Mike Ilitch: Detroit's Biggest Fan
A month ago, when it became clear that The Winter Classic would be played in Ann Arbor and not Detroit, I argued that the NHL was wrong to deny Detroit the opportunity to host the game, all for the cash incentives offered by the use of Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. But most of the responses to that post went something like, “I see what you’re saying, but it’s not that big a deal and it’ll be awesome to see them play in front of a record crowd.” The local press said essentially the same thing. I didn’t get this. I wanted the game in the city, where I thought it belonged. But most, with the notable exception of Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch (more on this later), seemed to accept the decision with little to no resentment, even if they would rather have seen the game at Comerica Park in downtown Detroit. “It’s all about the money” they concluded, shrugging. Depressing.
This was a realistic attitude, to be sure, but given Detroit’s famously defiant pride–recently tapped into by Chrysler’s Super Bowl ad featuring Clint Eastwood–you’d think the decision to host the game outside the city would stir up more emotion. Even The Detroit Free Press–which can be such a blatant Detroit-cheerleader that it once covered Detroit 187’s first episode as if it were actually watchable–didn’t suggest the city should host the game instead. Free Press columnist Michael Rosenberg wrote that the decision was bound to upset some and, for sure, it did. He suggested a compromise might be reached by hosting a Wings/Leafs alumni, collage and/or minor league games at Comerica. But that compromise seemed a token gesture that could hardly make up for denying the city the Classic itself.
As it turns out, Rosenberg’s prediction was accurate. Soon, rumors mounted that there would be at least a few events at Comerica, including the tradition-rich Great Lakes Invitational college hockey tournament, which is hosted annually at Joe Louis Arena. Still, even with the addition of the GLI, you could argue that spotlighting some minor league games and a college tournament is something, but it doesn’t replace the Classic. But while, again, there was little public sentiment (aside from reader comments) calling out that inadequacy, there was one very important private voice making the argument behind the scenes: Mike Ilitch. Conveniently, Ilitch’s initial concerns were also my initial concerns, which means that I and those who shared my concerns had a powerful ally and spokesman. That, in turn, explains:
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the 2013 Winter Classic Plan
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