Blogs > From The Bleacher Seats

A roundup of news on sporting events, people and places in Southeast Michigan by columnist Jim Evans.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A very merry Christmas for fans of the Detroit Lions?

Paul’s season tickets had been in his family for years.
The clan first got comfortable when the Lions were playing at Tiger Stadium. They kept the tickets when the team moved to Pontiac and the Silverdome; and did likewise when Ford Field opened in Detroit.
They held at least eight season tickets, and because they had been in the family so long, the seats were outstanding. They were at the club level, and they rested right at the 50-yard-line.
Consequently, Paul spent so many seasons steeped in abject frustration he nearly wound up in therapy. Give him a Rorschach Test and every ink blot would have resembled some of the team’s long-held ineptitude.
That blot is a fumble. That smudge is an interception. Those drips are an opposing team’s late drive for the winning touchdown.
And so it went until Paul finally snapped a few years ago. He gave up his tickets.
I wonder how he’s feeling these days, when the Lions are about to play their most important game in recent memory? San Diego comes to town for a 4 p.m. kickoff Saturday, and the contest definitely has playoff implications.
If the Lions (9-5) win, they will clinch a wild-card berth in the playoffs. It will be their first trip to the post-season since 1999.
The regular-season closes with a game against the Packers in Lambeau Field on January 1.
Leo was a huge fan of the Lions. He bought his season tickets so long ago that I am not sure the players were even wearing facemasks. I know they pre-dated names like Schmidt and Karras and Plum.
He loved going to watch the Lions play, but they drove him nuts. He saw way more losses than wins, but he would still drive that small camper of his to the stadium hours before game time, tailgate and enjoy the atmosphere.
Leo would take his only grandson, Andrew, with him on occasion. It was a thrill for both. Those are memories that Andrew embraces to this day. He took it hard when Grandpa Leo died.
Andrew kept those season tickets. There are two on the rail at about the 20-yard-line. He’ll have an excellent vantage point tomorrow at Ford Field.
Paul’s the exception. Despite the historical incompetence of the organization, fans of the Lions have been incredibly loyal.
They have embraced supremely talented players like Barry Sanders, Billy Sims, Charlie Sanders and Joe Schmidt. They have also cheered on those with names like  Komlo, Hilger, Ware, Boden and Pinner.
They were there when the team went 0-16 in 2008 and 2-14 in 2001. They were there in 1991 when the team went 12-4, beat the Cowboys 38-6 in the divisional playoffs and then got trounced 41-10 by the Redskins in the conference championship.
It’s been like a wedding vow. For better or for worse. Only worse has been much more prevalent than better.
Rather than a Who’s Who of coaches, it’s mostly been a Who’re They? Rick Forzano, Tommy Hudspeth, Monte Clark, Darryl Rogers, Marty Mornhinweg and Rod Marinelli.
Still, the fans came to cheer on the team. They came when Russ Thomas was in the front office and stayed even when Matt Millen was unleashing his reign of inept terror. Millen was president and CEO of the Lions from 2001 to 2008. During that eight-year stretch, the team won 31 games and lost 97.
But that is all ancient history. Like Coach Jim Schwartz tells his players, it is one day at a time. That is a sane approach for a coach who inherited a  0-16 team just three seasons ago.
In incredibly short order, Schwartz and Martin Mayhew have somehow managed to erase a lot of the historical ineptitude. They have done it with smart drafts, good personnel moves during free agency, and a competent coaching staff.
Sure the Lions have weaknesses. Their running game, especially without the oft-injured Jahvid Best, is mediocre at best. Defensively, they have trouble stopping the run. Their secondary is susceptible.
But every team has problems. Nobody knows that more than fans of the Lions.
Paul sold his tickets a few years’ back. Leo would’ve loved to see Saturday’s game.
It will be a festive holiday atmosphere at Ford Field. Merry Christmas, long-suffering fans of the Lions.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A coach named Winters makes it warm and fuzzy

Football coach Paul Winters has decided to stay at Wayne State University. (Mark Hicks/WestSide Photographic) 

