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Mister Hockey

Gordie Howe
March 31, 1928 – June 10, 2016

If you are from Michigan, and have been involved in hockey in any way, chances are you have a Gordie Howe story.  Learning of his passing from a friend who I was having lunch with at Schuler Books & Music in Grand Rapids, MI, rekindled memories of my brief moments with this legendary man.

The oldest memory has been with me for decades.  It hung in my parents’ basement until recently when it found a place in mine.

My aunt worked for the Ford Motor Car Company.  In June, 1972, after Gordie retired from 25 seasons with the Detroit Red Wings and before he signed with the Houston Aeros of the WHA, Ford hosted an event where they brought Gordie in to sign autographs.  I was nine-years-old and had recently found hockey to be my favorite spectator sport.  I attended my first hockey game on January 9, 1971 – a 3-2 Detroit victory over the Buffalo Sabres at the Olympia.  My parents talked up Gordie, while I, being a youngster in the 70’s, was drawn to Gary Unger, and his flowing long hair (The Wings’ traded Unger less than a month after my first hockey game).

At the Ford event, Gordie was situated at a table.  My mom took some photos of me standing near him or with me in the background.

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Can you imagine a kid being allowed to get this close to a sports superstar today?

We then stood in line and waited to have him sign my autograph book.  When my turn came, I nervously and silently placed my autograph book before him.  He didn’t open it.  Instead, he noticed the shirt I was wearing.  He took the shirt at my waist and pulled it toward him.  Then he pressed the ballpoint pen against the material, signing his name.  I was stunned.  A few days later, a Ford photographer at the event talked to my aunt at her office, saying he had photos of Gordie autographing my shirt.  He gave them to her, and my parents framed the shirt and photos.  Touched my greatness, I was inspired.  That fall, I signed up for the only season of sports I ever played – a house-hockey league at the Plymouth Cultural Center.

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Hanging on the wall in my parents’ house, it always reminded me about how attentive and kind this man was.  As the years went by, and I became more involved as a fan, spectator, booster club president, photographer, and columnist in the sport, it was also a reminder of the contrast between him and the next generation of superstars.  He did not think his superstar status made him superior to us.  He was one of us, appreciative of our adoration.

I remember watching the 1979-80 NHL All Star game.  No.  Scratch that.  I remember nothing about the game.  It was played at the brand new Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, and the only thing that mattered was the pre-game player introductions, saving the Hartford Whalers’ right winger for last.

Still gives me chills.  Man’s example of humility.

Though the 1979-80 season was his final year of hockey, he was not done.  There was one record yet to break.

I started photographing and writing for Great Lakes Hockey Alliance – a free monthly newsprint hockey publication covering all the Michigan hockey teams in the NHL, IHL, UHL, OHL, & CCHA – in 1997.  I photographed Detroit Vipers’ games at The Palace of Auburn Hills.  It was magical timing.  After so many photos from the stands, having a press pass and seeing my photos published was thrilling.  To cap it off, the Detroit Vipers won the 1997 Turner Cup, allowing me to go on the ice, capture team and player shots with the Cup, and the celebration in the locker room afterward with players’ friends and family.  Life was good.  Then, it got better.

For the home opener of the 1997-98 season, not only would the Vipers raise the Turner Cup Champion banner, they would start the season with #9, Mister Hockey, in the line-up.  It was an opportunity for Gordie Howe to be the only athlete to play a professional sport in six decades, breaking Minnie Minoso’s record of playing in Major League Baseball in five decades.   Minoso was present at the event.

Things were definitely different that evening.  The press box was overflowing with reporters from across the globe, as I went to pick up my media notes.

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When I descended from the heights of the stadium to my usual spot at ice level – the box between the players’ benches – three photographers had climbed in to get photos.  They did not like shooting through the glass, so one-by-one they climbed out.  I reclaimed my place.

The Palace, packed with 20,182 fans, provided another standing ovation for #9.

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He skated the first shift; forty-seven seconds of historic ice time.  Vipers defenseman, Bobby Jay, moved the puck into the Kansas City Blades’ zone, then passed it to Howe, who redirected the puck on net.  Another shot on goal to his professional career statistics.

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Gordie coming back to the bench after his shift.

He stayed on the bench during the first and second period, not returning for the third.  Which was too bad.  At the end of the third period, the score was tied 4-4.  The IHL had the shootout as a way of breaking ties (the NHL did not implement the shootout until 2005, nineteen years after the IHL adopted it in 1986).  Imagine if Gordie had been on the bench for the shootout, skated onto the ice, went one-on-one with the goalie, and scored.  Would The Palace have had to rebuild its roof?

The power of Gordie Howe transcended generations.  The following season, the Vipers celebrated his 70th birthday as a promotion night.  I arrived early at the game, and was walking through the corridor by the locker rooms.  Most Vipers games started at 7:30, with the doors opening to the public at 6PM.  Before the doors opened to the public, little league hockey teams would play on the ice.  I stood in the hallway as the kids – probably the same age I was when Gordie signed my shirt – waddled by on the blades of their skates, weighed down by their equipment, on their way to the locker room.  Gordie, randomly patted one of the kids on his helmet as he walked by and said, “You played good.”  The kid looked up, then stopped.  Awestruck.  The look on his face was one of a kid empowered. Gordie Howe said I played good.

