Chicago v. Detroit

This Sunday, the Chicago Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings square off in the afternoon, and the Chicago Bulls and Detroit Pistons go head-to-head later that night. It’s Christmas for anyone who enjoys either side of the Chicago/Detroit Rivalry. We take a look at viewpoints from both sides as close friends, Detroit fan Danny Silverman and Chicago fan Eric Burgher, talk about what it was like growing up with the rivalry.

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CHICAGO – by Eric Burgher

I was born the year Michael Jordan was drafted into the NBA. As a baby, my dad would watch games together before I was old enough to understand what was happening on the TV. So Chicago sports is embedded in my DNA. But then in 1990, I moved from Illinois to Michigan. Home of the team I hated more than any other – the Detroit Pistons. I took watching the Bulls continually get beaten, physically and on the scoreboard by the Pistons, extremely hard. I was the only kid wearing a Michael Jordan jersey to school. Bringing in my autographed Bill Cartwright basketball card for show and tell. Because Bulls games were not televised there, I had to find a corner of the house where I could get just a little reception on the AM dial so I could listen to Bulls games on the radio. I grew up with the voices of Neil Funk, Johnny “Red” Kerr and Tom Borwinkle describing the game action as if I was there.

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The Bulls/Pistons rivalry finally came to an end in a game that still exists as one of my favorite Bulls memories of all time. Game 4 of the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals. The Bulls complete a sweep of their rival Pistons to move on to the NBA Finals. The memory of the Pistons walking off the court with time still on the clock, ducking their heads, refusing to shake hands with the Bulls, is still one of my favorite moments in Bulls history. “The Bad Boys” didn’t seem so bad any more, as they sulked off looking more like “The Baby Boys”. From then on it was great being a Bulls fan in Michigan. The Bulls went on to win 6 championships over the next 8 years, and I lived in Michigan for every single one. The only kid wearing my Bulls championship hats, and championship shirts with cartoon big heads of all of the players on it to school.

All through high school, I wore Bulls jerseys to Pistons games, Bears jerseys to Lions games – and I grew to HATE “Hockey-Town”. From 1996-2002 the city of Detroit became “Hockey-town”. The Red Wings were kings of the NHL and you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing about it. After school activities would be cancelled or end early if the Red Wings were on. School would have days where they asked everyone to dress in Red Wings shirts, jerseys and hats. Guess who didn’t participate in that? It drove me nuts. I grew to HATE “Hockey-Town”.

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All of the Chicago and Detroit teams have experienced their ups and downs over the last 20 years. Some years neither team is a real threat to the other, but that never stops me from getting fired up. Some rivalries live on forever. For me, the Chicago/Detroit rivalry has a special place because of all of the years I grew up a Chicago fan on Detroit’s turf.

DETROIT – by Danny Silverman

I was never able to really enjoy watching Michael Jordan play. Maybe if I hadn’t been so young when the Pistons beat the Bulls in their championship runs, I would have been able to just marvel at his talent. But instead, my first  sharp memories of the Pistons are in the 1991 Eastern Conference finals as they were being swept. I cried, and there was no way I was ever going to root for Michael Jordan or the Bulls.

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When I was nine years old, my parents and I took a red eye back to Detroit from Las Vegas. A few minutes into the flight, my dad tapped me on the shoulder and said, “look who it is.”  Detroit Lions head coach Wayne Fontes smiled back from the seat behind me.  Til then, the limit of my sports “celebrity” experience had been meeting Rick Mahorn while waiting at a car wash. I was thrilled. I got his autograph while my dad chatted with him about the upcoming season. Fontes was going to meet with a young QB named Scott Mitchell the next morning. But we shouldn’t worry, because Eric Kramer, the quarterback who had led the Lions to their one playoff win in the Super Bowl era was “coming back.” Then, Coach Fontes took his shoes off and stacked both feet up on my armrest. The next day, Kramer signed with the Bears. The Lions remained the Lions. I was devastated. (I hadn’t quite learned to expect the Lions to devastate me every year yet.)

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Kramer. Magglio Ordonez. Chris Chelios. Bob Probert. Ben Wallace. Even Marian Hossa.

Members of Chicago and Detroit teams both. Hate them then love them. Love them then hate them. Or, in Ben Wallace’s case, love them then hate them then love them and be happy that the one jersey you ever purchased is actually wearable again, if ever you were to conceivably wear a jersey.

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Maybe it’s the memories of devastating battles, or these players’ betrayals, or even the utter depression of being on the bad side of years of ineptitude. Whatever it is, the rivalry has managed to completely pervert the way I view sports. No Jordan highlight will ever be watched with a smile. No shot of Magglio’s hair without one.

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