Detroit: From City of Champs 1935, to City of Chumps, 2019

by | Jan 23, 2020 | Uncategorized | 1 comment

INTRO: Last year wasn’t a good one for Detroit fans. In fact, in 2019 alone, Detroit’s four main professional teams combined for 226 losses. That’s not merely bad – that’s the worst ever for any city in North America. But, incredibly, Michigan Radio sports commentator John U. Bacon says, well, it could be worse. 

Listen to the audio here

In 1935 Detroit earned the title, “City of Champions” — and for good reason. That year the Tigers won the World Series, the Lions were NFL champions, and the following spring the Red Wings claimed their first Stanley Cup. 

Since there was no NBA at the time, in just a few months Detroit’s teams captured every major title available – something no American city has done since. 

It got even better when the Associated Press named Detroit’s famed boxer, Joe Louis, the nation’s best athlete that year. 

Since that historic year Detroit’s major league teams have done pretty well, all in all. Including the Pistons, Detroit’s pro squads have won 22 titles. That ranks fourth behind only New York, which has twice as many pro teams, Boston, and Chicago. 

But that’s the good news. The bad news is the past 12 years. 

Detroit hasn’t won a title since the Red Wings claimed the Stanley Cup in 2008. In the decade just finished, only the Tigers came close to a championship before getting swept by San Francisco in the World Series. 

According to Dave Hogg, the poor guy who took it upon himself to add up all Detroit’s losses just last year, the total in 2019 came to a staggering 226 defeats. 

The Red Wings finished one spot from the bottom, while the Tigers and Lions – oh my —  completed the job, ending their seasons in the basement. The only saving grace, if you will, was the Pistons, who finished a hearty third place — out of five teams. 

Add it all up, and you get 226 losses in one year. How bad is that? According to Hogg, that total is not only the worst in Detroit sports history, but the worst year for any North American city in the history of professional sports.  

Worst ever. Anywhere. Any time. Now, that is impressive. 

It harkens back to my childhood – alas. I grew up following all four of Detroit’s major league teams, plus the teams at the University of Michigan and Michigan State. Lots to choose from!

Unfortunately,I grew up in the 70s, when Detroit’s big league teams simply stunk. In the entire decade, Detroit’s four pro teams combined for exactly one division title out of 40 chances. Even the horrible decade just passed was better than that. 

This left a large vacuum that only Big Ten sports could fill. Fortunately, the Wolverines’ teams were as good as Detroit’s were bad. In 1977, Michigan’s football, basketball, and hockey teams were all ranked #1 in the nation at one point, and the baseball team won its third straight Big Ten title. I can’t imagine any college athletic program has come close. 

That same decade, just up the road, Michigan State won Big Ten titles in football, baseball, and basketball, where Magic Johnson led the Spartans to an NCAA title, too. 

Thus, my deep-seated preference for college sports over the pros was not only an easy decision. It was necessary for my sanity. 

So for all you sports fans out there who just finished rooting for the worst teams in sports history, I have some advice: 

Go Blue. Go Green. 

* * * * *

OVERTIME: Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines at the Crossroads of College Football debuted at #13 on the Publisher’s Weekly list of national bestsellers. That makes seven national bestsellers in a row, for which I can thank YOU!

We’ve had more than 30 events coast-to-coast, including two last week in Florida. Next week: New Orleans, Dallas, and Houston! Thanks to you all! For more information on those events and many others ahead, check out

I’m also in ESPN’s celebration of 150 years of college football, The American Game, 11 one-hour episodes running on Tuesday nights, and The Greatest (mascots, innovations, etc.), which runs 30-minutes on Thursday nights.

Please follow me on Twitter! A fun way to swap witticisms — if we’re lucky! 44.9K followers and growing.


THE DOS EQUIS COLLEGE FOOTBALL FOOTBALL COLLEGE, on which I play the “professor” teaching ten classes on the sport. And yes, there IS a final exam! 12 questions to test your knowledge — and if you get a bunch right, they send you a certificate! Enjoy — and good luck!

We have plenty of excerpts, stories, and reviews out there, too, some listed below. Two more come out this week in The Wolverine print copy and the Ann Arbor Observer.

Let’s start with the EXCERPTS:

The first excerpt, “Hard to Beat the Cheaters,” on Michigan’s approach to recruiting, appeared in, Yahoo sport’s longform section.

The second, on the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry (derived from two chapters titled “Bad Blood” and “Cavalry’s Coming”), ran in the famed

The most recent excerpt, on the roller coaster recruiting process of five-star defensive back Daxton Hill, appeared in Sam Webb’s excellent Michigan Insider Thursday night.


On the Big Ten Network with anchor Dave Revsine

In the Sporting News, with Bill Bender

With Jeff Arnold of


From Greg Dooley’s “Punching Back.”

And even Ohio State’s top football website, Eleven Warriors:

I’ve read everything John U. Bacon has ever written and I’ve never been bored or disappointed.

Sprinkling character profiles into the storyline of Wolverines’ 2018 campaign produces a quick and captivating read – even if your position in Michigan’s football orbit is as an Ohio State fan. 

Hope to see you down the road on the book tour!

Again, thanks for your support!


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1 Comment

  1. Sandor Slomovits

    Message (Required)Thank you for another of your big picture stories. I can reliably count on you for an intelligent, insightful view of sports. way to go, John! I look forward to your next one.


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