Five Most Memorable Moments In Detroit Sports In 2018

It was a year of looking toward the future.

Will Burchfield
December 27, 2018 - 6:30 am

© Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

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For Detroit’s professional sports teams, 2018 was…well, it was something. A lot of games were lost, far fewer were won. Some big names arrived, others departed. It was a year of shifting the collective outlook toward the future. 

With 2018 coming to a close, let’s take a look back at the five most stunning moments between the Lions, Tigers, Red Wings and Pistons. 

5. Zetterberg Says Farewell 

By the time he officially called it quits on the first day of training camp in September, Henrik Zetterberg’s retirement was hardly a surprise. Reports hinted at it all summer, and Zetterberg’s degenerative back condition spoke for itself. 

But consider where he was even two years ago: the Red Wings’ best player — by a longshot — in a season in which he played in all 82 games. And recall his stance at the end of last season, after appearing in all 82 once again: I have every intention of playing in 2018-19

Zetterberg thought some rest over the summer would help his back heal. It didn’t. Then various doctors told him that continuing to play would only make it worse. 

So the Red Wings captain, for probably the first time in his career, put his own wellbeing over that of the team and made the tough decision to step away. 

4. Patricia Era Opens With A Thud 

It’s hard to call any debacle on the part of the Lions ‘stunning.’ And maybe some fans were prepared for a letdown in the first game of Matt Patricia’s tenure as head coach. Still, no one could have predicted just how ugly it would be. 

The 48-17 humiliation, at home, courtesy of a Jets team coming off a five-win season, marked the lowest point of the Lions organization in at least a few years. They were booed off the field at halftime, then they were booed off the field at the end of the game. 10-year vet Matthew Stafford was outplayed by rookie Sam Darnold. 

And after the game, several members of the Jets defense crowed about knowing which plays the Lions were about to run, the key to their five interceptions. For Patricia, a coach who’d known nothing but success over 14 years with the Patriots, it was a fitting welcome to the Lions. 

3. The End of Mario and Rod 

It’s a lament that this event appears on this list. But in a year that saw the Tigers embark on a full-scale rebuild and lose close to 100 games, the most shocking development regarding the organization occurred above the diamond in the press box at Guaranteed Rate Field. 

Mario Impemba and Rod Allen, play-by-play partners on Fox Sports Detroit for 16 years, had a physical altercation after a Tigers-White Sox game in September. They were suspended immediately, and ultimately let go. Just like that, a staple of Tigers baseball was gone, never to return.  

In hindsight, some said the fight was predictable, almost inevitable. The relationship between Impemba and Allen had been fraught with tension for years. The real surprise may have been that the breaking point didn’t come sooner. 

But the way in which it ended — with the two broadcasters literally at each other’s necks in the press box, per multiple reports — was stunning, to say the least. 

2. Hello to Sancks, Farewell to Tate 

The Lions recovered after that disaster of an opener, clawing their way back to 3-3. Emboldened by his team’s strong run of play, GM Bob Quinn made a win-now move in acquiring defensive tackle Damon ‘Snacks’ Harrison from the Giants.

In Snacks’ first game, the Lions laid an egg at home in a pivotal clash against the Seahawks. All that positive momentum was snuffed out. So, apparently, was Quinn’s faith in his team. 

When the trade deadline arrived a few days later, the Lions dealt leading receiver — and pending free agent — Golden Tate to the Eagles in exchange for a third-round pick. It was a shocking turn of events, Quinn essentially waving the white flag on the season just a week after deciding to go for it. 

The silver lining for the Lions is that Snacks is signed through 2020, giving them at least two more seasons to make the acquisition count. 

1. Pistons Find A Star In Blake 

It was no secret that Stan Van Gundy was desperate for a superstar during his four-year tenure as architect of the Pistons. And it was generally understood he wasn’t going to land one in free agency, where the Pistons have little big-name-appeal, or in the draft, where Van Gundy was unwilling to tank. (Alas, Devin Booker, Donovan Mitchell…)

So Van Gundy turned his eyes to the trade market and flat-out shocked the basketball world last season by acquiring Blake Griffin and his freshly-signed five -year contract from the Clippers in exchange for a package of assets featuring Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley and a first-round pick. Blake Griffin, after eight years in Los Angeles, was headed to Detroit. 

It’s hard to overstate how much the trade caught Pistons fans — and the NBA at large — off guard. Van Gundy often laughed at trade rumors, pointing to how rarely they ever result in actual moves. Griffin-to-the-Pistons wasn’t even rumored about it before it went down. It all but popped out of thin air, and it momentarily thrust some air into the Pistons fanbase. 

But a surge following the trade was wiped out by a prolonged skid. A couple months later, Van Gundy was out. His star remains — and will for a good while longer.