Those are my fond memories of Gordie Howe.

Rest in Peace, Mister Hockey.

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May 15, 2015: AFC Cleveland

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May 15, 2015
Cass Tech Stadium
Detroit City FC 3, AFC Cleveland 2
DCFC  Colin McAtee (Javier Bautista) 19′
CLEV   Sergio Manesio 35′
DCFC  Will Mellors-Blair (Tommy Catalano) 43′
CLEV  Tom Beck (Mike Derezic) 48′
DCFC  Seb Harris (Cyrus Saydee) 85′
Attendance:  3,012

The much anticipated season home opener on the first day of the Motor City Comic Con…

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…but I digress.

The beginning of a new season and the introduction of a new camera.  Actually, it was not so new.  After the water damage from the Muskegon game and the downpour of two seasons before, I decided to look at the world’s largest garage sale to replace my camera.  And there it was.  The very same camera in almost new condition.  “Used only indoors on a tripod,” the description read.  I placed a bid, and this Sony digital camera which was damn expensive in 2006 when I bought it new, cost me a total of $33 to replace ($21 to win the auction, $12 shipping).

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Purchased – 2006 Retired – 2015

Prior to the match, NGS unfurled a tifo on the family-friendly side, to kick-off the season:

It was a back-and-forth match, but in the end, Seb Harris won it late with this great header and celebration:

Pre-Game:

 

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Action:

 

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Book Review: Hockey Card Stories by Ken Reid

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Back in August, I was looking for a specific book.  I finally located a copy at the Barnes & Noble in Utica.  However, while perusing the shelves that day, I happened upon this striking cover.  Yes, covers do catch the eye of those of us who are browsers, and sometimes results in sales, such as on this day.  The title is self explanatory, but the cover was cool in that it has the waxy feel of an old fashioned pack of hockey cards.  Thumbing through it sold me.

Growing up, hockey was my sport.  In most all sports in gym class I was the kid chosen last…except in floor hockey.  I couldn’t skate a lick, learning while playing in a house league in Plymouth (and don’t get me started on the politics of that fiasco, with my coach a Michigan Republican Senator who…well, damn, I said don’t get me started).  Still, hockey was my sports forte.  And with that, hockey card collecting.

Reading through this book, I found it to be an interesting and fun trip down memory lane.  If you’re looking for critical or literary writing, this isn’t for you.  The author has an almost teen-age voice in each of these bits about the 59 hockey players and their cards, which is fine for reliving this hockey nostalgia.  See, back in the day, there were those of us who collected hockey cards because we enjoyed the sport and the cardboard representations of its players, not for the financial investment purpose.  It’s where my inspiration for shooting sports action photography – specifically hockey in the past, soccer today – originates, and probably author Ken Reid’s inspiration to go into sports broadcasting.  He’s a sports anchor on Sportsnet Connected.

I once amassed a nice collection of hockey cards, beginning with the first set I put together through opening packs – the 132-card 1971-72 Topps – and all the way through to the early 90’s.  In my day, there was only O-Pee-Chee and Topps, the former had the exact same cards as the Topps, but with an additional checklist of cards and sold in Canada.  I still have some of them, and thought it might be fun to take the chapter titles that Reid used and add a few of my cards and thoughts.  His book interviews the players on his cards, which is cool, especially when the player having a hockey card issued meant something to him.

Strike a Pose:

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Yes.  It was the long hair of Garry Unger that made him one of the coolest players in the NHL.  The first NHL game I went to was at the Olympia on January 9, 1971.  The Red Wings defeated the Buffalo Sabres, 3-2.  Unger played for the Red Wings, and even though legend Gordie Howe was on the ice in his last season as a Red Wing, it was the long flowing hair of Unger that caught my attention.  About a month later, Unger was traded to St. Louis with Wayne Connelly for Red Berenson and Tim Ecclestone.  Not even a month in to following this team and they traded a favorite of mine.  Unger went on to having a great career, playing over 1,100 NHL games and setting the iron man record of 914 consecutive games (later broken by Doug Jarvis).  The 1972-73 Topps card still in my collection.

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1972.  The year I strapped on skates for the only season of little league hockey for me.  That same season, the Red Wings dressed rookie Henry Boucha.  His Topps 1973-74 rookie card shows a poised, clean-shaven, thick-haired young man.  However he became a fan favorite sporting a headband instead of a helmet.  He even made an appearance at the Plymouth Cultural Center, where I played, to sign autographs.  I remember owning a headband, but not allowed to wear it in lieu of a helmet.  A wise thing for a ten year old learning to play the game while at the same time learning to skate.  This 1974-75 Topps card remains in my collection, depicting him more accurately than his rookie card had.  He played two seasons for the Red Wings, in 143 games, with 33 goals and 26 assists, before being traded to the Minnesota North Stars for Danny Grant.

Making it look Mean:

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I agree with Reid that the 1973-74 Phil Roberto card is a classic of all cards when it comes to the game’s aggressive nature.  And if I remember correctly, the Billy Smith card from that season looks as if it was taken just after this fight, as he is putting him and his equipment back together.

