A Detroit Lions Fan Growing Up in HP

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I can only blame my Dad for my sickness of being a Detroit Lions fan. I have yet to find a cure for this illness. It all started on Thanksgiving Day at Tiger Stadium. Dad took me to watch the Detroit Lions play the Green Bay Packers. It was a glorious day. I was only seven years old, but I understood what was going on down on the field. The Lions were decimating the Green Bay Packers. The defense had sacked Bart Starr eleven times. The Lions eventually won the game 28-14.

Dad would never take me to another Lions game, but I was now hooked. There was only one football team for me, the Detroit Lions. Little did I know that I would follow this team for fifty years, yet never find the joy of having “my team” win the Super Bowl.

The Sixties and early Seventies were the years that I followed the Lions. It was a time when the Lions had such famous quarterbacks such as Milt Plum, Karl Sweetan, Bill Munson and several others that would soon be forgotten. The most memorable play by a Lions quarterback was when Greg Landry (the best quarterback for the Lions during this era)  ran a quarterback sneak for seventy-six yards against the Packers. Greg Landry would also disappoint me when the Lions lost their only playoff game in my growing up years. They lost by the unusual score of 5 to 0 against the Dallas Cowboys in 1970.

The Lions have always been a team without luck. One year, I remember the Detroit Lions drafted the All-American halfback from Notre Dame named Nick Eddy. In the preseason, he returned a punt for a touchdown. The future looked bright for Nick Eddy and the Lions, but the Lions bad luck came back to haunt them when Nick Eddy had knee troubles and he never lived up to his potential.

Of course, I can not list all the foibles in my experience with the Detroit Lions. I remember that one of their head coaches, Harry Gilmer, was a terrible coach. The fans said farewell to him after one miserable game with snowballs. It is good that the Lions no longer play in Tiger Stadium.  It would be hard to imagine how many other coaches or quarterbacks may have been victimize by angry fans with snowballs.

I remember one day the Detroit Lions were on the wrong part of history. They were playing an expansion team by the New Orleans Saints. Neither team was good, but the Lions were ahead; however the New Orleans Saints needed a sixty-three yard field goal to win. The kicker Tom Dempsey only had half a foot on his kicking leg. The commentators were almost laughing as he attempted the field goal. The rest is history. It was good. The Lions walked off the field in great humiliation. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zrxTjgFYoU8

The Lions also were part of a great tragedy. I was listening to Van Patrick broadcasting a Lions game when he spoke in a very hushed tone. Chuck Hughes, one of the Lions wide receivers was down on the field. This was different. It was as though Van Patrick couldn’t speak. He could only say this doesn’t look good. Yes, in front of all the fans at Tiger Stadium, Chuck Hughes had died as a result of heart problems. Here is a link to an eyewitness account of this tragedy: http://blog.detroitathletic.com/2011/10/26/my-eyewitness-account-of-the-only-death-to-occur-on-an-nfl-football-field/

Doctors and trainers attending to Chuck Hughes on the field at Tiger Stadium

Doctors and trainers attending to Chuck Hughes on the field at Tiger Stadium

Being a Lions fan meant that every year, I would have some hope that this year would be the year. The opening game of 1967 the Lions played the Green Bay Packers who had won the first Super Bowl the year before. The Lions had a rookie cornerback by the name of Lem Barney. He would intercept Bart Starr three times. The Lions ended up losing their lead at settled for a 17-17 tie. I thought to myself that this would be the year. Of course, it again ended in great disappointment.

Yes, the Lions had good players in my growing up years. There was Mel Farr who could run with the best of them. There was Charlie Sanders, the best tight end of his era. In the early Sixties, the Lions had a vaunted defense lead by the original Fearsome Foursome, as well as Joe Schmidt, Night Train Lane, and Yale Lary. In spite of these players and many other good players, there was never a championship.

I sometimes wish that Dad had cheered for another team (like Pittsburg), but I have yet to find a cure for this ailment of being a Detroit Lions fan. I will stay a Detroit Lions fan in spite of their follies, their near misses, their tragedies, and the Ford family as owners. I must admit that my disease of being a Lions fan I have passed on to my two sons. Perhaps, when they are old, the Lions may win their first championship. Of course, I can still hope that in my lifetime, the Detroit Lions will hold up their own Super Bowl trophy. Go Lions!!

P.S. Please check out my other blog in which I write about life from a Christian perspective. I have a five part series called: “Life in the Valley”.

