the age of 31; (2) when Lions’ fans essentially decided to stop being Lions fans nine years later after the team went 0-16, capping a stretch where they averaged less than four wins a season for a decade and lost 24 straight road games. It was generally considered to be the darkest time in Detroit Lions’ history.

Deeeeetroit Baaaaasketball (v.) — annoying phrase uttered over the loudspeakers at Pistons’ games in the early 2000s, which came to signify the lunch pail work ethic of not only that team but also the city. (See The D for other examples of odd catchphrases that seem contrived because, well, they are.)

Ernie-isms (n.) — famous catchphrases used by Hall of Fame broadcaster Ernie Harwell during his legendary career with the Detroit Tigers. Examples: “He stood there like the house by the side of the road and watched that one go by,” “A man from Livonia will go home with that foul ball,” and “Two for the price of one,” (to describe a double play).

Fight Night at The Joe (exp.) — name for what happened in Detroit on March 26, 1997, when the Red Wings and the Avalanche brawled on the ice at Joe Louis Arena, settling many scores between the two bitter rivals. (see also Malice at The Palace and simply change Red Wings/Avalanche to Pistons/Pacers and 1997 to 2004 and The Joe to The Palace of Auburn Hills, and so on)

Fire Millen (exp.) — a movement that sprang out of the dark years when Matt Millen was the president and general manager of the Detroit Lions in the first decade of the 21st century. It was generally considered the darkest time in Detroit Lions’ history. The movement was only slightly more important and less successful than the 99% movement that occurred after the financial crisis under president George W. Bush.

Game 163 (n.) — when the Tigers lost to the Minnesota Twins in a special one-game, winner-take-all contest to decide the AL Central title in 2009. The loss came in extra innings, which made it even harder to swallow for Detroit fans. In that game, Brandon Inge was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded that would have given the Tigers a lead in extra-innings, but the home plate umpire missed it. (see also The Inge)

Gordie Howe Hat Trick (v.) — when a hockey player gets a goal, an assist, and also participates in a fight in the same game. Gordie was known for his free-swinging elbows in his many years in Detroit as “Mr. Hockey,” but he actually only had two Gordie Howe Hat Tricks himself during his entire career.

The Greatest At-Bat of All-Time (n.) — what Detroit Tigers’ fans call the epic 13-pitch Ab by Dave Bergman on June 4, 1984, against Roy Lee Jackson. Bergman belted the 13th pitch from Jackson into the right field overhang at Tiger Stadium (see The Corner) and gave Detroit a dramatic 6-3 10th inning walk-off win. It was universally seen as the moment the ’84 Tigers smacked their only challenger across the chops and took complete control of the division race.

Gum Time (n.) — rally-starting ritual started by Tigers’ hurler Nate Robertson during the ’06 season in which he would stuff his mouth full of bubble gum to try to cause his teammates to score some runs late in a game. Also what Jim Leyland needed to do after damaging his breath by stuffing food into his gullet and talking during post-game media sessions.

Harry High School Stuff (exp.) — phrase used by Pistons’ coach Chuck Daly to describe anything that was amateur or immature. Also can be applied to most of what the Detroit Lions front office has done for the last two decades.

Honolulu Blue (adj.) — something made up to describe the color of the uniforms worn by the Detroit Lions.

Icing (v.) — when a member of your hockey team sends the puck deep into the opponents’ zone from their own side of the red line, which is usually a penalty. Is also what former Tiger first baseman Prince Fielder prefers on his nachos, his breakfast, and just about any meal.

The Inge (v.) — acting as if you are better than you really are, as in “Matthew Stafford is really good at The Inge.” Named for former Tigers’ third baseman Brandon Inge, who was simultaneously the most lovable and most hated player in the city, and by lovable we mean sadly pathetic like the scrawny, big-eared kid on your Little League team who never hits the baseball all season. Inge once had the balls to say he was a better defensive catcher than Pudge Rodriguez, and he was apparently sober at the time he said that. After hitting about .185 with no power for 2 1/2 seasons, Inge also thought he should be Detroit’s starting second baseman, despite not playing the position in years. “I played it pretty well in high school,” he said.

The Joe (n.) — home to the Detroit Red Wings from 1979 to the present. One of the most iconic arenas in hockey, it’s hosted hundreds of Stanley Cup playoff games, the NHL All-Star Game, and even a Pistons’ playoff game in 1984 and the WNBA Finals. The Joe is also a name Pistons’ fans use for their general manager, Joe Dumars, who inexplicably gets a bad rap despite having helped build a model franchise that won an NBA title and made the Eastern Conference Finals in six straight seasons.

