Few activities breed the “us against them” mentality better than competitive sports.
Every team in pro sports has the name of their city or state on the front of their jersey, and when they take to the field or court, we feel they represent us and our home. Nothing is more sacred than our home.
In Detroit over the years there have been many great teams, great players, and great games. When our teams are going well, it almost seems like nothing can stop us, and when it’s going bad, well…it’s not much fun.
Whether the Detroit Lions, Pistons, Red Wings, or Tigers have thrilled us or frustrated us, we continue to support them in their struggles. Their enemy is our enemy, and often we become feverish in our hatred of the other team and their players. While many natural rivalries have been eliminated by restructuring of the leagues, the passage of time, or unbalanced competition, there are still some opposing athletes we hate.
But to really hate someone, to really, REALLY want to put some serious hate on an athlete, the player had to be pretty good.
As Reggie Jackson once said, “They don’t boo nobodies.” That’s why you won’t see Claude Lemieux on this list. Nor will you see Ozzie Guillen, who as manager of the White Sox was a target of Tigers fans, but who could do little to draw their ire while sitting in the dugout.
Here are five from the past who Detroiters loved to boo and hiss.
Ted Kennedy, Toronto Maple Leafs
As one of the team leaders and best players on the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1940s and 1950s, Kennedy had a reputation as one of the hardest forecheckers in the game and he won five Stanley Cup titles, often at the expense of the Red Wings. Four times, Kennedy’s Leafs faced off against the Red Wings in the Stanley Cup finals, winning each confrontation. The Wings and Leafs were tow of the best teams in hockey during that era, with 11 of the 14 Cup titles going to one of the two teams between 1942 and 1956. In the 1950 playoffs, Kennedy was involved in a play that sent Gordie Howe smashing into the boards and caused sever injuries to the Detroit star. Wings coach Tommy Ivan blamed Kennedy for the play, stating that he thought the check was an intentional blow from Kennedy on an unprotected player. The NHl cleared Kennedy of any wrongdoing, while the Wings won the series and the Cup (denying the Leafs a shot at a 4th straight title). For the rest of his career, Kennedy was booed loudly at The Olympia when he and Toronto came to Detroit.
Bart Starr, Green Bay Packers
Just as the Detroit Lions only dynasty was ending, the Green Bay Packers were rising as the dominant team in the NFL. Starr was the central piece in Vince Lombardi’s offense, opening the game up for a forward passing attack. For 17 seasons starting in 1956, Starr faced off with the Lions at least twice a year, often in the annual Thanksgiving Day game. Starr’s Packers beat the Lions more often than not, but in ’62 the Lions halted the Pack’s 18-game winning streak, beating Lombardi & Co. in what has been called the greatest game in franchise history. With a ferocious pass rush led by Alex Karras, Darris McCord, and others, and with linebacker Joe Schmidt, the Lions defense was often in hot pursuit of the Hall of Fame quarterback.
Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls
There’s something about Detroit and Chicago that leads to rivalries and controversy. In his storied career with the Bulls, “Air” Jordan landed on his butt more often against the Pistons than any other team. When he broke into the NBA, Jordan found the landscape crowded with great teams in Boston, Los Angeles, and Detroit. The Pistons, more than any other franchise, blocked Jordan’s path to greatness. In three straight seasons, the Bulls were bounced from the playoffs by the Pistons. Detroit Coach Chuck Daly devised “the Jordan Rules” – a strategy designed to limit Jordan’s scoring ability. With NBA All-Star defenders like Joe Dumars and Dennis Rodman draped on him, Jordan was frustrated and held mostly in check. Daly wanted to force someone else on the Bulls to have to score. Detroit fans loved it, as their Bad Boys won two titles during the period. They loved to boo Jordan and cheer when the Pistons sent him sprawling to the hardwood when he tried to score a layup or dunk it in the lane. As much as in any city, Jordan’s greatness was least acknowledged in Motown.
Brett Hull, St. Louis Blues & Dallas Stars
Practically from the time he was in diapers, Hull was an enemy in Detroit because his famous hockey legend father Bobby was skating for the Chicago Blackhawks and frustrating Red Wings fans with his goal-scoring. The younger Hull spent nearly a decade as a member of the Blues, and even though St. Louis was rarely a threat to the Wings, Hull did his best to get under the skin of Detroiters, and he had several big games. He was a famously outspoken player who criticized teammate Adam Oates (a former Red Wing), which rubbed a lot of fans the wrong way. In 2001 when he signed a two-year contract to play for the Wings, some fans did not welcome him warmly. Brett’s persona (he looked like he could have been cast as a villain in a Karate Kid movie) wa shard to take. But in two seasons wearing the Winged Wheel, Hull helped Detroit to a Stanley Cup title. Still, he remains one of the most controversial figures in the NHL over the last two decades.
Brett Favre, Green Bay Packers
Opposing quarterbacks always make for good targets, and if he’s wearing the green and gold of the Packers, it makes it even easier to hate him. For most of his career, Favre was a working-class hero, epitomizing the tough, Midwestern style of hard work and grittiness. This only served to make him even more loathed in working-class Detroit, where he played at least one game annually against the division rival Lions. Most of the time, Favre and the Packers came one top, making it even harder for Lions fans to swallow. In 1997 insult was added to injury when Favre shared the NFL MVP Award with Barry Sanders. Detroit fans felt Sanders should have won the honor outright. Favre’s exuberant celebrations, ego, and style of play made him quite possibly the most hated opposing player in Detroit sports history.
Ron Artest, Indiana Pacers
Unlike the others on this list, Artest’s status as Public Enemy #1 in Detroit stemmed from a single incident. On November 19, 2004, during a game against the Pistons that was being broadcast nationally via ESPN, Artest climbed into the stands at The Palace and engaged in a fight with several fans. Teammates joined him and what ensued was one of the ugliest scenes in sports history. It began late in the game, when Artest committed a hard foul on Detroit center Ben Wallace. Wallace responded by shoving Artest, but after order was restored among the players, that’s when a fan threw a cup filled with soda at Artest, who was lying on the scorer’s table. The resulting brawl in the stands was dangerous and extracted. Artest was suspended for the rest of the season, and several of his teammates also received suspensions and/or fines. The two teams, who had met in the Eastern Conference Finals the previous season, were not fond of each other before the fight, but after it, Artest became a villain not only to Pistons fans, but to all Detroiters. His returns to The Palace in the ensuing years have been punctuated with jeers.