This is a Thank You note to Wayne State University Paul Winters.
Thanks for staying in Detroit.
That does not happen that often.
Mostly, people do not come here at all. If they do, it is often forced and due to a job transfer.
They put in their two years or whatever with General Motors or the Ford Motor Company and that is it.
Happiness is the Motor City in the rearview mirror.
They cite the crime, the blight, and the bleakness. They never talk about the area’s future or potential to be great again.
Winters obviously believes in both.
Winters was the leading candidate to take the head coaching position at the University of Akron. That’s his hometown and his alma mater.
In fact, he grew up in the city in northeast Ohio. He played at St. Vincent-St. Mary’s, played for the Akron Zips and was an assistant coach at Akron. Winters’ late mother worked at the University of Akron.
Officials from Akron even drove to Detroit to offer him the job on Sunday.
The next morning, Winters signed a five-year extension to remain at Wayne State.
He has been on the job at Wayne State for the last eight seasons, and guided the Warriors to the Division II national championship game in Florence, Ala., on Saturday, when they lost 35-21 to Pittsburg State (Kan.).
Wayne State had a 12-4 record this season. Those 12 wins are a school record. 
“I am very excited about what we have accomplished and I am even more excited about the future,” Winters said. “The immediate future means bringing in another great recruiting class.”
Winters has compiled a 48-43 record at WSU, including a 35-14 mark over the past four winning seasons.
“I am ecstatic that Paul has decided to continue as our head football coach,” WSU Director of Athletics Rob Fournier said.
I am ecstatic, too, and I do not even know Coach Winters. Admittedly I have driven past the football field at Wayne State many more times than I have stopped at it. I know plenty of people who attended the school, but I am not among them.
But I love the fact that the coach opted to stay in town. I love the fact that he did not outsource himself like nearly every company in this state has done; that he opted to continue on at a school located in a city that few, other than Kid Rock and Eminem, ever sing the praises of.
I guess there is plenty not to love about Detroit. You don’t see many of its images on Pure Michigan postcards. There are neighborhoods that barely deserve the name. There is crushing unemployment and consequently, numbing poverty.
There are nearly insurmountable problems, but there is also a pulse and potential.
It is similar to the potential tapped by Winters and his staff. For years, the football program at Wayne State was barely on life support. There were those in the school’s administration who were ready to put it six feet under. They wanted to follow the University of Detroit and turn WSU into a exclusively a basketball school.
But Winters took a chance. He came to Detroit and proved that the Bible does not have squatter’s rights on resurrections.
He saw the potential in both the city and the entire state. There are plenty of quality football players in the Public School League in the city, as well as in Macomb Area Conference in Macomb County, the Oakland Activities Association in Oakland County and all the other leagues and conferences in Michigan.
Check out the Warriors’ roster. It is largely populated by in-state players. The few others are mainly from the coach’s home state of Ohio.
So Wayne State University is more than just a line on coach Winters’ resume. The city of Detroit is more than a fading memory and a disappearing return address.
Thanks for sticking around, coach. Kid Rock and Eminem appreciate it. So do a whole lot of other folks.