Jordan Rules (n.) — a list of unwritten rules employed by the Pistons against Michael Jordan in the 1980s and early 1990s that was predicated on tough, physical play. The tactics were devised by coach Chuck Daly, who wanted to force someone other than Jordan to beat his team when they played the Bulls. The Pistons eliminated the Bulls in the playoffs in 1988, 1989, and 1990.

Kaline Corner (n.) — where Hall of Fame outfielder Al Kaline plied his trade in right field for the Tigers for 22 seasons. The odd configuration of the right field corner was named after Kaline after he injured himself a few times down there. Kaline won 10 Gold Glove Awards and has been under contract with the Tigers in some form since the night of his high school prom in 1953. Not sure if he’s ever gotten a watch for all that service time, but he’s as well respected in the city as anyone ever has been.

Legend of the Octopus (n.) — tradition at Red Wings’ playoff games where an octopus is hurled onto the ice. It was started in 1952 by a pair of brothers from Detroit, and has been a fixture since. The octopus’s eight arms symbolize the eight wins it used to take to win the Stanley Cup. It now takes 16 wins to take the Cup, but no one seems to care about that discrepancy. The record for most “octopi” thrown in one game is 36, and the record for the largest octopus is 38 pounds. Coincidentally, that’s about the number of pounds most fans figured Prince Fielder gained in his two years with the Tigers. (see also Twirling Ban)

Lima Time (exp.) — egotistical term created by Jose Lima himself to describe what it was like when he took the mound for the Tigers, for whom he pitched from 1994-96, and again in 2001-02. Lima was flashy, self-promoting, cocky, and he could dance. Sort of like Jose “Papa Grande” Valverde before the Tigers were winning.

Malice at the Palace (exp.) — (see also Fight Night at The Joe and simply change Pistons/Pacers to Red Wings/Avalanche and 2004 to 1997 and The Palace of Auburn Hills to The Joe, and so on)

Megatron (n.) — moniker for Lions’ receiver Calvin Johnson, regarded as the best wide receiver in football. He’s the latest Detroit gridiron great who will never play in a Super Bowl because he has the misfortune of being a Lion. (see also The Calvin Johnson Rule and The Curse of Bobby Layne)

Monte’s Prayer (n.) — see Wide Right and The Curse of Bobby Layne.

Must-See JV (esp.) — what Detroiters refer to a game started by ace Justin Verlander, one of the best pitchers in the game. Also serves as an albatross around Verlander’s neck, as many fans who don’t know any better, think he should toss a no-hitter every time he takes the mound.

“My way or the highway” (v.) — what new manager Sparky Anderson barked to sportswriters in the first month of his tenure as skipper of the Detroit Tigers in 1979. Anderson was surprised at the casual attitude of some of his players. Within a year or so, many of those players, like Ron LeFlore and Jason Thompson, were sent packing.

New York Bias (n.) — a phenomenon that envelopes Detroit sports fans which stems from their envy and/or hatred of New York sports teams. It especially rises when discussing the greatness of Detroit athletes. For example: “Had Lou Whitaker played in New York, he would have been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.” You can replace Whitaker with Jack Morris, Alan Trammell, Bill Freehan, Lance Parrish, Mickey Lolich, Norm Cash, Willie Horton, or Eddie Brinkman for that matter. Detroit fans like to feel like they are getting screwed by the Big Apple media. It doesn’t matter that “New York” players with similar career values like Don Mattingly, Willie Randolph, and Ron Guidry, have all been shut out of the Hall of Fame. Detroit baseball fans still think they’re getting jobbed.

Old English D (n.) — the best logo on any uniform in any sport, period.

The Old Red Barn (n.) — another name for Olympia Stadium, home to the Red Wings from 1927 to 1979.

The Phantom Foul (n.) — foul that Bill Laimbeer apparently committed against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in Game Six of the 1988 NBA Finals. It “occurred” with the Pistons holding a one-point lead with 27 seconds left in the game. Jabbar went up for a sky hook and Laimbeer was whistled, even though he never touched The Big Guy. The Lakers won the game to force a Game Seven, which they won. One of several painful bad calls that Detroit fans can never, ever get over. (see Game 163, The Calvin Johnson Rule, and The 28-Out Perfect Game)

Production Line (n.) — the famous Hall of Fame line of Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, and Sid Abel. Also what Detroit used to be good at.

Rooftop shot (n.) — what fans called home runs hit onto or over the roof at Tiger Stadium. Detroit sluggers Rocky Colavito, Jason Thompson, Kirk Gibson, and Cecil Fielder all accomplished it. Rooftop is also where most Lions’ fans would like to take owner William Clay Ford, and shot is what they’d like to do to him once they get him there.

