Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Michigan sports fans suffering a season of setbacks

Gannett News Service

How's your day going? It could probably be worse. You could be a sports fan in the state of Michigan.

Know any? Buy him a drink. Send him a card. Light him a candle. Life is hard at the moment.

Pick a game. Almost any game. Disappointment comes in every size, shape and season ticket plan. On ice, grass or hardwood.

We'll list a few.

But could we have a dirge, please?

Begin with hockey.

The Detroit Red Wings just became the first defending Stanley Cup champions in 52 years to be swept in four games in the first round. Came down with a fatal case of Jean-Sebastian Giguere, an Anaheim goalie who starved them on six goals in four games.

Pro football?

When last seen, the Detroit Lions were losing their last eight games to finish 3-13, and were most noted for fouling up a coin toss.

College football?

Michigan State went from preseason Big Ten favorite to 4-8. The Spartans were nipped in their last game by Penn State 61-7, the most points scored against them since 1922.

Along this merry way, the coach was fired and the quarterback ended up in a substance abuse program.

Meanwhile at Ann Arbor, these are the saddest of possible words.

Ohio State, national champion.

College basketball?

Muddied by scandal, Michigan had to pull down many of its past championship banners, then lock itself in its own handcuffs.

(We interrupt to add that Michigan State somehow managed to escape all this bad karma to get to the NCAA South final. Which goes to show you there's one daisy in every snowstorm)

But we've saved the worst for last.

The Tigers. Sigh.

The Tigers have played, more or less, 17 baseball games and lost 16 of them.

"We can't lose tomorrow," outfielder Bobby Higginson was saying Sunday.

Monday was an off day. Mercifully.

The Tigers are hitting .180.

The next meekest team in baseball - the New York Mets - is batting 49 points higher.

The Tigers have hit five home runs.

National League pitchers have hit six.

Starting pitcher Mike Maroth is already 0-5, despite a decent earned run average. At this rate, he will be a 20-game loser by late June.

They have only three stolen bases. Their slugging percentage of .245 is lower than the batting average of 26 teams.

We could go on, but you get the picture. In Michigan's bad news parade, the Tigers are the grand marshal.

It is not just the losing for them all. It's the style.

The proud and starry Red Wings were swept by Disneyland.

The Lions have never been to a Super Bowl and last won a playoff game in 1991. They were nationally ridiculed last season when they won the toss before overtime against Chicago, chose to kickoff, then watched the Bears promptly steamroll to a field goal. The coach doesn't work there anymore.

The Tigers, one of the American League's venerable franchises, are retreating toward a 10th straight losing season.

You can understand, then, the current angst concerning the Detroit Pistons.

The Pistons are top seed in the Eastern Conference in the NBA playoffs (which is like having the corner cell on death row, but that's a story for another day).

They have won with a relentless defense. The team seemed a possible antidote for the Michigan Malady.

But ...

The Pistons lost their first game of the playoffs Sunday, at home. Orlando's Tracy McGrady shredded them for 43 points. Detroit missed 32 of its 43 shots in the first half.

"I'm pretty sure," Corliss Williamson said, "we're gonna have to try something different."

He was speaking for the Pistons. Or was it everybody in the state?

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