Monday, December 19, 2011

It is basketballs, not beach balls

I'm so old that Santa Claus was in my second grade class.
His mom didn’t drive him to school in a minivan. Nope, he came via sleigh.
Full beard at eight years old. Plus, while everybody else was drinking those small cartons of milk and eating peanut butter sandwiches for lunch, he was slurping eggnog and munching on sugar cookies and fruitcake.
So don't yell at me about being a Scrooge for what you are about to read, since I was around for the literal Christmas Eve.
But I was talking to a mom in a high school gym the other night. She had a son on the basketball team and was bemoaning the fact that the team practiced over the upcoming holiday break.
The family had rented a condo on the beach in Boca Raton. They had already gotten his plane ticket and everything.
She seemed like a nice lady and all, so I merely nodded my head politely, but I was thinking; She’s obviously not a member of the Clue Crew from the Jeopardy game show.
Not to be impolite ma'm, but playing high school varsity basketball carries some responsibilities. There are kids who were cut from that team who would love to be on the roster. So it means practicing when others are not, and playing games when other cannot. It means sacrificing for the good of the team, and a team that loses half of its players to Boca or Cancun or even Gaylord over the holidays is not going to be much of a team at all.
Practice makes a team better. Better teams win more games. And, unless the coach’s name is Gandhi or Mother Teresa, the point is to win games.
While winning might not be everything, it is a lot better than the alternative. Show me a good loser, and I will show you somebody who has gotten way too used to losing.
So a team practices. And it practices some more. It practices after school and it practices during the holiday season.
Don’t make me out to be a Scrooge. I am all for warm and fuzzy family moments. I still shop at Hallmark for cards and make sure our four kids – ages 34 to 20 - still get their annual Christmas ornaments. We hang the pickle on the tree, we travel en masse to 11 o’clock service on Christmas Eve and we head to grandma's house to celebrate with all of the cousins, nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles, kids and grandkids.
We are so full of holiday cheer that our breath would register off the charts on a nutmeg breathalyzer.
But if I have to work over the holidays, I punch in and go to work. If my wife has to work, she goes to work. When the kids were playing sports, if they had practice, they went to practice.
Bah humbug? Nope, that is just the way it is.
We went to grandma and grandpa’s for the day, not Boca for the week. We went skiing at Mount Holly or Alpine Valley for the day, not Boyne or Vail for the week. We went to a movie for a couple of hours, not to New York City for a Broadway play or two. If we wanted to see a play, it was at the Fisher or the Fox.
So yes, ma'm, I can believe the basketball team practices over the holidays.
If that ruins a trip out of town for the family, then I do feel sorry for you.
But only if that trip is to see an ailing grandparent or an elderly aunt and uncle. If that is the case, most coaches would be happy to oblige the time away from practice.
But the beach in Boca? That is a good way to burn his teammates.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Apparently, he is no smart Alec

I really like Alec Baldwin.
But I really despise it when people do not think rules apply to them.
Baldwin got booted off an airplane because he refused to turn off his cell phone. He was playing Words With Friends, a Scrabble-like game.
So Baldwin didn’t mind inconveniencing everybody else on the plane.
He was too I-M-P-O-R-T-A-N-T.
How many points is that, Alec?
He did not score any points with me, and that is tough for Baldwin to do. I personally love his brand of comedy. It’s not just schwetty balls, either.
But he sure had some balls to pull that stunt earlier this week.
On a plane about to leave Los Angeles International for New York, Baldwin declined to turn off his cell phone at the appropriate time, then stood up, took his phone into the restroom and slammed the door, the airline said.
"He slammed the lavatory door so hard, the cockpit crew heard it and became alarmed, even with the cockpit door closed and locked," the statement said. "They immediately contacted the cabin crew to check on the situation. The passenger was extremely rude to the crew, calling them inappropriate names and using offensive language. Given the facts above, the passenger was removed from the flight and denied boarding."
American said cell phones must be turned off for taxiing and takeoff, according to FAA regulations.
Baldwin's Twitter account had been deactivated Wednesday morning, but in earlier tweets he criticized the airline and vowed never to fly American again.
"Flight attendant on American reamed me out 4 playing WORDS W FRIENDS while we sat at the gate, not moving," Baldwin said, later adding: "#theresalwaysunited."
So Baldwin thought the rules did not apply to him.
I like Alec Baldwin, but I despise that attitude.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Don't call Motown "no town"

