Hype often ruins sporting events.

By the time the Super Bowl normally rolls around, we’re all so sick of the talk that the game itself becomes an afterthought.

In short – the game never lives up to the hype.

Except once.

Fifteen years ago today. March 26th, 1997. The Red Wings beat the Avalanche 6-5 in overtime at Joe Louis Arena. Yeah – like that even begins to do the game justice.

As everyone knows, the Wings felt that they owed the Avs big time. Not just for the fact that Claude Lemieux had destroyed Kris Draper’s face with a nasty hit against the boards in Game 6 of the 1996 Western Conference Finals. But also for the fact that the Avs had pretty much owned the Red Wings since moving to Denver and had won the 1996 Stanley Cup – a trophy that the Wings and their fans kind of assumed belonged in Detroit.

The two teams played twice in the 1996-97 regular season and nothing happened. But leading up to the March 26th game, everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) knew that something was going to happen. I’ve been to boxing matches in Las Vegas. I’ve attended an MMA event. But nothing compared to the sense of blood lust heading into the Joe that night. We all KNEW something was happening. We knew that Darren McCarty would probably be involved. And we knew it would be great.

But it was better.

The March 26th game remains the only sporting event I can remember that exceeded the expectations. The game was phenomenal. Even without the fights, it would have been an all-time classic. The fights were phenomenal. Even without Lemieux v. McCarty or Roy v. Vernon, these would have been all-timers. (The fact that the whole night was triggered by noted heavyweights Igor Larionov and Peter Forsberg sums the whole thing up.) You guys all know the facts, so there’s no sense in repeating them.

But here are a couple of the side notes that still amuse/entertain/baffle to this day.

1) Joe Kocur missed the game because of the flu. If there was one game in his career that Joe Kocur would have wanted to play in, it was that one.

2) Mickey Redmond missed the brawl because he was in the elevator heading down for a between period interview. If there was one fight in his career that Mickey Redmond would have wanted to call, it was that one.

3) The play-by-play voice for the Wings that night was Mike Goldberg. Goldberg lasted one year here bridging the gap between Dave Strader and Ken Daniels. You can understand why he only lasted one year when you watch the clip.

4) Darren McCarty somehow did not get thrown out of the game, and went on to score the winning goal in overtime. I interviewed Darren about this very fact five years ago and he just chuckled at the whole thing. I think he was stunned that he wasn’t given a game misconduct too.

5) That night was vital to the Wings for any number of reasons. But I think one of the biggest was the fact that Mike Vernon fought Roy, and fought his way into the hearts of Red Wings fans after some poor games in the 1995 and 1996 playoffs. He was still a surprise starter for the 1997 playoffs, but not that controversial because he had become more of a fan favorite after the fight.

If Fox Sports Detroit has the rights to this game, they should replay it every season on this date. The Wings should sell DVD copies as well. They did once as part of a DVD package of great games in history. I know, because I own it for that reason.

I love that game. I don’t totally know it’s historical significance in sports. But it’s a vital night in Red Wings history. And it’s a reminder about sports that even when we think we’ve seen everything…we haven’t.


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