Over a month ago, Forbes released its annual edition of the "Most Livable Cities" in America, based off of a number of variables – including arts, jobs, safety and affordability. A week later, ESPN Page 2’s DJ Gallo rated the livability of major sports cities (cities with three-plus professional teams, or two professional teams and a major college program within an hour's drive), because Forbes for some reason didn’t take sports into account.
As you’d expect, Detroit – with the Lions, Pistons, Red Wings, Tigers and University of Michigan (within an hour’s drive) – was included amongst the other 24 adjudged cities. Detroit is one of just 13 cities that boasts a team in all four major sports.
Here’s what Gallo had to say about Motown:
Livable: Well, the Tigers are off to a fairly good start. And you and a few friends could always buy an arena and live in it if you wanted to. That's extremely livable.
Unlivable: The Red Wings' run might be over. The Pistons stink. And the Lions remain nothing to get aroused about, regardless of Jim Schwartz's tastes in tailbacks. When things used to be bad in Detroit, you could always escape west to Ann Arbor and the success of University of Michigan athletics. Not anymore. Now it's probably best to go east and just walk into the depths of Lake St. Clair.
Verdict: Unlivable. It's good Jim Leyland can't smoke anymore. If the Tigers caught on fire, Detroit would have nothing left.
After looking at the other 24 cities, it’s hard to gauge exactly what went into Gallo’s thought process for determining which cities are livable and which ones are not. For one, he completely neglects his own guidelines by including Raleigh, which only has one professional sports team (Carolina Hurricanes -- NHL).
I’ll be the first to admit that from June 2009 on, Detroit has had a rough go at it -- the Lions’ two wins were considered a significant improvement from 2008, for the first time since the '70s Michigan football didn’t qualify for a bowl game a second year in a row, the Pistons missed the playoffs for the first time in nine seasons by winning just 27 games, the Red Wings needed a late-season surge just to make the playoffs, and the Tigers blew a seven-game Central Division lead to the team they’re currently sitting behind in the new season.
However, Gallo references "consistent winners" several times within his piece, so he obviously took into account team success prior to the past year. And if history's any kind of benchmark, he completely erred in his verdict for Detroit.
It’s hard to have any serious Super Bowl hopes for the Lions, but if there was ever a time in the past decade to have a tinge of expectations for the lowly Lions, it’d be now going forward. They finally have a competent GM, a skilled quarterback -- not pianist, a bad ass but smart coach who wouldn’t dare pick the wind in OT, and a rookie defensive lineman that will make offensive players piss their girdles. Until they win enough games to keep fans from ripping their hair out on a weekly basis, it’s tough to say they’re bearable, but it’s definitely the first time in years that the Lions have instilled excitement in their very loyal fan base.
Of course, the Lions alone would never make the city of Detroit livable using any scale of sanity. Adding in the seemingly downward Pistons doesn’t solve the issues, either, but it does help. Six straight trips to the Eastern Conference Finals is something fans in other cities could only doodle about in their binders for their team to accomplish. In fact, some cities' fans (ahem, Minneapolis, a city Gallo calls livable) would say eight playoff appearances in the past nine seasons is sufficient for satisfaction. Chalk that up as something the Pistons have done. With Joe Dumars at GM, it’s hard to believe Pistons fans will be longing for more lottery balls on a yearly basis.
If Gallo wants to cite consistent winners in other cities, I think the Detroit Red Wings would be a pretty damn good example of that. Not only have they won the Holy Grail twice in the past eight years, they've made the playoffs 19 seasons in a row -- the longest active playoff streak in all of sports. I’d like to know how a team’s run "might be over" after it finishes a season 16-3-2 and is expected to return the same healthier roster next season. Even in the face of a "down year," Wings fans found Hockeytown sufferable, as they still had the third best attendance in hockey, and have claimed that honor in four of the past five seasons. (Only the Montreal Habs from the sport’s home country have had better attendance numbers over that time.)
The one team Gallo and I would agree on is the Tigers, who are finally perennial contenders in the American League Central. If Cincinnati can be deemed livable in large part because of the Reds, who haven’t finished above third in their respective division since 2000, then I think the city of the 2006 World Series participants and Central Division runners up in three of the past four seasons can be rewarded with a similar fate.
Do I even need to get into UofM's stupid-rich history? Maybe we can even bring in the recently-dominant basketball program of Michigan State that's just an hour-and-a-half west of Detroit. Or, if we have to, we can mention in passing that Detroit has hosted all of the biggest sporting events in the world, apart from the World Cup, within the past six years – the Ryder Cup, Super Bowl, NBA Finals, Stanley Cup Finals, MLB World Series, MLB All-Star Game, Final Four, and Frozen Four. I don't know about you, I might just be out of shape, but I have to take a breath halfway through when reading all those events aloud.
Instead, Gallo ignores all the aforementioned facts, makes a couple lame jokes and suggests Detroiters are better off ending the mis' by drowning themselves. It makes me wonder if Gallo's vision is clouded by Detroit's other, non-sports, problems. After all, as my brother put it, "Detroit is an easy target for the ignorant."
But, if you're looking strictly at the city's sports, Detroit is about as livable as any other city in the country. I know what you're thinking, I'm partial, but it's more than blatant homerism -- it's science.