I know the city of Detroit gets frequently bashed.
Sometimes it is deserved. How can you possibly defend the juvenile behavior of Kwame Kilpatrick? The former mayor turned the Manoogian Mansion into a fraternity house. He thanked the citizens of the city who elected him by abusing his position of power and getting tossed into jail.
Too many areas of the city are post-apocalyptic landscapes. Some neighborhoods are virtually unlivable. There’s too much crime and too few jobs and the rusted, graffiti-endorsed remnants of the Industrial Revolution are plentiful.
Still, that is hardly the sum total of the city. Detroit has a decided pulse if you care to listen.
My wife, Kim, and I spend a lot of time in the city and we always enjoy ourselves.
This past Saturday night, we were at the UDetroit Café on Randolph in Harmonie Park. Our son’s band, Green Collar, was playing. It is a great venue and it was overflowing with a young, vibrant crowd.
Nearly every Saturday morning we head to the Eastern Market. In addition to shopping for produce and other things, we eat at the Farmers Restaurant. Kim loves their homemade corned beef hash, which bears absolutely no resemblance to the stuff that is spooned out of the can. I am more partial to a dish called the Farmers Mess, which is a delicious concoction of potatoes, ham, eggs, cheese and green peppers. That mushroom cloud forming is your diet that has just been nuked.
We love the city’s street festivals that pop up during the summer months. The Detroit Riverfront has come a long, long way in the last decade or so. We embrace the professional sports teams that all have a 313 area code.
There are other great entertainment venues, too. Cliff Bell’s is a marvelous jazz club on Park Avenue. The Majestic Theater beckons on Woodward Avenue and the Old Miami is a bar on Cass that hides an oasis out back.
That is hardly scratching the surface. There is plenty more to appreciate in Detroit. It just takes a little searching.
Sure the city has problems. It is way too early to do an obituary, though.
This is a Thank You note, not a eulogy.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Coaches help present a Merry Christmas

Royal Oak High swim coach Darrin Millar (right) and his team will host a pair of Toys for Tots meets in December. (Daily Tribune photo by Liz Carnegie)

The Star Wars Death Star.
Was it Santa who brought that toy to the Millar house on Fifth Street in Royal Oak via sleigh or was it Emperor Palpatine disguised in a red velvet suit?
“I was nine years old. It was 1977 and the first Star Wars movie had just come out. I could not have been more excited to get the Star Wars Death Star,” said Darrin Millar, the boys’ swim coach at Royal Oak High School. “It came in a really big box.”
Every youngster deserves that sort of excitement during the holiday season. That is why Millar is asking people who come to his home meets in December; Tuesday, Dec. 6, against Lamphere, and Tuesday, Dec. 13, against Clarkston to bring a new, unwrapped toy.
That toy will serve as the admission cost for fans. The toys will be donated to the Marine Corps Toys for Tots program.
“My younger brother, Duncan, and I used to get up at 4:30 in the morning on Christmas to do some recon,” said the Royal Oak coach, laughing. “We had to take a look at all of the presents.”
That is what Toys for Tots is all about; making sure all of the children get presents.
The objectives of the Marine Corps Toys for Tots program, according to the program’s website ( are “to help less fortunate children throughout the United States experience the joy of Christmas; to play an active role in the development of one of our nation’s most valuable resources – our children.”
Jeff Olson, an assistant on boys’ varsity basketball head coach Mark Bray’s staff at Utica Ford, certainly agrees with that objective.
That is why the Ford Falcons will also host a Toy for Tots benefit game on Friday, Dec. 9, when the Sterling Heights Stallions visit. Anyone bringing a new, unwrapped toy will get $2 off the price of a ticket.
“This is an opportunity to provide some type of lasting memory on Christmas morning for kids who might not otherwise have that pleasant memory,” said Olson.
Both Millar and Olson grew up in Royal Oak. Millar graduated from Dondero High School and Olson is a Kimball grad. The two schools have now merged into Royal Oak High.
Millar and Olson are both educators at Schwarzkoff Elementary School in Sterling Heights.
“Darrin and I are co-sponsors of the student council at Schwarzkoff. We participate in the Toys for Tots program at Schwarzkoff, and we wondered  why don’t we do it as coaches?” said Olson.
Among his favorite Christmas presents as a child was a He-Man action figure. He-Man was wrapped up with Battle Cat.
Olson and his older brother, Brent, who also played basketball at Kimball and is now a police officer in Arlington, Virginia, used to get up on Christmas morning about 7 although, he added laughingly, “you’d have to check with my parents on that one. It might have been earlier.”
Both coaches are now married themselves with families.
Jeff and Kristin Olson have two children; Ella, who is four, and three-year-old Luke.
“Ella is in the princess phase. She’d like anything princess-related for Christmas. Luke is not quite to the point where things are relevant. He’d like anything. He likes Pillow Pets and things like that,” said Olson.
Darrin and Cammie Millar have two daughters; Emily, who is 11, and nine-year-old Danielle.
“The girls will get up at about 6 on Christmas morning and do their own recon,” said Millar, laughing. “They want to take a look at the presents.”
Both coaches know how fortunate they are that their children do not have to rely on Toys for Tots to populate the area under the Christmas tree.
Both dads are proud to help populate that area for less-fortunate kids.