I always thought this Cam Connor card from the O-Pee-Chee 1976-77 WHA set had an intimidating look.  Connor, a career pugilist, racked up 904 penalty minutes in 274 games in the WHA, and additional 256 penalty minutes in 89 NHL games.

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Keith Magnuson played his entire 589 NHL game career with the Chicago Blackhawks.  And the defenseman was one of the feistiest players of his day.  The look of his 1972-73 Topps card, with Magnuson in the penalty box, and photographed with a fisheye lens, was a clear guide of where to direct your gaze if you wanted to see Keith Magnuson at a hockey game.

The WHA:

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I loved the WHA.  Though having not seen a game until the late 90’s when I found a DVD of the final Avco Cup trophy game, I still loved reading about the WHA in its section of The Hockey News.  My dad subscribed to the hockey weekly, which had articles on every team in the NHL, a section for the WHA, and sections for the other minor-pro leagues and Canadian Juniors.  The box score for every NHL and WHA game was published in them,  Being from Metro Detroit, you’d think I would have been a fan of the Houston Aeros and the New England Whalers, for that is where Gordie Howe and his two sons, Marty and Mark, played together.  And Bobby Hull being a former Blackhawk, I shouldn’t be rooting for the Winnipeg Jets.  However, the duo who kept Hull in the limelight – Ulf Nilsson and Anders Hedberg – were favorites of mine.  At the time, the great debate was which right winger was better – Hedberg or Guy Lafleur.  Both were of the same age, and both were in the prime of their careers.  From 1974-1978, Hedberg scored 236 goals, 222 assists, for 458 points in 286 games.  Lafleur had 225 goals, 287 assists, for 512 points in 308 games during the same years.  However, when Hedberg joined the New York Rangers after the WHA folded and the NHL absorbed four of its teams, Lafleur racked up more points than Hedberg in the three seasons from 1978-1981.  But Lafleur was a part of the legendary Canadiens dynasty of the late 1970’s.  Would he have had the same production on a team of lesser talent than the Winnipeg Jets of the WHA, or New York Rangers?  It always made for a fun argument.

I had every one of the O-Pee-Chee WHA sets complete at one time.  I’ve sold all but the 1976-77 set from which these two cards come from.

A good book about the WHA is Ed Willes’ The Rebel League: The Short and Unruly Life of the World Hockey Association (McClelland and Stewart, 2005)

The Goalies:

There was something about Rogie Vachon that drew me to putting him among my favorite goalies growing up.  I had liked the LA Kings uniforms back then, and he became an all-star goalie on an average team.  Where the Drydens and Cheevers and Parents and Espositos got all the accolades, Vachon stood on his head for the Kings back in the day.  I like this 1974-75 Topps card which features Vachon in the Kings garb and the old-style goaltender equipment from the 1970’s.

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Then, there were awesome goaltenders on horrible teams.  Gilles Meloche was that guy.  I, too, liked the Oakland Seals/California Golden Seals uniforms – each variation from season to season.  And though the team was pretty much a given two points for any team they faced, Meloche made it a hard-earned two points.  The 1973-74 Topps Card again shows the goaltender equipment of the 70’s in the Seals uniform, and the 1977-78 O-Pee-Chee card has him decked out in the Cleveland Barons red, where the Seals migrated to in 1976 before being merged with the Minnesota North Stars two years later.

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By the mid-Seventies, I had lost my interest in the Red Wings.  They never won games, were never in the playoffs, and they kept trading away my favorite players.  When one of them – Marcel Dionne – was traded to the LA Kings, I started to claim them as my favorite team.  However, there was no Internet or ESPN back then, and seeing a Kings game on Hockey Night in Canada was rare.  With the expansion in 1974 adding the Kansas City Scouts (and Washington Capitals) to the league, the Scouts had me peeking in their direction.  Former Red Wing legend, Sid Abel, was the general manager of the team, and brought over one of my favorite Wings, Guy Charron, and others.  After two seasons, the team left Kansas City for Colorado, but not before drafting a young defenseman from the Toronto Marlboros.  More on that later, however that move to Colorado and the players that were emerging there drew me.  I was becoming a Colorado Rockies fan.

Doug Favell’s mask is the reason for this card’s presence.  Favell had a career playing for the Flyers and the Maple Leafs before coming to Colorado in 1976 to finish his career.

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And one cannot talk about goaltenders, the Colorado Rockies, and the 1970’s without mentioning Hardy Astrom.  This 1980-81 O-Pee-Chee card is the only one of the goalie that Don Cherry gained a lot of his material from.  Cherry coached the Rockies in the 1979-80 season where he had Astrom between the pipes in 49 of them.  But it wasn’t all bad for the Swedish goalie.

On Saturday, February 25, 1978, the Rangers were to play the Montreal Canadiens on Hockey Night in Canada.  The Habs were on a record streak of 28 games without a loss.  And the Rangers started the rookie Swede in goal against the league powerhouse.  Astrom went on to stop 29 shots and the Rangers won 6-3, snapping the Candiens streak.

