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Soothing the Psyche

July 14, 2008

Written after the Detroit Red Wings won the Stanley Cup…


The Detroit area finally got a strong dose of medicine for the last six years of high unemployment, rising foreclosures, surging gas and food prices, a declining automobile market, and the continuing saga of Kwame Kilpatrick.

After six long years, we finally won the Stanley Cup.

We in Detroit had almost forgotten what good news felt like. When the Pittsburgh Penguins tied the fifth game of the championship series and won in the middle of the third overtime, many fans thought, “Not again.” And when they scored with less than two minutes to go and almost tied the Red Wings with three seconds left in the sixth game, the relief in Detroit was palpable.

We could finally take a breath and celebrate: Detroit was a winner again. The Stanley Cup was ours.

Forget for a moment whether Israel will attack Iran or if and when we will get out of Iraq. Forget that Ford and GM are selling fewer and fewer trucks and SUVs and that gas prices keep rising. We don’t need imaginary superheroes Iron Man, the Hulk or Batman. Instead, we are fortunate to share a group of international hockey players from Sweden, Canada, Finland, Russia, the Czech Republic, and the United States, all playing for us, the long-suffering city of Detroit.  Past heroes Chris Osgood, Nick Lidstrom, and Darren McCarty, joined by new superstars Zetterberg, Datsyk, and Franzen, showed perseverance and poise as they marched toward the sixteen wins necessary to win the NHL Championship.

Did we need this?

We needed it more than anyone can imagine. If you think that it’s just a sport, just high-paid athletes who happen to play for Mike Ilitch and not some other owner in some other city, think again.

Remember 40 years ago, a year after the riots ripped through the heart of Detroit, burning building after building, block by block. I remember my father coming home from his place of employment, on Grand River, next to Wonder Bread, wondering if the building would be torched, seeing much of Detroit in flames, worried whether Detroit would survive. I remember more the miraculous comeback of the 1968 World Series, Detroit down three games to one, rising finally to beat the St. Louis Cardinals and its ace pitcher, Bob Gibson.

A city, still reeling from riots, went wild with joy. I was only 11 but I will never forget the honking horns, the utter exhilaration of our city winning the ultimate baseball trophy.

We lived in the heroics of Kaline, Horton, McLain, and Lolich. When they won it all, against great odds, so did we. We were at last winners.

Who knows how long the feeling of winning lasted? I believe that our collective psyches are indelibly affected by the world, our country, our cities. We haven’t had much to celebrate in a news world filled with Iraq, Iran, Hamas, Afghanistan, wondering why the U.S. economy pales next to China and India.  And the news has been more dismal in Detroit, where the auto industry struggles and the local economy is still mired in the mud of softening sales and higher costs.

There has been almost nothing to celebrate. Until now.

40 years ago, the world thought Detroit was simply a city filled with hate and fire, and after the World Series, we didn’t care. We felt okay with ourselves.

Today, the world thinks Detroit is a ghost town filled with large cars and trucks that don’t sell and plenty of crime and murder. This may be true but we also have one of the oldest and greatest hockey teams, one of the original six, a team that has now won 11 championships in 82 years, our 4th in 11 years. We have a group of good guys from all over the world, showing great camaraderie and sportsmanship, and they play for us.

            Sports can be a powerful tonic, an imaginary world that can help sustain us in difficult times. We are no longer strangers when we share the dreams and goals of our sports teams. We can swap stories about not sleeping after three overtimes and of happier moments when we can almost taste the champagne flowing from our HDTVs.

For awhile, we can feel good about ourselves. We can feel good about Detroit. Even if it’s just fantasy and escapism, it is still soothing for our injured psyches.

            And that makes all the difference.


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