Friday, December 2, 2011

George "The Animal" Steele has the write stuff

Somebody call the zookeeper! A wild animal has gotten loose. George "The Animal" Steele is collaborating with Jim Evans on a book about his amazing life.

Jim Myers was born with dyslexia.
Put in Judge Judy's terms, it has been a life sentence.
It has never been easy. When Myers was growing up in Madison Heights, a suburb of Detroit, the line of delineation in a classroom was simple; a kid was either smart or stupid.
That was the end of the discussion.
Let’s just say that Myers was not looked on as a future member of the National Honor Society.
While hardly stupid, dyslexia made things difficult. The alphabet might as well been hieroglyphics to him. He did poorly in school. He channeled his frustration into athletics. He was a ferocious high school football player, a basketball player to be reckoned with, and was a member of the track and field team at Madison High School.
Despite his challenges, he graduated from Michigan State University.
He returned to Madison Heights and began a long and outstanding career as a teacher and a coach.
Along the way, he became a professional wrestler and was known as George “The Animal” Steele. Even though Jim had a masters degree, he was portrayed as a monosyllabic, drooling dolt in the ring.
He became one Vince McMahon Jr.'s most popular wrestlers.
At the height of that popularity, another battle suddenly loomed. Crohn’s Disease nearly killed him. They even blew Taps a couple of times in Myers’ direction, but he did not pay heed. Either did He.
Myers found God or was it vice versa? Jim and his wife, Pat, are alive and well and living in Florida.
Jim and I are going to collaborate on a book. I cannot wait to get started. I am actually drooling.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Go on, Suh him

The Suh Stomp is not a popular dance move with NFL commissioner Roger Goddell. Detroit's Ndamukong Suh is appealing his two-game suspension.

Nobody much cared what happened with the Lions through 50 years and more of 100 percent non-pasteurized ineptitude.
If there was any stomping being done in Rod Marinelli’s 0-16 swan song as a head coach, the cleat marks were on the Lions.
For that matter, when the team from Detroit went 2-14 in Jim Schwartz’s inaugural season in 2009, commissioner Roger Goodell probably would not have said anything if Dick “The Bruiser” was putting members of the Lions’ team in headlocks every other play or George “The Animal” Steele was chewing off their jerseys and waggling his green tongue in their direction.
For that matter, even if the Lions had trotted out 11 real lions from the Detroit Zoo onto the field in, say, Darryl Rogers’ 4-12 1988 season, nobody other than Jack Hannah and the concerned folks from PETA would have even raised an eyebrow.
A losing team gathers no moss or notice. Who said that first, Plato or William Clay Ford?
But the Lions are improving. They won their first five games this season and all of a sudden the perpetually woeful were bordering on wonderful. Fans in Detroit and beyond were getting an eyeful of some pretty decent football.
But something indecent has happened along the way. The Lions have been struggling lately and Ndamukong Suh, who took the NFL by storm with his phenomenal All-Pro rookie season, has seemingly veered out of control.
He has been fined three times and committed nine personal foul penalties in less than two seasons.
His most recent infraction came on Thanksgiving Day when he stomped on the arm of Green Bay offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith. Suh was booted from the game, and has been suspended for two games without pay.
His appeal of the suspension was promptly stomped by the NFL. The two-game ban holds.
Now I know football is a physical game. There’s plenty of stuff that goes on during the course of a game that would make any self-respecting Roman gladiator cringe.
The NFL is populated with by huge men with malicious intent. Every hut, hut precedes pure mayhem.
But the whistle had blown on Thanksgiving day. Still, Suh stomped on an opponent’s arm. The NFL seems intent on blowing the whistle on Suh’s increasingly questionable play.