Cool:

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There were a lot of cool cards during the years, but I chose these because they represented the Colorado Rockies, the team I was becoming a fan of, and because they were all action photos.  It was shots like these that inspired me to shoot sports action photography.  Posed photos are nice, but to capture humans practicing their humanity, whether it be skating on the ice and scoring a goal, making a save, kicking a ball downfield on a soccer pitch, fans creating plumes of smoke, or humans performing compassion in action, I find a sense of creativity and beauty of capturing those moments as they happen.

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And, well, this is the ultimate cool.  This was the guy who was drafted by the Kansas City Scouts, and began his career with the Colorado Rockies.  I rooted for my namesake for the obvious reason – if he was on a Stanley Cup winning team, our name would be engraved on the Stanley Cup!  It took almost 40 years, but as the Assistant Coach of the 2013 Chicago Blackhawks, (and again in 2015), the dream has been realized.  Now I have to see the Stanley Cup with our names etched on it.

I got to see him play live, once, at Joe Louis Arena for the New Jersey Devils on October 8, 1983 in the Red Wings home opener.  The Devils won, 6-3.

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Airbrush:

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I no longer have what I considered the classic airbrush card, but this one will do.  My first favorite player, Marcel Dionne, was traded from the Detroit Red Wings to the Los Angeles Kings in the summer of 1975.  This 1975-76 Topps card shows him in the Kings purple jersey, however wearing number 12 – the number he wore as the Red Wings’ captain during the 1974-75 season.  In LA, he took the #16 jersey.

But the airbrush I remember was from the 1974-75 Topps Jacques Lemaire card.  Lemaire played his entire twelve-year career as a member of the Montreal Canadiens.  But for some reason the O-Pee-Chee/Topps  company airbrushed him into a Buffalo Sabres uniform and displayed him as a player on the Buffalo Sabres.

The 80’s:

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The 1980’s hockey to me meant the Quebec Nordiques and the New Jersey Devils.  I became a fan of the Devils after having followed the Rockies and their move to New Jersey.  They developed young talent due to high draft picks from finishing low in the league.  It was the Nordiques I found myself rooting for most often in the playoffs.  I thought Peter Stastny was an amazing player, and human being, defecting from Czechoslovakia with his brother, Anton, in 1980.  He played the decade with the Nordiques, then was traded and played four seasons with the Devils, ending his career with a season in St. Louis.

Error Cards:

I liked the Steve Larmer/Steve Ludzik rookie errors from the 1984-85 Topps/O-Pee-Chee sets, like Reid.  So I think I’ll take this moment to point out the only error I uncovered in Reid’s book.

On Page 94, Reid begins Chapter Five: Cool Cards with the 1977-78 Pat Hickey card.  The content of the chapter talks about Hickey being traded from the Rangers before Hickey was to appear on the “Hockey Sock Rock” video, sung by a number of the Rangers’ players.  On Page 95, Reid writes, “But Hickey wasn’t in the video.  It turns out he was traded to the Los Angeles Kings before Espo, JD, Dave Maloney and Ron Duguay made the famous video.”  At the bottom of the page, he quotes Hickey.  “We did this film for an ad and then we got on a plane and went to Los Angeles and that’s when I was traded for [Barry] Beck.”

The Colorado Rockies fan in me cringed.  No.  Hickey was traded to Colorado for Barry Beck.  Beck was the first round draft choice (#2 overall) of the Rockies in 1977.  In his third season with the Rockies, Beck went to the Rangers for Hickey, Lucien Deblois, and Dean Turner.  Hickey never played for the Kings.

The other reason I remember that trade is because of the third wheel in the deal.  Dean Turner was a player trying to break into the NHL.  From Dearborn, Michigan, he was the son of a local news personality – Marilyn Turner.

Rookies:

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The first year I started buying cards at the store, tearing open the packs to get at the cards to complete the 132 card set was the year of the Ken Dryden rookie card.  The cerebral Dryden came out of Cornell University, played six games at the end of the 1970-71 season, then surprised the Boston Bruins in the first round in seven games.  He then led the Habs past the Minnesota North Stars in six games in Round Two; then another seven game battle against the Blackhawks to win the Conn Smythe Award for being the MVP of the playoffs.  Dryden went on to be the #1 goaltender for the Habs throughout the 1970’s, with the exception of the 1973-74 season where he went to work as a law clerk for a Toronto law firm while in a contract dispute with the Canadiens.

His books, The Game: A Reflective and Thought Provoking Look at a Life in Hockey (Macmillan Company of Canada, 1983) and Home Game: Hockey and Life in Canada (McClelland and Stewart, 1990) are classics and good reads for the hockey aficionado.

Hall of Famers:

Reid writes about the 1971-72 O-Pee-Chee (and Topps) card of Phil Esposito wearing slacks.  When I read that, I recalled the card, and that his teammate, Ken Hodge was also immortalized on a hockey card in slacks.

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O-Pee-Chee/Topps must have liked the look, because they repeated it in the 1972-73 set.

