Welcome to Detroit, a city that is run by its sports teams, and the vibrant culture they produce.
Modified: September 16, 2019
Detroit is home to four professional sports teams, representing each of the four major North American sports: baseball, football, basketball and hockey. Whether you’re a fan of one, or all, you’ll find things to do in downtown Detroit. And yes – each team plays within downtown Detroit, only a few blocks away from each other, making Detroit the only city in the United States that can currently say that.
So, welcome to Detroit, a city that is run by its sports teams, and the vibrant culture they produce. And by vibrant culture, we mean die-hard sports fans that put any other city’s fans to shame! In Detroit, rooting for your favorite team just might qualify as a fifth major sport. Such an intense sports scene means that over the years, some characters have come out of the woodwork. If you thought you loved the Detroit Tigers or Pistons, think again when you meet each team’s super fans.
Whether you’re a sports-lover heading to Detroit on vacation, or just want to brush up on your knowledge, here is your complete guide to Detroit sports culture, and the super fans that have defined it.
Downtown Detroit comes alive in the summer, with the familiar sound of baseballs getting smacked out of the park and fans cheering in the stands. Come to Comerica Park where you can witness the Detroit Tigers play on their home turf. Stay late and you might even be treated to a firework show.
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The Detroit Tigers have been members of Major League Baseball and the American League for over a century. Winning the World Series Championships four times in their history (the last in 1984), Tigers fans are rooting for a comeback win any time now. Unfortunately, the Tigers have had a rather rough history, losing a record 109 games between 1997 and 2000. It was in 2000 that the team moved from Tiger Stadium into their new home in downtown Detroit, Comerica Park, and broke the losing streak.
Even through the ups and downs, Tigers fans have stuck with their team. Detroit Tigers fans are defined by their loyalty and spirit, but one fan clearly rises above them all…
You might think a Tiger is the Detroit Tigers’ mascot, but from 1982-1997 they had a very different mascot: Detroit local Joe “The Brow” Diroff, so named for his rather fuzzy forehead. In 1982, The Brow decided to take on a new job, post retiring from his career as a 7th grade math teacher. He became the Detroit Tigers’ self-proclaimed cheerleader, taking it upon himself to boost morale in the crowds no matter the score. Heard across the Tiger Stadium, and some say the city itself, The Brow’s teacher voice could cut through any crowd.
He was famous for parading around the stadium with pun-inspired props in hand. On days when he carried his giant yellow mustard bottle, the chant was “They’ll never catch up ‘cause they CAN’T CUT THE MUSTARD!” And when the Tigers fell behind, he’d whip out a Heinz Ketchup bottle and scream like a banshee through the stadium: “CATCHUP! CATCHUP!” Other favorite props included a bicycle pump and a banana, and you can guess the puns he screamed while waving those in the faces of unsuspecting, and less flamboyant Tigers fans.
Sadly, in 1997 The Brow passed away from complications of a stroke. It does make you wonder that this coincided with the Tigers’ three year losing streak which began the same year. Coincidence or not, The Brow certainly left his mark on the Detroit Tigers and no other fan has compared to him yet.
Photos by: Bill Bowen
Detroit goes by many names – perhaps you’ve heard of Motown, the Motor City, Paris of the Midwest, and even Comeback City. But only one name has been copyrighted: Hockeytown. Detroit is certainly America’s Hockeytown, a title that is well deserved for the home of the very successful Red Wings.
The Detroit Red Wings have a dedicated (some might use the term “obsessed”) fan base, and for good reason. Of all the teams in the National Hockey League, the Detroit Red Wings have won the most Stanley Cup championships, and Detroiters are certainly proud of that. Recently, in 2017, the Red Wings moved from their longtime home of Joe Louis Arena, into the brand new Little Caesar’s Arena. At first, fans missed the gritty yet determined atmosphere of “The Joe.” But over the past few years, fans have fallen for the luxuries of Little Caesar’s Arena, especially its massive jumbotron that has to be seen to be believed.
One super fan known to all Red Wings fans is “Mo Cheese.” If you were lucky enough to attend a Red Wings game at The Joe, you likely would have been treated to Mo Cheese’s dance moves. No matter what was on the scoreboard, he’d hop into the aisle and throw down some moves. The aisle dancing was always completed with his usual ensemble of an over-sized Red Wings jersey and a life-size Stanley Cup hat.
Fans would go wild for the aisle dancing and Mo Cheese became a verifiable Red Wings good luck charm. Mo Cheese hasn’t been seen at games in the past few years, and the rumor among Red Wings fans is that he moved to Florida. We can only hope he’s dancing to games on his TV down there in the sunshine.
Super fan is a misnomer for Al Sobotka, the Red Wings’ legendary Zamboni driver, and the longtime building manager of both Joe Louis Arena, and now Little Caesar’s Arena. But even though he’s on the payroll, Sobotka might just be the most famous Zamboni driver in hockey history. The Redwings mascot was even named “Al” in honor of him. All this fame comes down to one tradition: twirling octopi. Yes, the cephalopod of the sea, and yes, this seems a rather odd tradition to outsiders.