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A Detroit Tiger Fan Growing Up in HP

Dreaming of Playing for the Detroit Tigers

Dreaming of Playing for the Detroit Tigers

When I was a child the baseball season was a magical time. I would grab my plastic bat and wiffle ball and go out to the back yard. I pretended that I was the Detroit Tigers and the New York Yankees.  I would throw up the ball in the air and hit it.  If it went over the fence, It was a home run.  If not, it was an out.  I had the lineups of the Tigers and the Yankess memorized.  I still remember Jake Wood (2b) Bill Bruton (CF) Al Kaline (RF) Rocky Colavito (LF) Norm Cash (1B) Chico Fernandez (SS) Dick Brown (C) Steve Boros (3b) and of course Frank Lary, the Yankee Killer was always my favorite pitcher.

1961 Detroit Tigers from Baseball Fever. Com

1961 Detroit Tigers from Baseball Fever. Com

The Detroit Tigers were in my blood already at the early age of six years old. In 1961, the only team that mattered other than the Detroit Tigers were the much hated New York Yankees.  Yes, they had Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, but the Tigers had Kaline, Colavito, and Cash.  Unfortunately, the Tigers faded in September and the Yankees went on to the 1961 World Series.

Dad started to take me to the games when I was six years old.  He always liked the $2.00 lower deck reserved seats in section 17 by third base. He also liked the special days, such as Free Ball Day, Free Bat Day, or Picture Day. One time on Picture Day, a free-lance photographer had me stand by Joe Sparma. A couple of weeks later there was my photo in the Highland Parker with Joe Sparma!

Dad had a special tradition about going to the games at Tiger Stadium. He had the idea that we needed to be the first ones there; so that we could get a good parking spot on one of the streets near Tiger Stadium. Dad never parked in one of the parking lots around Tiger Stadium because of the expense. Being early, had its advantages, we could see the grass grow, and then batting practice take place and get settled into our seats. Dad would buy me the fifteen cent program because I liked to keep score of the game.

Dad didn’t believe in spending money on the ballpark food because it was way too expensive. Occasionally, we could buy the popcorn, which came in what looked like a megaphone with the Detroit Tiger symbol on it.

My most exciting time at Tiger Stadium were the few occasions when my cousin was able to get us free tickets for the box seats at the side of the Tiger dugout!  She was Max Fisher’s secretary, and when he wasn’t using the seats, he would give the seats away. We would occasionally be the beneficiaries!  It was great to see all of my favorite players up close, such as Mickey Stanley, Norm Cash, and Bill Freehan.  For some reason, Dad had a strong dislike for Al Kaline, so I never included him as one of my favorites.

Being a Detroit Tiger fan, also meant that I would listen to the Detroit Tigers on WJR.  Ernie Harwell was the best broadcaster.  When he was announcing, it felt as though you were right next to him in the broadcast booth watching the game.  I never knew until I was an adult how he knew that a fan from Kalamazoo, or Muskegon caught the foul ball.  Even when I would spend a week or two in Pennsylvania, I would take my transistor radio to bed with me and listen to the game.  I was glad that WJR had a powerful signal.

The Ernie Harwell of my childhood.

The Ernie Harwell of my childhood.

The highlight for any Tiger fan was 1968.  It was the magical year of Denny McLain winning thirty-one games. The Tigers were the American League champs. The World Series was my total focus. I was glad that the teachers at Ford Middle School brought their televisions to class. We received an education about what it was like to have a team in the World Series.  Mickey Lolich was my hero because of his amazing feat of winning three games in the World Series. Can you imagine a pitcher today starting a World Series game on two days rest!  Lolich did it and won the game against Bob Gibson!

All Tiger Fans remember this!  From PBS. Org

All Tiger Fans remember this! From PBS. Org

After 1969, my interest started to wane a bit in the Detroit Tigers.  Yes, I was glad when they made the playoffs in 1972, but I was a teenager and the magic of the Detroit Tigers had worn off.  I no longer collected baseball cards. I no longer played baseball. I no longer listened to Ernie Harwell. Our trips to Tiger Stadium became very infrequent.  I wonder if Dad missed my enthusiasm for the Tigers. If so, he never told me.

When I became a parent, Dad kept my children in Detroit Tiger gear.  He wanted my children to be Tiger fans as he was all of his life. I am glad to say that all of my children are Detroit Tiger fans.  Yes, I still keep up with them and I am excited with the possibilities of winning another World Series, but the magic of the Detroit Tigers of my childhood is no longer there. However, I am thankful that my Dad made the Detroit Tigers a very special part of my growing up years in Highland Park!

P.S. Please visit my other blog; http://www.markjemilbooth.com.  I share spiritual thoughts such as “Does Jesus Care” and “Candid Thoughts about Crowds”.