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Reid’s chapter on Espo is a reminder of the character he was.  Individual characters seem to be lost in today’s team sports, unfortunately.  This 1977-78 O-Pee-Chee card shows him in the New York Rangers look of the late 70’s, a jersey I thought was cool.  It also happens to be an uncorrected error card, as its stats incorrectly show Espo scoring 78 goals in 1972-73 (he scored 55 that season).

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When it comes to Hall of Famers, though, my favorite all-time player is Patrick Roy.  He emerged much like Ken Dryden did, winning the Conn Smythe in his first season as the Habs won the 1986 Stanley Cup.  His idiosyncrasies and confidence made him a character as well as the NHL’s greatest goalie.

In 2001-02, Topps issued a parallel set, which I tried to collect because they were formatted like the 1971-72 set – the set that began it for me.  I haven’t completed that set.

DSC04028Reid’s book obviously took me down memory lane, and into the boxes and 9-pockets of cards I still have.  If you collected hockey cards and followed the sport back in the 70’s and 80’s, you’ll find enjoyment in this book.

I stopped collecting hockey cards shortly after the market flooded with companies like Upper Deck, Score, Pro Set and Fleer entering the fray.  I also left hockey behind as well.  The game has changed too much, not necessarily for the better.  Instead, I’ve rediscovered my appreciation for “the beautiful game.”  These are the only cards I collect now – Major League Soccer cards.  It’s very simple, a single set each year, first released by Upper Deck, then within the last couple seasons, by Topps.  It’s just like back when only O-Pee-Chee/Topps existed in the hockey card world.

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Vinyl Memories #9 – Herschel Bernardi’s Show Stopper

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This Vinyl Memory is not about a record from my past.  My distant past, anyway.  The first time I listened to it was less than a week ago.

I was in my basement, where the turntable sits and spins when I am either free-writing by hand or doing some other arranging, organizing, or sorting through the collection of memories beneath the ground level of both home and mind.  This evening, it was putting a few items out on the Internet’s largest garage sale.  As I worked, a couple of Monkees albums played, followed by a Frank Sinatra LP.  With a few items left to list, I decided to sample a freebie.

The record store I frequent – Weirdsville Records in Mount Clemens – will package records by the dozen that they just can’t sell, and give them away for free in the form of a “mystery box.”  The caveat being you can’t bring them back.  Herschel Bernardi’s Show Stopper was one such album I discovered in a mystery box I took home one day from the store.  Tonight, I thought I’d give it a spin.

I’ve never been one for musicals, though that is changing.  Since our first trip to New York City and seeing Rock of Ages on Broadway, my hopes for the next trip there are 1) staying in one of the boroughs so not to spend so much time on the train in and out of the city, and 2) to take in a Broadway show at least every other night during the vacation.

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I put Bernardi’s record on.  It’s a live performance of him singing a variety of songs from musicals, explaining that he was raised in the theaters of New York and was different from the other kids he grew up with.  He sang, and I listed items on the website.  Side One concluded, it wasn’t terrible, so I got up and flipped it over to Side Two.  While working, a song played which made me stop.  The lyrics struck me.  I rose, walked over to the record player, lifted the needle and gently lowered it back to the beginning of the track.

Damn.

South Pacific is a Broadway musical which premiered in 1949 by Rodgers and Hammerstein.  Based on James A. Michener’s book, Tales from the South Pacific (1947), the story’s theme is racism as two characters become involved in romances that cross racial boundaries, and the decisions based upon their conflicts.  I have never seen this musical, but I’ll be on the look out for it.

The song struck me, at first, because of the lines:

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

Yeah.  At first I thought that I did a good job of ignoring what I had been taught.  And though I was able to disregard the specifics, I was still taught how to hate.  The words of this song had come to me less then a week after MLS Cup 2015.

On December 6, 2015, the Columbus Crew SC hosted the Portland Timbers FC in the MLS Cup in Major League Soccer’s 2oth season.  Since 2002, I’ve traveled down to Columbus to catch the occasional match – the Crew being the closest MLS team geographically to Detroit.  I’ve grown to become a fan of the Crew.

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When Portland entered the league in 2011, I enjoyed watching their home matches on television, as their supporter group – The Timbers Army – was a powerful force of fan enthusiasm.  The team dates back to 1975 in the old North American Soccer League and three years later, I was introduced to professional soccer through the Detroit Express.   Then, in 2012,  Detroit City FC was born, from which emerged the Northern Guard Supporters.  It is my understanding that the NGS had roots to and were inspired by the Timbers Army.

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That said, the prospect of a Portland Timbers at Columbus Crew MLS Cup was a no-lose proposition for me.  The Crew are my favorite MLS club, and the Timbers my third (NY Red Bulls became #2 when Thierry Henry joined them in 2010).

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The thing about Supporters Groups is that the focus is all about supporting the team, and contempt for every opponent.  Sunday reminded me of this.  In a place where I would be happy with either team winning, there were a few NGS folks at the game rooting for the Timbers and hating on Columbus and Ohio, not just the team, but the whole state.  You see, some Michiganders are taught to hate Ohio (and I’m sure vice versa), most likely through the sports rivalry between the University of Michigan and Ohio State University. (Another view is that Ohio is the state Michiganders are forced to drive through in order to get to where they really want to go).

