BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
There are certain times of the year that are more exciting in sports than others.
During the holidays, there is the bowl season, NFL playoff races along with college basketball, the NHL and NBA.
Who can forget the September pennant races leading to the World Series in October? I enjoy this time of the year because Major League Baseball jams its post-season into 30 days, therefore it gets everybody fired up about the World Series.
March Madness drives this country into hysteria because a lot of people participate in office pools and have a favorite university to follow as we anticipate upsets from the underdogs defeating the bigger schools in the 65-team NCAA Tournament.
But the time of the year which is the most exciting is Memorial Day Weekend. I have been fortunate enough to have attended two Indianapolis 500s back in 1994 and 1995.
My Detroit Monitor colleague George Eichorn and I went to our first in 1994. We went to the parade downtown and it just so happened that the Indiana Pacers were in the Eastern Conference Finals facing the NY Knicks. We walked over to Market Square Arena and we managed to get into the game by purchasing two stadium passes from an outside worker enabling us to watch the second half of an 88-68 Pacers victory.
Indy 500 Day was a long one. We drove to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway from our hotel at 5:00 a.m. It took 50 minutes to arrive. Watching Jim Nabors sing “Back Home in Indiana” and Florence Henderson (Carol, the mother on the Brady Bunch) be part of the weekend festivities, waving to the crowd at the parade was a sight worth watching. But until you've watched and listened to the late Mary Holman say “Gentleman Start Your Engines” you know that you're at one of the biggest spectacles in sports.
When we departed back to Detroit on Memorial Day, we knew that the basketball/racing weekend was a blast and Indianapolis, Indiana., was the sports capital of the world.
The Indy 500 experience was so fun that, I met my college buddy Stuart Bloom the following year in 1995. Bloom drove down from Minnesota and we did have a hotel 10 minutes from the track. We just went to nightclubs and interacted with die hard racing fans.
This turned out to be a good move because in 1996, the open-wheel series split as CART and the Indy Racing League went their own ways. Eichorn and I covered the Inaugural US 500 at the Michigan International Speedway in the beautiful Irish Hills of Brooklyn, MI.
Last year, the open-wheel series did merge and the top competitors are back in the same 33-car field. It would be monumental if Danica Patrick, who has led the Indy 500 in past races, does win the biggest race on the planet. It would be a marketing bonanza for the Indy Racing League.
In the late 1980s, the Detroit Pistons played on Memorial Day Weekends. In 1989-90, I bought a ticket outside Chicago Stadium and watched Detroit lose 99-97 to Michael Jordan's Bulls. The energy and electricity at the cozy Chicago Stadium brought chills down my spine.
The following day I covered a Chicago Cubs game at Wrigley Field where I wrote a story on the late Harry Carey.
The Detroit Red Wings lead the Chicago Blackhawks 2-1 in the Western Conference Finals. If NBC gets it's wish, this years finals could be a dandy because it will have an "Original Six" team in Detroit that has won 11 Stanley Cups, facing Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby in a rematch of last years finals. This would be the first time since the early 1970's that the NHL Finals had a rematch dating back to when the Boston Bruins faced the Montreal Canadiens.
The Red Wings Penguins rematch could be an entertaining series to watch over Memorial Day Weekend because current Red Wings Marian Hossa and back-up goalie Ty Conklin played with Pittsburgh last year and left for Detroit because they felt they had a better chance to win a championship in Motown.
Finally, who could forget the Coca Cola 600 from Charlotte, NC? The longest race of the schedule starts late afternoon and ends under the lights.
I've enjoyed watching on TV Tony Stewart, John Andretti and Robby Gordon drive in this race and the Indy 500. It would be unbelievable to see one of these guys or anyone else wins both races.
What makes Memorial Day weekend fun is even if you watch a lot of sports on Saturday and Sunday, there is still Monday to spend time with family, friends and to barbecue plus watch an NBA game. Nowadays, with Tivos and DVR's, no sports fan will miss anything including the MLB Game of the Week's on FOX and ESPN.
I challenge any fan out here to tell me there is a more action packed Weekend in Sports than this one. The only one that comes close to matching it is Thanksgiving with the three NFL games featuring the Detroit Lions, Dallas Cowboys and the late contest, plus major college football match-ups, in addition to NBA and NHL action. But none of these games have championship implications.
Scott Morganroth can be reached at Scottsports33@aol.com
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