On Tuesday, I was four days into post-op convalescence for having my ACL repaired. Laid up on the couch, immobile, and in constant 6 on a scale of 10 pain with no real indication it was going to improve. I was in a bad mood. And it got worse.

Of course, this was when the Detroit Tigers decided to culminate a potentially dominant season by losing enough games to tie for the division with the Minnesota Twins. As you know, we lost in spectacular fashion over 12 innings. I was flipping out on the couch after watching the lack of run support, defensive gaffes, and leaving Rodney in for a million years. It quickly became worse than the knee pain. In fairness, the Twins outplayed us, but it was yet another game where a Detroit sports team comes close but just short.

This was best summarized by my friend Nirav’s email to me that night, subject line “I Hate Hope”:

I’m so physically and emotionally drained right now.  I don’t think I have the energy left for any more of my teams to be good but then lose in close games/playoffs.  I was thinking about it on my ride home and decided to make a list.  I think right now I’m jealous of those fans whose teams are simply mediocre year after year and don’t keeping getting their hopes up and shattering them like taking a sledgehammer to a glass window.  That was the nice thing about this past Michigan basketball season — unexpected success with no real sense of disappointment when we lost.  More of a just happy to be there kind of feeling.

2005 Pistons: Finals Game 7 loss by 7 points
2006 Pistons: Conf. finals loss to Miami
2007 Pistons: Conf. finals loss to Cleveland
2008 Pistons: Conf. finals loss to Boston

[2003 Tigers: nearly worst record of all time]

2006 Tigers: World Series loss
2009 Tigers: Game 163 loss in 12 innings

2006 Red Wings: President’s Trophy, then 1st round loss to an 8 seed
2007 Red Wings: tied for most points, conf. finals loss
2009 Red Wings: Finals Game 7 loss by 1 goal

2006 Michigan football: #1-#2 Ohio State game; Rose Bowl loss
2007 Michigan football: Appalachian State [preseason ranked #10]

[2008 Michigan football: 3-9 record, first losing record since 1967]

2009 Michigan football: last second wins (2); last second losses (1)

Michigan hockey: NCAA tournament every year, no title since 1998

(Note: Bracketed comments mine)

What becomes clear is that the last half decade of sports, we have some contenders but they rarely convert into real championships in recent history. To complete the view, the Wings won in 2008, 2002, and 1998, the Pistons won in 2004, 1990, and 1989, and Michigan football won in 1998. If we stretch, we can get back to 1984 for the World Series Tigers win, and before that, it’s a big drought. This list also mercifully omits the Lions 0-16 season in 2008.

The picture that emerges is one of high and dashed expectations. I’ve always joked that Michigan football is taking years off of my life, but the margins of victory are always slim and decided in the last few minutes. To say it’s straining relationships and stress levels across the country is a vast understatement. It’s tough to watch your teams get to the big stage, get your hopes up, and then fall short. It’s even tougher to watch that happen over and over, while your local economy dissolves and your friends/family go through the hardest possible times. Sports can help draw cities together and heal wounds deeper than you can imagine (see the 1968 Detroit riots and the role the Tigers played – captured beautifully in HBO’s “City on Fire”)

But here’s the thing: Detroit is not a city of losers. We have (Lions aside) a long history of solid sports championships and really dedicated sports fans (Lions included). What people don’t realize is that it’s really a football town that constantly hangs its head. If the Tigers winning the World Series in 1984 led to rioting, the Lions winning the Super Bowl would cause everyone’s brains to explode simultaneously. We are tough fans who expect a lot from our teams and each other, so disappointment is normal when you expect a lot.

Keep in mind, Michiganders, we are not Philadelphia, who before the Phillies won in 2008, hadn’t had a championship since the Sixers won in 1983. Now *that’s* a drought. We don’t have it so bad, sports-wise.

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