I’m not exempt from such sports-driven hatred.  I could have chosen the Chicago Fire to follow, however my hatred of that city and all of its sports teams guided me to Columbus.  There are three hockey teams I root for – the Avalanche, the Devils, and whoever is playing the Red Wings.  Even distance doesn’t prevent the growth of hate, for as an Arsenal fan of the Premiere League, I’ve come to hate the Manchester teams – both United and City.  The hate for these teams and locations did not emerge from me at birth, but emerged from experiences with their fans and organizations.

With all that is going on in our country right now, where we have one 2016 Presidential candidate whose campaign foments with fear and prejudice, first against Mexicans, most recently stating he would ban Muslims from entering the United States; where a county clerk in Kentucky refused to carry out her duty to give marriage licenses to same-sex couples; and with the unending institutionalized racism against African Americans, You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught strikes a chord which still rings true today.  And though the message of the song speaks to racial prejudice, we learn to divide ourselves and cultivate hatred on many levels, which include sports rivalries.

Hatred is one of the three poisons the Buddha warned us about.  Because we want our life to be pleasant, comfortable, and satisfying all the time, we create conflict with those who would disrupt that.  Obviously, if we have a strong bond or connect our identity to our sports team, and another team defeats ours, we’re drawn to disliking them, perhaps even elevating our feelings to hatred depending on the stakes of the game.  It’s as if it is a personal blow against us.  The Buddha identified the poison, and provided the antidote: loving-kindness, compassion, patience, and forgiveness.  If we’re open to the complete experience of life, there will come times of defeat and loss.  Yes, it is the other team that delivered that blow to our team, however hating them is not going to eliminate the pain we feel from it.  It may, instead, amplify it.  Being patient and forgiving the errors that were made which resulted in the loss is more effective.

I still have work to do on this when it comes to the teams I hate.  But I’ve come a long way by letting go of the hopes of winless seasons for Chicago teams, the Manchesters of the Premiere League, and the Red Wings.  My energy is better served rooting for and supporting the teams I love.

You never know what you’ll uncover in a free “mystery box” of record albums.  Teachings manifest everywhere.

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2012 Season Summary

DCFC05 I don’t recall how I heard about Detroit City FC, most likely through Facebook.  My initial thought was “a soccer team in Detroit?  Sounds like fun.”  And so, Denise and I went.

My first impression was about the professionalism of the atmosphere.  The merchandise was not cheaply done, and the team colors – rouge and gold – was a good mix for the urban Detroit landscape.  I had not heard of the National Premier Soccer League, but the general feeling after my first game was one of an organization that was both serious and fun.  I went in wearing a Columbus Crew jersey, and came home with a “Le Rouge” t-shirt and scarf. DCFC04 The program listed the rosters, and the names on both teams were all unknown to me.  But as the season progressed, the regulars became familiar (Adam Bedell, Keith Lough, Stefan St. Louis, Spencer Thompson, Josh Rogers, Nick Lewin, Cyrus Saydee, Jeremy Clark, Kyle Bethel, Zach Schewee, David Dwaihy, Zeke Harris, and Latif Alashe, to name a few), and a familiar name joined the team.  Having followed the Columbus Crew for a number of years, I was surprised to see Knox Cameron on the pitch in a Le Rouge kit.  The game had a good pace to it, and Cass Tech Stadium provided a cozy atmosphere near the skyline of Downtown Detroit. DCFC03 Most memorable, though, were the fans.  Not fans…Supporters.  The Northern Guard Supporters.  For this first season, we stayed on the “family friendly” side.  I had not heard of the Northern Guard Supporters.  The first match when they appeared in the visiting team bleachers, chanting, singing, and taunting Le Rouge opponents with some salty language, I found them be as entertaining as the team.  A bit edgy, perhaps.  That is, until the last match of the season – a friendly against the Windsor Stars – where I ventured into the full supporter experience for the first time. DCFC01 DCFC02DCFC Detroit City FC hooked me.  The Northern Guard Supporters reeled me in.

Since that first game, I have had the luck and blessing to have attended every home match to date (this with two more regular season matches to play in 2015).  I’ve posted albums on my Facebook page for each game, and I’ve decided to bring the party here with some added photos and video that may not be on Facebook. This isn’t meant as a serious historical perspective of the team that we all know and love.  The statistics I’ve culled are from the notes on my game programs with some assistance of the very informative blog about the team – Boys in Rouge.  If I have something wrong, please correct me.  My commentary will be brief in most cases.  This is about what I’ve seen and experienced and wish to provide the story of the game through photos and video, sharing my fun with my fellow Northern Guard Supporters and the players, coaches, fans, family members, and all others involved with, curious about, or in love with this Detroit soccer team.  It has been fun looking back through these, seeing many Northern Guard Supporters that I did not know at the time.  Please feel free to add your memories about these matches in the comments.

To sing my favorite chant to date:

And when I go.
And when I go.
And when I go make sure I’m wearing rouge and gold.

And when I go.
And when I go.
And when I go make sure I’m wearing rouge and gold.

