CreditCreditThe Detroit News By Tom Stanton June 1, More than half a century before Boston goalie Tuukka Rask first stepped onto Finnish ice, Detroit staged one of its grandest banquets, a jubilant affair celebrating unparalleled sports excellence.
On Saturday evening, April 18, , limousines chauffeuring a parade of stars arrived at the majestic Masonic Temple. Days earlier, Detroit had completed the sports trifecta, becoming the only American city to hold titles in three major sports at once.
Within a seven-month period, its teams had won the World Series, the N. If the Bruins defeat the St. Louis Blues within the next 10 days, Boston will become the second city to accomplish the feat.
The Red Sox and the Patriots triumphed earlier. Then the stock market crashed and the Great Depression sank its talons into the economy, bringing bank panics and closings, unemployment of 45 percent in the city, winding food lines, bulging public-relief rolls, and wage cuts for those lucky enough to still be working.
Times were dire, the outlook grim. They soon chased glory again, this time joined by the year-old Lions, transplants from Portsmouth, Ohio. The baseball team featured a Hollywood-worthy cast: a talisman-worshiping son of a onetime trapeze artist; a bench warmer who subsisted on bananas and doughnuts; and a pound pitcher named for both a founding father and a Confederate president — Thomas Jefferson Davis Bridges.
They were sons of miners, doctors and tobacco farmers, and they came from Dixie, Jersey, Texas and Michigan, from privilege and poverty. College fraternity brothers, elementary school dropouts and even a raised-by-the-streets orphan, they were whiskey guzzlers and teetotalers.
Most smoked. Some liked to brawl, and some kept to themselves.
There was someone for everyone, and fans got to know them well. Newspapers ran photos of their families. In any given broadsheet, you might find outfielder Gee Walker with his young sons; pitcher Schoolboy Rowe with Edna, his high school sweetheart; the devout Catholic Charlie Gehringer with his rosary-caressing mother; or Hank Greenberg with the batboy Joey Roginski, whose home Greenberg occasionally visited for a Polish dinner.
They drank in neighborhood bars.
They lived among their fans. All endeared themselves to the city, and throughout their pursuit, they were hailed with confetti parades, dinners, gifts and train-depot welcoming parties numbering in the hundreds and thousands.
When the Tigers defeated the Chicago Cubs in the World Series, nearly half a million people flowed into downtown Detroit to revel in the conquest. They blocked avenues, packed beer gardens, halted streetcars, sang, drank, blew horns and banged trash cans.
The eruption dwarfed even the exuberance of the inaugural Armistice Day. Momentum continued to build as the Lions and the Red Wings flourished.
Professional football at that time rated far less popular than the college game, and faced an uncertain financial future. The N. It took place in February. In December , when the Lions defeated the Giants for the championship trophy, fewer than 15, fans watched in person.
There was no television. The term — or versions of it — stuck, and took on greater significance when Louis, undefeated and awaiting his shot at the heavyweight belt, was named athlete of the year by The Associated Press.
After the Red Wings defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs for the Stanley Cup, the adoration by columnists and fans only intensified.