Detroit Redwings fans have been throwing stuffed octopi onto the ice during playoff games since 1952, when it occurred to some fans that eight wins that season were necessary to reach the Stanley Cup championship (naturally making the connection that an octopus has eight legs). Then, along came an unsuspecting Al Sobotka, who in cleaning the ice between periods at a playoff game in the early 90s, picked up an octopus, and gave it a little twirl. The crowd went wild. Since that moment, Al Sobotka and his twirling octopi have become Red Wings tradition.
Due to bits of octopus getting into the ice, in 2008 the NHL forbade octopi twirling. But even the NHL will look the other way when it comes to the fans and traditions of Hockeytown. Sobotka is still permitted to twirl octopi, as long as he does so off the ice.
Photos by: Rob Kohn
Come to Detroit for the pizza, automobile history and Motown. But stay for the tailgating. An autumn visit to Detroit isn’t complete without tailgating near Ford Field, joining in the crowds of Honolulu blue and silver clad fans, and taking in a Sunday home game of the Detroit Lions.
Unlike the Detroit born-and-raised Tigers and Red Wings, the Lions actually trace their origin to Portsmouth, Ohio. In 1934, the Lions outgrew Portsmouth, and the city of Detroit purchased and relocated the Lions. Ever since, the Lions have called Detroit home. Despite winning four NFL championships, the Lions have never played in a Super Bowl. Still, hope is the thing with feathers, or should we say claws and a mane. Lions fans are ever hopeful for victory, especially these super fans…
For the past nine years, the Detroit Lions have had someone looking over them – that’s super fan Michael Rollin, to be specific. But Rollin, owner of Park Bar and resident of the Corktown neighborhood, is better known among Lions fans as the Reverend of Roar. In 2010, during a particularly dismal season, Rollin had just been ordained as a minister. A friend suggested to him that now that he was a minister, maybe he could do some preaching to boost morale among fans. The Reverend of Roar was born.
Now, the Reverend of Roar is a staple at Lions games, shouting his sermon of faith everywhere from bar tops to tailgaters outside Ford Field. And ultimately, for Rollin and his congregation, being a true Lions fan is all about faith – no matter the score board.
One of the most popular people at any Lions game is Ron Crachiola – more commonly referred to as ‘Crackman.’ Ron will say that this nickname is derived from his surname, but Crackman has taken on an almost super hero status among fans. While Crackman may not have all the powers of Superman, he certainly has those of a super fan: inspiring, connecting and raising up the voices of fellow Detroiters.
Crackman is instantly recognizable in his worn overalls, Lions jersey, argyle socks and work boots, and of course the hard hat covered in Lions player autographs. But Crackman’s super fan persona goes deeper than just love of the game – he’s really an homage to the blue-collar workers of Detroit, or the average working fan.
Photos by: Bill Bowen
Who loves ya baby !! One day we will see a Super Bowl pic.twitter.com/cgSMFW1YiS
— Ron Crackman Crachiola (@lions_crackman) December 29, 2018
For decades, Detroit basketball lovers had to travel north to Oakland County to see their beloved professional team, the Pistons, play. In 2017, though, the Pistons packed up and moved to downtown Detroit, where they now share Little Caesar’s Arena with the Red Wings. The move is what gained Detroit the title of the only city in the United States whose NBA, NHL, MLB and NFL teams all play within the downtown city limits. The result is a vibrant sports and entertainment district that attracts all kinds of sports lovers, and needs to be experienced by any Detroit visitor.
Of Detroit’s four major sports franchises, the Pistons were the latest addition. They moved from Fort Wayne to Detroit in 1957. Like any team, the Pistons have had their ups and downs, with their most recent up in 2016 when they reached the NBA playoffs. With their new headquarters in downtown Detroit, they are getting even more support from their home city, especially from in particular fan…
The Detroit Pistons didn’t know how lucky they got when they hired Detroit East Sider, Shannon Sailes, as an usher. Back in the 2011-2012 season, Sailes was performing his usher duties, when the jumbotron suddenly featured his section. Overcome with the music, Sailes busted out some dance moves from the aisle. It’s safe to say that he stole the show from the Pistons at that point. Since then, Sailes, now dubbed the Piston’s Dancing Usher, has been featured on The Today Show and Good Morning America for his incredible dance skills. He also has an official page on the Pistons’ NBA website, and is featured on the jumbotron at all home games. Other NBA teams have tried to recreate this with their own dancing ushers by hiring professional dancers to stand in as ushers. However, nobody can compare to Sailes – a real Detroiter and a professional usher, who just happens to have spectacular spontaneous dance moves. Attend a Pistons home game and you may even be lucky enough to be seated in the Dancing Usher’s section.
Detroit’s famous four teams hold something for everyone – whether you’re a hardcore fan, or a sports newbie. Experiencing the atmosphere in any one of Detroit’s downtown arenas is an opportunity visitors to the city should leap upon. And if you want to visit them all, Comerica Park, Ford Field and Little Caesar’s Arena are all a short walk away from each other.
The unique traditions – from twirling octopi to pregame sermons – show not just the creativity and pride of fandoms, but the energy of the city itself. Detroit’s sports culture is undeniable, but it is the fans who make this city special.
Photos by: Markus Spiske temporausch.com from Pexels and Rob Kohn
Story by: Sarah Bence