Rare playoff shutout could be on the horizon for Detroit teams

Billy Sims and the Lions faced off against the Redskins on January 8, 1983 in the playoffs, starting a 33 year streak where at least one Detroit team made the postseason.

Billy Sims and the Lions faced off against the Redskins on January 8, 1983 in the playoffs, starting a 33-year streak where at least one Detroit team made the postseason.

The #1 show on television was Dallas. The Soviet Union still existed, and Bruce Jenner was a man.

That’s what was happening in 1982, the last time Detroit’s four major professional teams all missed the playoffs in the same year. It’s a rare occurrence that might possibly happen in 2016, marking the first time no Detroit team has made the post-season in a calendar year in 34 years. Both Detroit’s hockey team and basketball team are currently “on the bubble” for a postseason spot. The Wings and Pistons will need to get cracking in the last month of their seasons to make the playoffs, while in their most recent seasons of course, the Lions and Tigers both missed the postseason dance.

Back in the spring of 1982, Scotty Robertson was roaming the sidelines for the Pistons, looking far less dashing than the perfectly-coiffed man who replaced him the following season, Chuck Daly. After he arrived in Motown with his well-pressed suits, Daly expertly guided the Pistons to the promised land, ultimately winning back-to-back NBA titles at the end of the decade.

The Wings have been in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for 24 consecutive seasons, the longest current streak in professional sports, and the fourth longest ever. The three longer streaks also occurred in the NHL. Back in 1981-82 they had one of the worst seasons in franchise history, going 21-47-12. It was so bad that they fired head coach Wayne Maxner with about a month to go. He was replaced by the forgettable Billy Dea, who didn’t get asked back for the next season.

The current 33-year streak began in January 1983, when behind their “Silver Rush” defensive line and the strong legs of running back Billy Sims, the Lions made the playoffs as a wild card team. They were in the playoffs again the following season when they went 9-7, losing a heartbreaking game to the San Francisco 49ers when kicker Eddie Murray missed a stinking field goal while Monte Clark was praying. Thus, it was the Lions who started the Detroit playoff streak that has rolled along for more than three decades.

The Red Wings, Pistons, and Tigers made the playoffs in ’84, launching a stretch when those three teams were very good. Then, in the 1990s the Lions were back at it, making six playoff appearances in the decade while the Wings continued to roll along. The Pistons had their second dynasty from 2002 to 2009, and the Tigers made the postseason five times from 2006 to 2014, a very fruitful decade. The Wings punctuated their continuing playoff streak with Cup wins in 2002 and 2008.

Overall in the 35 year Detroit postseason streak, the playoff appearances break down this way:

Lions            … nine appearances, one playoff win, no titles
Pistons         … 21 appearances, 32 series wins, three titles
Red Wings   … 29 appearances, 37 series wins, four titles
Tigers           … seven appearances, eight series wins, one title

Not a bad time to be a Detroit sports fan, huh? Those four lines encapsulate many years and seasons that featured Detroit legends Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom, Sergei Fedorov and the Russian Five, Jack Morris, Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker, Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars, Billy Sims and Barry Sanders, Herman Moore, Chauncey Billups, Ben Wallace, and Rip Hamilton, Henrik Zetterberg, Calvin Johnson, Justin Verlander, and Miguel Cabrera.

We’ve loved our share of great coaches over those years: Chuck Daly and Larry Brown and Flip Saunders on the hardwood; Sparky Anderson and Jim Leyland on the diamond; Jacques Demers, Scotty Bowman, and Mike Babcock on the ice; and Monte Clark and Wayne Fontes on the gridiron. Well, maybe not Monte and Wayne…but you get the idea.

The Detroit teams are now under the guidance of mostly young guys or newcomers to the Motor City: Brad Ausmus is entering his third season for the Tigers; Jeff Blashill is a rookie coach behind the bench for the Wings; Stan Van Gundy is in only his second year leading the Pistons; and when the Lions take the field this fall it will be Jim Caldwell’s third season wearing the headset.

If Blashill fails to bring his team into the field of 16 in hockey’s postseason tournament, the end of the Wings’ 24-year playoff streak will be duly noted in this state and by the fans. But if Van Gundy’s hoopsters also fail to enter the postseason, the 35-year city playoff streak will be a footnote or not mentioned at all. If that should unfortunately occur, maybe it’s best not to dwell on it anyway.

Of course the Detroit Tigers could make this academic by returning to the MLB playoffs this fall after a one-year absence. Baseball is the most difficult sport in which to advance to the playoffs, with only five teams in each league. But the Tigers have veteran leadership who know how to get there. But let’s hope the Wings and the Pistons get into the postseason and that it doesn’t matter in regards to the Detroit playoff streak.

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