Saturday, December 19, 2009

Thirty Years Ago

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH

As we approach 2010, it will be the first time that we enter a new decade with a vacant lot with plenty of questions but no answers, as to what the future holds where Tiger Stadium was a landmark at the Corner of Michigan & Trumbull.
But another anniversary passed that most baby boomers don't know about and many of us old school traditionalists find hard to believe that time does indeed fly.
On December 15, 1979, the Detroit Red Wings played their final game at Olympia Stadium.
It's been 30-years since legendary Red Wings Play-By-Play Announcer Bruce Martyn called this venue his home while his voice could be heard on radios in Southeastern Michigan.
The "Old Red Barn" which was located at 5920 Grand River Avenue, Detroit, MI, 48208, and is now the home of the Michigan National Guard Armory. The photo is on www.scottsports33.com.
Martyn was the voice behind the Red Wings 4-4 tie to the Quebec Nordiques on December 15, 1979 as a crowd of 15,609 watched for the last time.
I'd be curious to find out how many baby boomers actually know much about Martyn. I do know that the baby boomers are spoiled by the success that the modern Red Wings have had winning four Stanley Cups in the past 15 years.
But unless these kids study Red Wings history and look up at the rafters to see the numbers retired, then they should run a Google search so they'll be able to appreciate the building that "Mr Hockey" Gordie Howe made famous.
The link to Olympia Stadium to Joe Louis Arena does have an interesting historical significance. As I just mentioned, they closed the building playing Quebec which is the same franchise that relocated to Denver, Colorado and became the Avalanche.
The greatest goaltender in Red Wings history is a player who wore No.1 very proudly and had his number retired. In fantasy land, it would have been great to see Terry Sawchuk face the Avalanche's greatest goaltender No.33 Patrick Roy. Both are in the Hall of Fame.
Have to wonder if Sawchuk and Roy would have exchanged punches at center ice as the Wings tandem of Mike Vernon and Chris Osgood did when the Wings and Avalanche rivalry was at its peak.
The only thing that Red Wings Hall of Famer, "The Captain" Steve Yzerman didn't accomplish in his storied NHL career was wear his No.19 jersey in a regular season game at Olympia.
But when I think of Olympia Stadium 30 years later, it's hard to believe that using an old Ernie Harwell phrase, the building is "Long Gone."
Yet, the 15,000 seat building was the home to Stanley Cup Championships, NHL All-Star Games along with many other events.
During the lean years of the 1970's, the Red Wings were known as the "Dead Wings." All Detroit fans had to cheer about was when Bryan "Bugsy" Watson and Dennis Polonich would antagonize opponents.
The playoffs were a rarity. How many youngsters remember when the Detroit Red Wings swept the Atlanta Flames 2-0 in the 1978 playoffs and Bill Lochead was the star of that series?
I'll never forget when former Red Wings Center Marcel Dionne left an Original Six team to play in the sunshine for the Los Angeles Kings. When Dionne returned to the Olympia, a protected cover was created to protect him as well as the opponents.
But indeed the ironies in sports. The Nordiques/Avalanche were the ones that officially closed down Olympia and became their most hated rival in the Red Wings road to the recent championships in the modern NHL. I find that to be truly unbelievable to this day.
So the next time you watch the NHL on NBC, Versus, ESPN, etc. and they feature the Red Wings & Colorado Avalanche, it's amazing that the history of these franchises are connected by two stadiums with a championship connection.
The Red Wings won championships in the "Old Red Barn" & Joe Louis Arena. Louis was a proud heavyweight champion and this champion (Louis) has an arena named after him.
And it all ended in one venue 30 years ago and began in a new one on Dec 27, 1979, the same birthday as the first 50-goal scorer in Red Wings history & current broadcaster Mickey Redmond.
Scott Morganroth can be reached at scottsports33@aol.com and my full blog can be seen at www.scottsports33.com.

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