Detroit Red Wings: How Did We Become So Hopelessly Devoted?

(Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images) /

Perhaps the brightest light to shine last year in an all-time dimly competitive Detroit Red Wings season was the patience and passion of our fans.

How often last season did you see us behind three or four goals early in the game as our chirpy fans were whipping up “The Wave”? Or introducing their toddler children to Detroit Red Wings hockey culture.  Or firmly planted in their seats despite everything.

So how did we grow so hopelessly devoted to the Detroit Red Wings?  I am here to tell my own story of following the Red Wings and invite you to share your memories by responding below to my own.

First, the hockey fans blessed enough to be born on the ground of an Original Six franchise can thank our lucky stars.  Knowledge of hockey and loyalty to the Red Wings is as deep and layered as the generations which precede us.

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My earliest game was at the Olympia was in 1961 where I saw the Jack Adams-emaciated team that still featured Gordie Howe and Alex Delvecchio, Marcel Pronovost, and Terry Sawchuk take on the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Black Hawks.

The wizardry of Stan Mikita and powerful Bobby Hull made an impression.  Back then, men typically wore a coat and tie to the games, showing their respect.

So did I at age six.  How did all those fans learn to sigh, to jeer, to cheer, to cajole in unison?  They knew quality hockey and mentored me in how to watch a game.

Second, I always found Red Wing players easy to root for because of their accessible humanity and lack of pretense.

My father’s family was in the tool-and-die business in Detroit. Ted Lindsay also owned a similar working shop.  Such working-class parity bonded us to relate as human peers and friends. After I grew up playing travel hockey in Livonia, I went to college and played club hockey.

When the Red Wing Alumni team came to Grand Rapids to raise money for youth hockey, I was tapped to play against them.  It was a life highlight for me. Ted Lindsay and Marty Pavelich were my wing assignments.

Jack “Black Jack” Stewart cordially lifted me just off the ice with his stick between my legs as his gentle little reminder that I was planting myself in his slot for too long as a forward. They crushed us, even though we imported IHL players as ringers from the Muskegon Mohawks. At the afterparty, they treated us as their equals because, in their words, “we respected the game.”

Third, I lived in Colorado during those blood-feud years when the Avalanche became an NHL team and won the Stanley Cup their first year in Denver.   That was our biggest hockey disappointment ever, especially after we were swept by the Devils 0-4 in the Stanley Cup Finals the year before.

But I know this much is true.  When you, your wife, and young daughters all deck yourselves out in Red Wing jerseys, and enter the hockey belly-of-the-beast that was McNichols Arena back then, it weans you from hockey half-heartedness.

You’re in all of the way. I still recall the intense derision heaped down on us as we led the Avs by a goal heading into the third period, only to lose by a goal.

As our glum family foursome drove home, my eldest daughter slowly hatched a grinding harangue. “We live in Colorado…We don’t live in Michigan…. Why do we root for the Red Wings?… I’m tired of losing.” I listened patiently.

After all, my young daughter had just been mercilessly taunted by the Avalanche partisans.  I allowed her to finish her thoughts and purge all of her painful vitriol. Then I quietly said, “Greta, we are not like other people.  We are Red Wing fans. You’ll learn to appreciate that.”

Of course, it wasn’t so long before Darren McCarty took on Claude Lemieux in a brisk March momentum changer.  And the rest was history.  I surprised my daughters by filling their beds with rose petals the night we won the ’97 Stanley Cup.  It became the happiest day ever for our family.

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How did you become smitten by the Winged Wheel?  Please write back and share your story!