Layne & Howe: Losing Battles of a Detroit Sports Fan

At my age (all you need to know is that we didn’t have a TV in our house until I was seven) and with the world apparently set to end sometime soon (current hysteria about the Mayan Calendar or the Diary of Nostradamus or something) I’m resigning myself to leaving this world sometime this century with a couple of painful personal defeats remaining behind:

1. No matter how much I rant, rave, plead, beg, insist, insult, demand … the sporting world is forever going to believe that local legend Bobby Layne cursed the Lions team when he was traded out of Detroit in 1958, swearing — this is so absurd, I get the hives just typing it — that his former team “wouldn’t win for 50 years” after his banishment from our region.

I have written some entries here pointing out what an idiotic and absolutely baseless claim the ‘Layne Curse’ is; an internet lie that has taken on a life of its own, penetrating national media and local lore to the point that it will be forever believed. There is not a jot, tittle, or shred of truth ANYWHERE to support the myth. I interviewed Layne back in 1969, when his buddy Joe Schmidt was Lions coach, and Bobby was excited that the Lions seemed Super Bowl-bound. The idea that he would have wished disaster on Schmidt or any of his old Lions pals is so ludicrous. But the lie marches on.

I even wrote to a Free Press reporter who unearthed the absurd claim last month in my old newspaper in a story about Lions fan support. I pleaded (see above) with the guy to stop referring to the blatant untruth in a paper of historic record. He wrote me back as nasty a letter as I’ve received in a while, pointing out that he employed the word “alleged” somewhere in his story, thus absolving himself of any blame, and implied that I couldn’t read and didn’t know anything about sports or sports journalism. I won’t use his name here (it was Shawn Windsor, if I recall) but you can only imagine my frustration.

I heard the idiotic Layne lie (it was concocted by a guy trying to promote an amateurish website about ten years ago by employing blatant fraud) used again in the national TV media last week, so I’m convinced that the falsehood will now live forever. And _I_ won’t. Life is so unfair.

Here’s my other losing battle:

2. Gordie Howe, the greatest hockey player of all-time by a wide margin, will NOT go down in contemporary history as the greatest hockey player of all time.

From roughly 1955 to 1990, Gordie was the acknowledged king of his sport, with no pretenders to his crown anywhere on the horizon; indeed with none imagined. In the early ’90s the NHL, which had expanded way beyond what was reasonable and with interest flagging in hockey in the American south and southwest, put on a nervous full-court press to raise Wayne Gretzky to the status of living legend, and hopefully ride his talent, youth, and charisma (right, as if) to promote new interest in the game.

Gretzky had the offensive numbers, so the effort wasn’t too far-fetched. He passed Gordie in total goals in the mid-90s, and around that time The Hockey News in a political effort published a “50 Greatest Hockey Players of All-Time” list that awarded first place, ta da, to Wonderful Wayne and relegated Howe suddenly to THIRD place all-time, after 99 and Bobby Orr.

The die had been cast, Gordie was suddenly old news and apparently had weak ankles. All those old hockey insiders, like that amateur Scotty Bowman, that had judged him the greatest natural talent of all time, the greatest there ever could be, had been dead wrong.

Forget that Howe played in a time of only six NHL teams, featuring the 100 greatest hockey players in the world, and dominated the field season after season, over three decades. That he played when three or four goals a game was the norm, and teams played far fewer regular season games and MANY fewer playoff games each year. Yet STILL Howe was close to Gretzky’s eye-popping totals … and he played, ands played well, till he was 52, skating with his two sons; that he was the most feared fighter of his era AND the most skilled player; that he killed penalties and even played defense at times; played over 35 minutes per game; body-checked ferociously; shot ambidextrously; and knocked the general crap out of anybody looking to cramp his style, which was usually nobody.

A new bogus hockey extravaganza book by Sports Illustrated doesn’t even rate Gordie as the best right winger of his heyday of the ’50s and ’60s, the honor now going to Rocket Richard. THAT is beyond absurd. Even the Rocket knew that. And you can hear people around town currently, young folk mostly, sometimes weighing the possibility that Steve Yzerman was the greatest Red Wing of all-time. Such lunacy. (And this will crinkle your shorts — the new SI book doesn’t give Stevie a place on either the first or second all-star teams of his heyday; the Captain loses out at center to Gretzky and Joe Sakic, another ridiculousity.)

It’s enough to make a grown man, at least a grown hockey fan, cry. And if the Mayan Calendar or Nostradamus indicate that I am to leave this earth by 2012, I at least wish to go on record … one more — maybe one last — time … to say with intense vigor and vehemence that Bobby Layne never cursed the Lions, and Gordie Howe was the greatest hockey player of all time … in a runaway.

I also say — don’t sweat the future. I recently looked up Nostradamus’ last words, his dying statement, uttered to his family on his deathbed (and they must be true, I found them on a website):

“You know something?” said the greatest predictor of all time, to those gathered ’round him … “I think I’m getting better.”

One reply on “Layne & Howe: Losing Battles of a Detroit Sports Fan

  • Daniel Wisemer

    I met Bobby Layne under a tree in Ypsilanti Mi where the Lions practiced when I was 13 years old in 1953..He gave me a football..He talked to us kids about 4 of us and he was one great guy..He never once said I’m Bobby Layne the greatest football player today..He was down to earth and a great PERSON to us kids..Hope some Bobby Layne fans reads this..

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