The End Of The Blue Collar Athlete?
By: Jamie Samuelsen
Detroit is a blue-collar town.
And for years, fans have associated with the blue-collar favorites. We’ve had our stars – but we’ve always had a special affinity for the blood and guts guys too.
Is that era reaching its end? Are we seeing the end of the so-called blue-collar athlete in Detroit? Consider the fact that three unique careers are at or near their end. Tomas Holmstrom finished out his 16th season with the Wings last week in Nashville. He almost assuredly has played his last game in Detroit and probably in the NHL. The Pistons Ben Wallace said earlier this season that he’d retire at the end of the season. So his final game in an NBA jersey should come tonight at the Palace. (Wallace has backed off that a bit – he may return for one more year.) And the most maligned Tiger of all – Brandon Inge is clearly near the end of his career. Some Tiger fans are hoping that end comes sooner rather than later.
Holmstrom became a star in Detroit by withstanding constant abuse in the crease. Wallace seemed to be a throw-in in the Grant Hill sign-and-trade deal and ended up using rebounding and defense to become an NBA superstar. And Inge, for all the criticism, worked hard, constantly switched positions, and hit enough to stick in the Tigers everyday line up for nearly a decade.
When they leave…who’s next? Who will be the next grinders and muckers to become fan favorites in Detroit? I’m not sure there are any candidates. Justin Abdelkader likes to mix it up for the Wings, but he has to score a few more big goals to start having #8 jerseys pop up at the Joe. Maybe Stephen Tulloch who is undersized at middle linebacker but still plays the position at a high level. The Tigers have spent so much money on stars that there isn’t much room for the Tom Brookens type player on the roster. I have a hard time seeing the fans becoming enamored with Andy Dirks or Ryan Raburn.
Maybe it’s a product of the times. And maybe there’s a void for the next Wallace or Holmstrom or Chris Spielman to arrive. But for now, we should appreciate just how much some of these guys have accomplished. They’re the most unlikely of stars given their physical tools. And yet somehow they won a lot of games, signature a lot of great moments and played their way into the hearts of Detroit fans for many, many years.