Bury me in City rouge
Ohhh-ohhh
Bury me in City gold
Ahhh-ahhh

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Home from my first DCFC match.

The 2012 matches are as follows:

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Attending a Detroit City FC match at Cass Tech: 2012 – 2015

Those of us who are passionate about our city, and passionate about our soccer, who will sing for you, City, who is City Til We Die and will be buried in rouge and gold, are eager for the 2015 season of Detroit City Football Club soccer at Cass Tech Stadium (Estadia Cass Techia) to begin.

But you’re new.  You haven’t tasted City ale, abused your lungs with chanting, singing, and smoke, and you wonder what all the commotion is about.  Here’s a little primer to prepare you for the few hours of outrageous fun that is a Detroit City FC ‘Le Rouge’ soccer match.

A Little DCFC History

Detroit City FC, known as Le Rouge, play in the National Premier Soccer League, a fourth-tier professional league.  The players on the team are unpaid current and past college players.  On May 12, 2012, Detroit City FC took to the its home field for the first time against AFC Cleveland.  Drawing 1,072 fans at its inaugural game exceeded team ownership’s expectations.  The result was a 1-1 draw.  (click on photos to enlarge).

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Home is Cass Tech Stadium on the campus of Detroit’s Cass Tech High School.  The Detroit skyline provides a scenic background to the beautiful game played on the pitch.

DSC01719DSC01780The 2012 Season saw Le Rouge finish third in the Midwest-Great Lakes Conference with a 5-5-3 (Wins-Draws-Losses) record.  Buzz was created and the team averaged almost 1,300 fans per game, with it’s largest crowd of 1,743 attending the June 23rd match against AFC Cleveland.

In 2013, Le Rouge finished top of the Great Lakes Conference with 11 wins, 1 draw, and 0 losses.  The fan base continued to grow, averaging about 1,485 per game.  As conference winners, Detroit hosted the Great Lakes Tournament playoffs, where Le Rouge defeated AFC Cleveland 3-1 before a crowd of 2,634.  However, the next day, they fell to the Erie Admirals, 4-1 before 2,184 fans.

2014 was another phenomenal season.  With their first place finish they were granted entry in the U.S. Open Cup – the oldest professional soccer tournament in the United States.  On May 7, 2014, DCFC hosted RWB Adria at Livonia Stevenson High School, battling the Chicago-based team from the Great Lakes Premiere League to a 2-2 draw.  Unfortunately, they fell in penalty kicks 3-1.  The regular season record of 8-3-3 put them one point out of first place.  However, the DCFC craze multiplied.  Every match attendance exceeded 2,000 fans, including a couple of sellouts.  The final match of the regular season against the Fort Pitt Regiment brought in 3,398 fans, plus hundreds turned away, having to watch on the outskirts because of the packed stadium.

2015 – Getting in

This year, the season begins with two preseason matches – one on April 18th at Hurley Field in Berkley, the other at Cass Tech on May 9th.  The regular season begins on May 15th.

If you want to get into a game this year, it’s going to be a little more difficult.  The team’s popularity has exploded.  You’re going to want one of these:  A Detroit City FC Season Ticket.    DSC07482There is good news and bad news.  The good news is that the team has sold out of season tickets.  That’s also the bad news for you, if you don’t have a season ticket.

Your best bet would be to plan ahead.  Either start dating or become friends with a DCFC season ticket holder, who may have an extra seat to spare, or buy your tickets online in advance.   And when I say in advance, I suggest definitely before game day.  As I previously noted, the people who arrived with the intent to buy their tickets at the gate for the final game of the season were turned away because the stadium was full.  Single game tickets go on sale at the DCFC website on March 5th.

Pre-Game

For the hardcore fans, the pre-game begins at Harry’s in Detroit.  Harry’s is a bar and restaurant which serves up City Red Ale, a Milking It Productions official brew of the Detroit City Football Club.  There, you will not be able to avoid the rouge and gold, the chanting and drumming of the group known as The Northern Guard Supporters.

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At about twenty minutes before game time, the Guard gathers.  Sgt. Scary leads us….

and then we march to Cass Tech.  It’s a show of force in support of our team.  And the neighbors love it.

Before entering the stadium, there is a pause to serenade the visiting team and their non-existent fans….

Once inside the stadium, you have a choice to make.  Do you sit on the “family-friendly” side or with the Northern Guard Supporters?  The “family-friendly” side are for those fans who wish to sit and enjoy the match.  It is traditionally the “home side” of the field because the stands are larger.  The broadcast booth and the players’ benches are also on that side.  For the 2012 season, this was where I occupied, and it was fun.

DSC05232Or, you can venture into the Supporter’s Side…..

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…where you will stand through the match, sing, chant, taunt the opposing team, taunt the referee, get smoke in your eyes and lungs.  You know…where you will have more fun!

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To get a sense of what the experience is like, I wrote about being in this section, with video, HERE.

Intimidated because you might not know the chants?  Not to worry.  They can be found at Boys in Rouge blog (a blog you should definitely follow if you are or want to become a DCFC fan).

Et cetera

Yes, this is our soccer team.  The game on the pitch is what unites us and makes us the passionate fans that we are.
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But at a Detroit City FC match, you never know what else may happen.