Russian Five (n.) — the Red Wings’ line of Igor Larionov, Sergei Fedorov, and Vyacheslav Kozlov, and Vladimir Konstantinov and Viacheslav Fetisov on defense. The five played as a unit for coach Scotty Bowman in the 1990s, emulating the style of play that was dominant for the U.S.S.R Red Army team in the 1980s.

The Shot (n.) — Steve Yzerman’s clutch double-overtime goal against the St. Louis Blues in 1996 to advance the Red Wings to the Conference Finals. Generally regarded by most Detroit Fans as the greatest and most dramatic play in their lifetime.

Silver Rush (n.) — name given to the Detroit Lions’ defensive front four in the early 1980s, a period of great expectations, but little success. Also the name of owner William Clay Ford’s yacht, financed by the money fans spend on season tickets. (see also Another One Bites the Dust, The Curse of Bobby Layne, O-and-16, oh hell, you get the idea)

SOL (exp.) — stands for “Same Old Lions” which is the phrase groaned by Lions’ fans every season since forever. Also means “Shit Outta Luck,” ironically.

Taco Bell Factor (exp.) — any action taken out of superstition which seems peculiar but must be done in order to assure all is right in your world. Named for the ritual of Justin Verlander, who eats Taco Bell the night before every game he pitches. Also can be called How to Get Chronic Gas and Lose Kate Upton.

Thanksgiving (n.) — for most of America, the day they spend eating turkey and pumpkin pie and pretending not be annoyed by their family. For Detroit fans, the day they struggle to keep food down after watching the Lions lose again. Also known as Pass the Taters and That Day We Have to Watch the Lions.

Thumbs Up (exp.) — a feel-good expression that came out of a tragic play in 1991 when Lions’ lineman Mike Utley was paralyzed on the field at the Pontiac Silverdome. Utley’s foundation continues to raise money to find a cure for paralysis.

The Turtle (n.) — what Colorado “tough guy” Claude Lemieux did when he was attacked by Darren McCarty during a brawl on the ice on March 26, 1997. This maneuver is considered cowardly. (See also Fight Night at The Joe)

Twirling Ban (n.) — the rule which dictates that when the ice manager leaves the rink with an octopus (see Legend of the Octopus), he cannot twirl it above his head. Another reason some say “NHL” stands for the “No Happy League.”

Ty-gers (n.) — a name that sportswriters tried to pin on the Detroit baseball club in the era from 1921 to 1926 when Ty Cobb was the player/manager. It was a cute little pun, but no one who played under Cobb thought he was all that cute, and the Ty-gers were never that good under The Peach, except at hitting a baseball.

WAR (n.) — an advanced statistic used by some heavy-minded fans to argue that Mike Trout deserved to win the MVP Award over Miguel Cabrera in 2012 and 2013. It’s also what Detroit fans will declare on you if you try to make that point.

The Wave (v.) — a crowd participation activity that became popular during the 1984 season at Tiger Stadium (see The Corner and Bleacher Bums); it was either the most fun you ever had at a ballpark or the most aggravating thing you ever had to endure, depending on what sort of fan you were. The Wave is also what Lions’ head coach Jim Schwartz got as he left town upon being fired after the 2013 season, though most fans used only one finger while giving it.

Wide Right (n.) — refers to any kick that veers right and misses. However, for Detroit rooters, it can only mean one thing: when Eddie Murray missed a 42-yard field goal with 11 seconds left in a playoff game against the 49ers in San Francisco in 1982. The miss resulted in a 24-23 defeat for coach Monte Clark and the Lions. Clark was seen on the sidelines with his hands lifted in prayer as Murray lined up the kick, an image he never lived down and which haunts Lions’ fans to this day. (See also Monte’s Prayer) This loss was generally thought to be the darkest time in Detroit Lions’ history to that point.

8 replies on “The Ultimate Detroit Fans’ Sports Glossary

  • Cecilia

    It’s a great list. I would humbly suggest one more:

    The Voice Of The Turtle (n.) Two verses from the Bible (Song of Solomon 2:11-12) which Ernie Harwell read at the opening of the first broadcast from spring training every year.

  • Rick Bak

    Re the “City of Champions” of 1935-36….actually, Joe Louis wasn’t heavyweight champ until June 1937, when he knocked out Jimmy Braddock.

    Re Tiger Stadium being referred to as “the corner.” The term was never used anywhere (by fans or media) until the Freep came out with its history of the stadium, “The Corner,” during the Tigers’ final season at Michigan & Trumbull. There’s a story behind why we coined it that, but I’m too lazy right now to get into it.

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