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How does a kid who was born and raised in Northwestern Pennsylvania, equidistant from Cleveland, Buffalo, and Pittsburgh, forgo all surrounding geographical professional sports allegiances and become a fan of the Detroit Red Wings? I wish that I had one dollar for every time that I’ve been asked that question in my life because I truly believe that I had would have enough money to purchase a Darren McCarty throwback jersey. But I digress.
Growing up along the beautiful blue-collar shores of Lake Erie, there were three types of people, Bills fans, Steelers (or Stillers) fans, and Browns fans. To this very day have no good reason as to why, but I chose the painful existence of being a Cleveland Browns fan. Needles to say, from first grade all the way up to approaching age 33, I have been ridiculed and lampooned by many. And none were worse than Steelers/Pittsburgh fans.
So as seven year old child, the taunting of the Yinzers squashed any chance of me following Pittsburgh sports, which was a shame considering Lemieux and Jagr were making history in the Steel City around that time. Also at that time I had no ties to Buffalo and Cleveland thankfully did not have an NHL team that would have, much like the Browns, undoubtedly broke my heart over the last twenty five years.
But like any good northern boy, I was able to get my hockey fix via the minor league. I can still vividly recall going to Erie Panthers (ECHL) and later Erie Otters games as a child/teen, it’s where my love for the game was truly born. It was also around this time when I had a life-long friend move to town from Michigan.
I remember how enthusiastically my new friend kept talking about the Red Wings and I couldn’t help but think that this team is something I needed to check out. At the time the Wings were preparing to start the 96-97 season as well as what would eventually become one of the most iconic and impressive dynasties in NHL history.
Even then it all seemed like something special was happening in Detroit and I wanted to be a part of it. I couldn’t resist.
I began by checking the newspaper (yes, a newspaper) everyday to see where Detroit stood in the standings and who was scoring goals, learning how to properly pronounce all the names of the Russian Five, and flying down the virtual ice with Sergei Fedorov on Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey. By age 13 I was an official and proud Wing Nut.
The Red Wings had it all, the talent, the leadership, the history, the simple yet iconic logo. It truly was the total package. They stood up for each other and beat up the bad-guy Colorado Avalanche and taught us how to rebound and believe after tragedy. It all seems like a lifetime ago, but yet still fills both my heart and mind with a sense of delight.
I didn’t make my first pilgrimage to Detroit/Hockeytown until I was 28 years old. I can still recall the feeling of riding in a car full of Red Wings fans on Detroit’s People Mover to my first game and fighting back the tears of joy when the recorded electronic voice announced “Next stop, Joe Louis Arena”.
Then there was the feeling of walking through those historic doors for the very first time as a smiling older woman handed me my souvenir game day program and said “Welcome to The Joe” as if she could see the awe in my eyes. I couldn’t tell you what I had for lunch two days ago, but I remember every detail about my first Red Wings game in Detroit four years ago.
Speaking of Detroit, since 2013 I have made yearly trips to the Motor City and subsequently fallen in love with Detroit. Much like being a Red Wings fan from Pennsylvania, my love for Detroit has perplexed many, but the beauty and charm of this great American city is something I feel naturally connected to in a way that feels like a second home. Maybe it’s my rust belt upbringing coupled with my love for the Wings that makes Detroit feel like a second home but it is definitely something that makes my Red Wings fandom even more special.
As I sit here professing my allegiance to the Detroit Red Wings, while the team currently resides on the downswing of their past success and glory, I cant help but feel extremely thankful for all the factors that have aligned for me to be a fan of one of the most iconic teams in all of professional sports.
Why am I fan of the Detroit Red Wings? Because putting on the winged wheel is part of who I am and feels just as natural as taking in breath and writing with my left hand. Being a Red Wings fan is part of who I am and has given me some of the greatest and fondest memories, experiences, and relationships of my thirty plus years of existence. And for that, I truly thank you from the bottom of my heart, Hockeytown.
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