Tifos have been raised….

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Marriages have been performed…

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Special jerseys have been worn then auctioned for charitable causes….

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The memory of a tragic loss in the soccer community honored….
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A halftime performance by the Cass Tech HS Marching Band….

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A surprise visit by the Detroit Party Marching Band

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And the blue jeans shorts canon.

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There you have it.  Anyone can have fun at a Detroit City FC match (unless you’re a player, coach, or fan of the visiting team who usually leave filled with envy and defeat).  Hopefully, this guide has provided you with what you need to maximize your level of fun, after which you will be one of the many passionately feeling, “City Til I Die!”

The atmosphere created by the Northern Guard is so contagious that even the team joins in!
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See you there!
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The King retires

When it came to following sports, soccer, for a long period of time, was not my favorite.  Hockey, especially living in Metro Detroit and our proximity to Canada, with Hockey Night in Canada every Saturday night, was my original spectator sport.  Then the summer would dry out the champagne that had showered the Stanley Cup with a drought of the dull games of baseball and golf, until the North American Soccer League granted a franchise to Detroit.  The Detroit Express played at the Silverdome, and the magical skills of the man dubbed, “The Wizard” – Trevor Francis – lured me into an appreciation of the beautiful game.  No sooner was I attached to soccer it disappeared for almost as long as it took me to discover it.  If you’re a younger person reading this, we didn’t have the internet back then, or multi-channel cable or dish services.

In 1999, while on a family vacation to our nation’s capital, the spark was lit.  A friend living there took my son and I to a DC United match.  It took about five minutes for the gene that lie dormant within me to activate.  Soon, I was following Major League Soccer and discovered the Fox Soccer Channel and its coverage of the English Premiere League.

I couldn’t tell you exactly when it was, but there was a point in the early part of this century when the Arsenal Gunners became my English Premiere League team.  And it was because of Thierry Henry.

Henry was a scoring machine.  It reminded me of the way Trevor Francis had come over to America and dominated the Silverdome turf.  But Henry owned Highbury, and the rest of the teams’ pitches in one of the top leagues in the world.  He had pace, he controlled the ball well, and had a sense of where his teammates were to deliver quality passes, setting up goals as well.  There was a quiet flair about him that would burst forth with amazing plays and goals.  Then came The Invincibles.  In the 2003-04 season, Henry scored 30 goals as the Gunners went the full English Premiere League season undefeated, with a 26 win, 12 draw, 0 loss record, the only team to do so since Preston North End’s 18-4-0 invincible season of 1888-89.

After eight seasons and 226 goals in all competitions with the Gunners, Henry went to Spain to play three seasons with Barcelona, from 2007-2010.  Then, in the summer of 2010, he arrived on America’s shore, as a member of the New York Red Bulls.  Past his prime, but still a master of the art of football, Henry tallied 51 goals in 122 games with the Red Bulls.

April 7, 2012 was my first opportunity to see Henry live.  The Red Bulls were in Columbus to play the Crew – my Major League Soccer team.  My loyalties were divided.  I wanted Columbus to win by a score of 4-3 so that I could enjoy a Thierry Henry hat trick.  Giddiness hid behind my mature veneer as  I shot photos during the warm-ups.  I couldn’t help sharing the excitement with others who were taking photos, and having their friends/family take photos of them with Henry in the background, excited about the presence of the man with the world class talent.

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The game started, and I shot even more photos.  My seat was a just a couple rows back from the touch line between the center stripe and the top of the six yard box of the goal defended by the Red Bulls in the first half.    It only took three minutes for the magic to begin.  Henry had the ball down the right side, just inside the center stripe.  It was like looking over his shoulder as he lofted  the ball toward goal where Kenny Cooper had made his run, heading the ball past the Crew’s keeper, Andy Gruenebaum, to put the Red  Bulls ahead 1-0.  It was a moment of “wow.”  Just writing that flashes the image once again in my mind, sending shivers through me.  Henry scored twice in the game as well, as the Red Bulls defeated Columbus 4-1.

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I saw him play again the following summer in Columbus, where the Crew were able to keep Henry off the scoreboard, but not Tim Cahill, giving the Red Bulls a 1-0 win.  Since 2002, I have been to 12 games at Crew Stadium, and the only games Columbus lost were those two against Henry & New York.

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With him announcing his retirement today, I am especially grateful for having had the opportunity to attend a friendly at Red Bull Arena this summer between the New York Red Bulls and Arsenal.  Though the game ended as a 1-0 win by New York on a goal by Bradley Wright-Phillips (son of former Arsenal great, Ian Wright), to be in the place where my favorite English Premiere League team and my favorite soccer player displayed the beautiful game was priceless.

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Henry’s skill combined with an inspiring level of confidence is what I have admired about this man and his talent.  There are many American soccer fans who will be adjusting to Major League Soccer without Landon Donovan, who also hung up his boots at the close of this season.  For me, I will have to adjust to soccer without Thierry Henry’s mastery of the beautiful game.  He brought me back to soccer, the sport upon which the sun never sets.  Hockey?  What’s that?