Hear ye, hear ye all you sports fans in the great state of MEEEECHIGAN. As the snows of winter continue to swirl (in Michigan…it’s 50 and sunny in Seattle), it is time for a new voice to join the discussion. This is a voice in the Michigan nation who yearns to be back where the Maize and Blue roam, where the Tigers, Pistons and Red Wings are toasted and where the Molson Canadian flows from the taps like golden rivers of holy water, baptizing those in the Churches of A2 and Hockeytown.
For many of us, economic recession is wearing us down at an emotional, physical and financial level. Unemployment is up, checking account balances are down and overall happiness is being challenged daily. It is times like these that we turn to the sports world to provide us a distraction from the mundane. For many of us, though, this world of sports has become something that extends away from spending three hours watching a game. We arrive at work and talk about RichRod’s recruiting. We meet at the pub and dissect Zetterberg’s silky moves. And when the time comes to hunker down for the ultimate in sporting challenges, we lose sleep. We toss and we turn, yearning for the championship that will lift us to new heights of euphoria and further empty the bank accounts as we buy up all sorts of memorabilia to adorn the walls of our offices, dens or ‘man-rooms.’
I come to you tonight asking for you to indulge in my obsession; to join and contribute to a new discussion of sports and Michigan. And what better way to begin this discussion than with an assessment of where we stand and where we are going.
And now, Michigan: the State of the (sports) State.
The University of Michigan
- Football – After a 3-9 season, hope begins to spring again for the Wolverines. A solid recruiting class has begun to stir the pot of optimism, and dreams of Forcier optioning his way down the field to a winning record will have to tide us over until the realities of the spring game.
Pillows of sleep I’m losing: 2 (out of 5). While my optimism remains tempered, this number would be much higher if it wasn’t only February. Check back as we move closer to kickoff.
- Hockey – Wolverines hockey is young, ranked in the top 10 and progressing ahead of schedule. A second straight GLI championship and 5 game season sweep of Little Brother (they DID make it into this post!) are the high points of this season so far, but with the CCHA tourney looming, each weekend becomes more and more important.
Pillows of sleep I’m losing: 2. While the squad continues to compete and improve, they still have a tendency to lose games they shouldn’t (see ‘Western Michigan’ and ‘Bowling Green’.) It looks like they will hold on to a top four spot in the conference, but they need a strong finish and solid tourney performance before they can be seriously considered for a national championship run. Event that may not be enough, as this team looks to be a year away from being something REALLY special.
- Basketball – The hoop squad got off to a roaring start, knocking off top five ranked UCLA and Duke, and a berth to the NCAA tournament seemed imminent. Then the Big Ten season started and things went rapidly downhill. For a team that lives and dies by the three, inconsistent shooting combined with poor defense has led to a rough few weeks.
Pillows of sleep I’m losing: 1. This team is NIT bound unless they have a huge run through the end of the season. But the schedule is treacherous from here on out, and a big matchup with ‘Little Brother’ still looms. However, this season has been a step in the right direction after only 10 wins last season. After being hopeful of an NCAA appearance early in the season, it’s time to face reality.
Detroit Red Wings
- The gold standard franchise of the NHL, the Red Wings continue to power towards the playoffs. The Stanley Cup Champions are loaded from top to bottom and will be a force to reckon with in the postseason. The addition of Marian Hossa this year has paid dividends, and has provided Detroit with a lethal scoring punch of Hossa, Zetterberg and Datsyuk.
Pillows of sleep I’m losing: 1. While the Wings are as close to a lock for the playoffs as you can possibly be, some questions still linger. Conklin has been solid in goal this season, but Ozzie has been plagued with injury and is a wild card at this point. And with Holmstrom going out with an injury, the question of health begins to creep into the minds of fans. Look for a Feb. 25th matchup against Western Conference leader San Jose to be an indicator of how focused and ready the Wings are for a deep playoff run.
- For a team that has been to six straight Eastern Conference finals, this season hasn’t been what most fans had hoped for. Even with the acquisition of Allen Iverson, the Pistons continue to be outclassed by the Celtics and Cavs. Whether you want to put this on the head of rookie coach Michael Curry or not, the Pistons are not the elite team they used to be. Upside: the younger guys like Stuckey and Johnson have shown high upside and continue to improve.
Pillows of sleep I’m losing: 3. The Pistons lag way behind the Cavs in the Central Division, and a top four seed in the playoffs seems distant at this point. It’s hard to imagine the Pistons making it to a seventh straight Eastern Conference finals if they keep struggling against the powers of the East.
- In case you hadn’t noticed, spring training is right around the corner. Leyland and the boys will kick off the annual festivities in Lakeland on Feb. 25th, and optimism about the squad seems to be high. Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated has even gone so far as to call the ’09 edition of the Tigers “the most likely team to be this year’s Tampa Bay Rays.” This seems a bit excessive, given that the Tigers made it to the World Series only three years ago, but still exciting nonetheless.
Pillows of sleep I’m losing: 0.5 (I guess this would be a throw pillow?). Pitching and team health will go a long way to determining how legit this squad is, but until the season gets underway, it’s too early to lose sleep over this team. Caveat: It’s been three years since the World Series run. It’s time to find out if the organization is for real or just got lucky.
In closing, Michigan, it’s a time for optimism to be high, at least as it pertains to sports. Together, you and I can walk through the tough losses and celebrate the great wins. Maybe we will even find a championship or two (or three or four!!!) somewhere along the way. No matter what happens, know that I am in this with you and will be cursing turnovers and cheering excellence just like you are…even if I’m on the other side of the country. Hey, at least one of us will be able to stay awake for the Wings’ all but guaranteed “It’s so late, I’ll be sleeping on my desk tomorrow” playoff games.
Here’s to a bright future, Michigan.