Reporting Jeff Riger
Tuesday was the first night of Hanukkah. You know, the Jewish holiday where you light candles and open gifts for eight wonderful nights?
I remember when I was young how excited I got when the first night rolled around, knowing that in a little over a week I would get the biggest gift of the year which usually was something that, even in my wildest dreams I could never buy on my own. Of course the older you get, the less presents you get. That is just a fact of life. However, the older you get the more you also realize that there are more important things in life than gifts during Hanukkah as well.
So, in honor of getting less gifts during these 8 crazy nights but appreciating other things more, I have decided to list my top 8 most intriguing storylines in Detroit sports over the last calendar year.
Oh and I’m going to do it Hanukkah style as well, meaning I will build up to the most intriguing story line of 2011:
1. St. Nick Winning The Norris Again
It is not too often that a 41 year old wins an award for being the best at his position, but that is exactly what Nick Lidstrom was able to pull off after another stellar hockey season. Lidstrom finished 2010-11 with 16 goals and 62 points which led all defensemen in the NHL. The captain also finished the year a minus player which in my mind makes his 7th Norris trophy even more special. As usual Lidstrom was the model of consistency playing in all 82 games while averaging almost 24 minutes of ice time a contest. It has been said many times that #5 is “the perfect human being” and it’s hard to disagree. However, I think Nick is more like a robot; he’s doesn’t miss time, he continues to be one of the best in the game and there is no one in the league that you would rather have on your blue line in a must win game. Also don’t be surprised if Lidstrom is in the running for another Norris after this season if his number continue to grow. In case you were wondering, Lidstrom is a +17 this year so far and already has 7 goals and 22 points which is the 6th best in the league as far as D-men go. Oh and did I mention that he is 41 years old? He will be 42 in late April! Opening one of the greatest Red Wings and defensemen of all time on the first night of Hanukkah ain’t a bad gift at all!
2. Spartans Have A Chance At Being Big Ten Champs
We can argue until the cows come home about who deserved to be Big Ten Coach of the Year. Of course Michigan’s Brady Hoke won it, but people to this day swear that the Spartans Mark Dantonio deserved it. Now while I disagree, I can see their point as Dantonio for a second straight year put his team in a great position to win the conference. Now this year was way more special as the Spartans, by winning their division got to go to the Big ten Championship Game and even though they lost in heart breaking fashion, the achievement can not be forgotten. In fact, I think MSU being the gift on the 2nd day of Hanukkah is more then about the success in the 2011 season. It’s more then going 3-1 in October against Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin and then losing to Nebraska. This mention to me is about where this program has come from to where it is now. It was not too long ago that MSU was known as “little brother!” However now they are the predominant college football program in the state and maybe the conference and that is really saying something! In case you were wondering, I assume the night 2 box will be wrapped in green and white paper even though the colors for Hanukkak are blue and white.
3. Michigan Dancing
In addition to lighting candles, opening gifts and eating, another thing that is done on Hanukkah is dancing, a lot like Michigan got to do this past NCAA tournament. Now I admit that maybe MSU playing in the Big Ten Championship Game should trump the Maze and Blue losing to Duke in the tournament, but this is my list, and my Hanukkah, so Michigan gets day 3! Like Michigan State coming from being called names to getting to play for championships, I believe the Wolverines in hoops are going through the same transition. Who doesn’t remember when Michigan basketball could not even dream about the Big Dance because they were involved in a postseason ban or just didn’t have the talent to get there. For so many years, Michigan fans were forced to hope for a NIT bid or some miracle in the Big Ten Tournament, because let’s face it, they were awful. But things have now changed! Two of the past three season, the Wolverines have made the tournament and both time they made it to the second round. In fact Michigan was a Darius Morris floater away from upsetting number one seed Duke to move on to the “Sweet Sixteen!” But I think the major reason that I gave this night to Michigan is because they swept Michigan State in 2010-11 and that for the longest time was impossible!
4. Wings Forcing A Game 7
Who didn’t think that the Wings weren’t going to do the unthinkable and come back to beat the San Jose Sharks when they trailed 3 games to none in the Western Conference semi-finals? For a second straight year Detroit fell down to the Sharks by the almost insurmountable deficit but in 2010-11 they came so close to doing it. After winning game 4 and amazing game 5 in San Jose, it was a given that Detroit would win game 6. I remember how loud the Joe was and how confident I was that the Wings would win game 7. Of course they lost a heart breaker that ended the season and the careers of Kris Draper, Chris Osgood and Brian Rafalski. But man was it exciting! For that, I think on the 4th night of Hanukkah I will re-watch game 7 again!
5. BRANDON INGE
It doesn’t matter if you like him or hate him, people love to talk about him. 2011 was no different as Inge had an awful start to the season, ended up being designated for assignment to Toledo which essentially would end his career, only to return with the team to hit a home run at Comerica Park in his first game back. What a story it was! Inge went from the minors to starting in the ALCS during certain games. Of course we can’t forget about the mammoth homer he hit in game 4 of the ALCS against Alexi Ogando in the 7th inning as well. Granted the Tigers lost that game, but for that moment it was like Inge had won everyone’s acceptance back once again. I don’t know how much we will see of Inge in the 2012 season, but I do know that he will remain an intriguing storyline no matter what.
6. JUSTIN VERLANDER
There are not enough positive words to describe the 2011 season for Justin Verlander. Sensational, phenomenal, amazing, even all these words put together doesn’t do 24 and 5 justice. Not only did Verlander sport the best record in all of baseball, but he also led the league in ERA, WHIP, strike outs, innings pitched and games started. Verlander was so dominant that he won the Cy Young and the MVP, something that had not been done by a starting pitcher since Roger Clemons in 1986. He was must watch baseball! From the time that Verlander threw his second no hitter of his career on that vivid day on May 7th in Toronto to at one point winning 12 starts in a row, Verlander was just flat out dominant. I’m not sure that Detroit’s ace will ever be as good as he was in 2011, but it will be fun watching to see if he can be.
7. Game 5
Game 5 of the ALDS at Yankee Stadium between the Tigers and Yankees will never be forgotten in Detroit! The Tigers started off the 1st inning with Don Kelly and Delmon Young hitting home runs and continued with Doug Fister lasting 5 frames of 5 hit 1 run baseball. Max Scherzer then took over for an inning and a third and then it was left up to Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde to do the rest. Not only did the Tigers beat CC Sabathia but they held off the heart of the Yankee’s order in the bottom of the 9th inning for a 3-2 win. I can remember the drama and tension being so high that I was forced to pace the hallways at work in order to deal with it all. I was convinced that Detroit would not stand a chance in the Bronx if game 5 were to happen and oh how wrong I was. To end the Yankee’s season in their own house was unforgettable and that is why Game 5 deserves to be unwrapped on day 7 of Hanukkah.
8. Christmas Eve!
I know saying Christmas and Hanukkah in the same sentence is usually grounds for someone to get offended. But this is different! On Christmas eve at Ford Field the Lions have a chance to make the playoffs, something that they have not done since 1999. Does anymore need to be said? I didn’t think so!
Happy Hanukkah everybody!