It was the night of the Galarraga Massacre that a local sports fan younger than I … one who shall go unnamed (all right, you forced it out of me — writer Bill Dow) … asked if the denial of the Tigers first perfect game ranked among the Top Ten on my personal grievance list of excruciating Detroit professional athletic defeats in my lifetime.
His question got me to thinking, and counting. And by the time I was done compiling this appalling history of galling failure and disappointment, I had come to a screeching halt with a Baker’s Dozen (for those of you from Clinton Township, like me, that’s 13) of my personal Worst Moments living and dying with our local sports teams. A warning: You read this at your own risk. I have had high blood pressure across the years of my own health history, and the following disappointments contributed mightily:
1. The 1954 (told you I was old) Detroit Lions at Cleveland Browns World Championship game, won by Cleveland 56-10. Just a week after the Lions continued their mastery of the Browns with a last-game regular season win, the best team of modern Lions history goes for a record third NFL championship and unaccountably gets slaughtered.
2. The 1956 Lions at Chicago Bears final season game. The Bears win the Western Division in a 38-21 romp after Ed Meadows knocks Lions leader Bobby Layne out of the game with a vicious late hit in the early second quarter.
3. Labor Day Weekend, 1961; the Tigers–Yankee series in New York. A Tigers team that would win 101 games that year goes into New York with a chance to take over the American League race, and the wheels come off in an excruciating one-run Friday night loss. The Bengals never recover.
4. October 21, 1962, Lions at New York Giants: Forget the heart-breaker in Green Bay. A Lions team that is superior to the ultimate champion Packers loses a 17-14 squeaker to a Giant team they should have manhandled, and all hope is lost for a team that goes 11-3 and watches the championship game on TV.
5. April 1964, Red Wings–Toronto Stanley Cup Finals. The Wings best bet of the ’60s to win the Cup goes awry when, ahead in the series 3 games to 2, they lose in overtime at Olympia (after hitting a post late in the third period) on a goal scored by broken-legged defenseman Bobby Baun.
6. October 1967, Tigers vs Angels. Possibly the worst of all, the Bengals lose the second game of a frantic double-header AND the American League pennant before a frenzied and angry home crowd on the final day of a regular season they should have dominated.
7. January 1970, Lions at Dallas. The best team of the Joe Schmidt coaching era falls 5-0 in the post-season at Dallas in a playoff game they coulda, shoulda, won.
8. October 1972, Tigers vs Oakland. In a bitter and bizarre five-game playoff, the Tigers lose the last game at Tiger Stadium by an exasperating 2-1 score, ending the final chance for the ’68 veterans to return to a World Series.
9. October 1987, Tigers vs. Twins. It’s a carbon copy for the ’84 champs, as an annoying Minnesota team picks off Darrell Evans and Detroit’s World Series dream.
10, May 1996, Red Wings vs. Colorado. This one hurt even more than the previous season’s Stanley Cup sweep by the Devils; Claude Lemieux and the Avalanche pound and humiliate a stunned Red Wings team that appears to represent the last Cup possibility of the Steve Yzerman era.
11. June 1997, Vladimir Konstantinov. Never has joy turned so quickly and devastatingly to pain and heartbreak, as the valiant Red Wings defenseman is nearly killed in an absurd one-car limousine wreck only days after his team’s phenomenal Stanley Cup victory. Only in Detroit, anyone?
12. June 2009, Red Wings vs. Penguins. A superior Red Wings team, up 3-2 in the Stanley Cup finals, succumbs to injuries and exhaustion inflicted by a season-long pounding from inferior squads, fading before Pittsburgh and a wimp named Sid the Kid in a defeat that should never have occurred.
13, One word: Galarraga. And one epitath for all of this: Only in Detroit.