By Ashley Scoby
At least it’s never boring.READ MORE: Former US Rep. Dan Benishek Of Michigan Dies At Age 69
Whether it’s heartbreak, happiness or a little of what Detroiters like to call “Lionization,” the sports scene in this city never produces a dull moment. This year was the epitome of the highs and lows, in the most dramatic ways possible. In 2015, we saw hirings and firings, a teenager taking over hockey, a flurry of yellow flags, a Hail Mary, a botched punt and, oh yeah, the Red Wings still haven’t missed the playoffs.
Relive the madness here in all its glory:
January: Lions lose in spectacular fashion, Part I
Lions fans, grit your teeth: Several similar headlines are coming your way. The team kicked off 2015 with one of the more epic playoff finishes NFL fans have seen in recent years, and incited an offseason of debate about bad officiating. Inexplicably, the Lions held a three-point lead with about eight minutes to go against the Cowboys, in what would have been the franchise’s first postseason victory since 1991. But alas, they just added another chapter to the misery. On what looked like pass interference on the Cowboys, an official threw a flag, which would have given the Lions a first down. But during the TV timeout, the officials picked up the flag and said there was no penalty. Dez Bryant also ran halfway onto the field without his helmet, which should have drawn an unsportsmanlike conduct flag – but once again, the Lions found themselves on the losing end of a playoff game and added to their book filled with unique ways to lose.
January—December: The year of Harbaugh
If there was any storyline that dominated the sports scene in the state all year, it was Jim Harbaugh’s first season as Michigan head coach. The Wolverines ended the regular season at 9-3, but that was only half the story. Harbaugh himself owned headlines through the entire summer, from shirtless evenings at football camp, to admitting his appreciation for Judge Judy.
April: The Red Wings continue league-best 24-year playoff streak
They eventually lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 of the first round of the NHL playoffs, but the Red Wings still continued one of the more astounding streaks in sports. The franchise hasn’t missed the playoffs since the 1989-90 season.
May/June: Babcock leaves, Blashill is hired
After 10 years in Detroit, Mike Babcock took the head coaching position in Toronto. And a couple weeks later, first-time head coach Jeff Blashill took over, after leading the Grand Rapids minor league team for three years. It was quite the shakeup at the time, but the Red Wings have plodded right along in the 2015 season, remaining in the top half of their conference. If they continue along the same pace, they would likely end the year by rounding out a quarter-century of postseason appearances.
July: Say goodbye to David Price (and Yoenis Cespedes)
The Tigers were hovering at .500 with the trade deadline looming, but decided to mail in the rest of the season when they traded away some of their biggest assets in July. Price got sent to Toronto, while Cespedes ended up leading the Mets to a World Series appearance. Joakim Soria packed up and went to Pittsburgh. Detroit ended up finishing 74-87 and missing the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
August: Say goodbye to Dave DombrowskiREAD MORE: Michigan Moves To Fund Mental Health Like Physical Health
Orchestrating those trades was one of the last things former Tigers general manager Dombrowski did before he was fired. He went onto the Red Sox (and, ironically, signed Price during December free agency). The move was widely viewed as crazy across the baseball world. But Al Avila stepped into the vacant role, and has kept the Tigers atop offseason headlines with several moves and signings.
September: Say goodbye to Brad Ausmus … Wait a second
Before the Tigers’ flounder of a season ended, reports surfaced that Ausmus would be canned by the end of the year. The team released a statement saying no decision had been made, then announced later in the month that Avila was keeping Ausmus onboard. The 2016 season will be Ausmus’ third as a big-league manager, and he generally seems to have the support of his players. How far he can take them, especially considering all of Avila’s offseason moves, will be one of the biggest stories heading into 2016.
October: Lions lose in spectacular fashion, Part II
In what was about to be the Lions’ first win of the season, Calvin Johnson fumbled the ball near the goal line on what would have been a go-ahead touchdown in Seattle. The Seahawks’ K.J. Wright batted the ball out of the back of the end zone – an apparently illegal move – but the officials didn’t throw a flag. Detroit went on to lose, and it could be argued that was the beginning of the end for the 2015 season.
October: The most exciting college football game of the year
It’s been dubbed the Miracle at the Big House, and it’s about as close to a miracle as can ever happen in football. The Wolverines had led the entire game. Michigan State was still hanging onto playoff hopes. Michigan’s Blake O’Neill was back to punt with 10 seconds to play. All he had to do was get rid of the ball, and the game was sealed. Of course, what happened instead will forever live on the same highlight reel as Cal running through the Stanford band, and Doug Flutie’s Hail Mary. O’Neill bobbled the ball. It bounced straight into the sprinting Jalen Watts-Jackson’s hands. Some quickly-improvising MSU blockers blocked. And they all piled into the end zone with no time on the clock, handing Harbaugh his second – and most bitter – loss as Michigan head coach.
October-December: Dylan Larkin makes his debut, dazzles the NHL
Of course he scored. With all the hoopla surrounding 19-year-old Dylan Larkin’s NHL debut, he easily could have flopped. But instead, he scored a goal in his first NHL game, then proceeded to rattle off 18 points through October and November. Through mid-December, he led the entire NHL in plus/minus (at +19). Larkin’s electric rise has been one of the biggest stories of the year, and he isn’t slowing down.
November: Lions clean house
It was only a matter of time before the trash pile in Detroit caught fire: The Lions started 1-7 on the season, and owner Martha Firestone Ford proved she wasn’t afraid to make huge moves. During the team’s bye week, Ford cut ties with long-time team president Tom Lewand and general manager Martin Mayhew. A couple weeks later Ford hired the family’s personal wealth consultant, Rod Wood, who is “not a football guy,” as the new president, and announced that former NFL GM Ernie Accorsi would aid with the permanent GM search. The ripple effects of Ford’s decisions will continue for months, and there’s no way of knowing whether it will all pan out and create a winning football franchise. But that November day when Ford decided she’d had enough will live on in infamy for years to come.
December: Michigan State makes its first College Football Playoff
College football fans doubted the Spartans pretty much from day one of the season. They didn’t win their games by enough points. Injuries mounted. Harbaugh and the Wolverines supposedly loomed. But then Michigan State turned in epic performances against their two biggest rivals – Michigan and Ohio State – and found its way into the College Football Playoff, set to take on Alabama on New Year’s Eve. It’s been a steady upward trajectory for the Spartans under Mark Dantonio, and 2015 was the biggest manifestation of that.
December: Lions lose in spectacular fashion, Part IIIMORE NEWS: Michigan Matters: Impacting Health & Well-Being Across Metro Region
We close out the calendar year going full-circle with another mind-blowing, “that’s so Lions” loss. With the Lions leading the Packers 23-21 and the clock winding down, the officials called a facemask penalty on Devin Taylor. It gave Green Bay a chance at one more play, from their own 39, with zero time on the clock. On the sideline, head coach Jim Caldwell thought to himself, “Hmm, I don’t think one of the best NFL quarterbacks of this generation can throw a ball that far,” and sent out his defensive unit expecting a lateral. The rest was a unique spin on an ending Lions fans had seen all too many times – Aaron Rodgers flinging a 61-yard Hail Mary touchdown, Calvin Johnson falling to his knees on the sideline in exasperation and Lions fans leaving Ford Field, once again, in bitter disappointment.