Once upon a time, sports venues in Detroit had some character.
Now, the arenas that are home to the Red Wings, Tigers, Lions and Pistons are closer to the entertainment palaces that you find in places like Orlando or Las Vegas.
Take the Olympia, the home to the Red Wings for decades. Built in 1927 and located on Grand Avenue, the old hockey rink had some unique characteristics that stood out.
The wooden seats at the old arena were anthing but comfortable and on a cold night, you had better have a flask of your favorite refreshment to stay warm. Many fans came prepared for just that advent.
I remember watching a game at the Olympia in 1965 between the Red Wings and Montreal Canadiens, a treat for any true sports fan. When you had the chance to see Gordie Howe and Terry Sawchuk square off against Henri Richard and Gump Worsley, you took it.
Detroit won that particular game on a late goal by Norm Ullman. But the thing I remembered most about the night was seeing a rat the size of a small terrier in a lower level of the stadium. Make that a large terrier.
Tiger Stadium was perhaps my favorite park in any sport. The ballyard that saw baseball legends like Ty Cobb, Charlie Gehringer, Hank Greenberg, Al Kaline, etc. literally oozed with history. And I'm not talking about the unusually rancid smell that emanated from the outdated bathrooms there.
One of my favorite parts about the old park was the overhang in rightfield that turned fly balls into home runs. First baseman Norm Cash, one of my personal Detroit favorites, made a career out of hitting that overhang. But the colorful Cash also hit six balls over the roof in right that landed on Trumbull Avenue.
When Tiger Stadium was closed a decade or so ago, I have to admit I was close to tears.
But like the Olympia, Tiger Stadium was located in a section of town where it wasn't wise to walk around after dark. It really wasn't safe to walk around in the daylight, either.
My late father quickly informed me that the safest place to park for a game at Tiger Stadium was on Michigan Avenue about 50 blocks away. After once leaving his car near the park during a work day, he came out to find it on blocks. A pit crew on the NASCAR circuit would have been hardpressed to top the time it took for the crews that worked in Detroit to remove four tires.
Cobo Arena was relatively new when I attended a Pistons-Knicks game there in the middle 1960s. I wouldn't exactly call it state-of-the-art (compared to The Palace of Auburn Hills) but it had unobstructed seats for the most part.
Located near the current Ford Field, Cobo was a place where you were more than happy to pay a young kid five or 10 bucks to watch your vehicle while you were inside.
The Lions had the distinction of playing their home games at Tiger Stadium before moving to the cavernous Pontiac Silverdome in the 1970s.
The Silverdome wasn't a bad place to watch a game in the stands, but it was even a better viewing from the press box.
In the press box, you felt like you were literally on top of the action.
One point of caution there was to make sure you carefully took notice of where you parked your car. Not doing that one night in 1989 resulted in a hour and half stroll around the huge parking lot that probably contained 50,000 vehicles.
I've only been to Joe Louis Arena (the Wings home since 1979) twice and only once to The Palace. Comerica Park and Ford Field still remain on the list of parks I still want to go to although I've been told they are very nice venues. Kind of like Walt Disney World or Sea World.
Call me old-fashioned, but I would give an arm and a leg just to walk through the turnstiles at Tiger Stadium or the rusty gates at Olympia just one more time ...