Those magnificent men in red


By Joe Falls / The Detroit News


The Detroit Red Wings weren’t the Detroit Red Wings when the team was formed in 1926. They didn’t even play in Detroit. They were known as the Detroit Cougars, but they had to play across the river in Windsor, Ontario, because Olympia Stadium in Detroit had not been finished.

They were known as the Detroit Cougars, but they had to play across the river in Windsor, Ontario, because Olympia Stadium in Detroit had not been finished.

The team had been the Victoria Cougars and was purchased for $100,000 by Charles Hughes, a prominent member of the Detroit Athletic Club. The first season was a shaky one. The team finished last and lost $84,000 at the gate. Nobody took the Cougars seriously.

That’s when Frank Calder, the stocky, mild-mannered president of the National Hockey League, stepped in and told Hughes he had just the man to run his team — Jack Adams. The team remained in a depressed condition, losing some more, traveling by day coach and eating cheese sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper.

It was a time made difficult by the depression. Mayor Frank Murphy of Detroit held a charity game and one fan showed up with five sacks of potatoes for admission. He was given a standing room spot.

Adams said, “If we could get the great Howie Morenz for $1.98 from the Montreal Canadiens, we couldn’t afford him.”

Red Wings coach Jack Adams ladles champagne from the Stanley Cup into the glass of team owner James Norris Sr. following the 1936 Wings’ victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs. The two are surrounded by Wings players.

The team changed its name to the Falcons as a result of a newspaper promotion, but even that didn’t help. Not until James Norris, a 56-year-old czar of commerce, bought the team did hockey become an important matter in Detroit.

He kept Adams and told him: “We will now be known as the Wings. In fact, we’ll call ourselves the Red Wings. Our emblem will be a winged wheel, which ought to sit good with Henry Ford and the Detroit car people.”

Norris told Adams he had one year to produce a solid team. Adams never had a contract but under his bold leadership, he led the Red Wings to 12 first-place finishes and seven Stanley Cups in his 35 years on the job. His team won seven straight titles from 1949 to 1955.

Gordie Howe carried the team for years. He was so good the Red Wings paid little or no attention to their farm system. Old No. 9 was always there to bail them out.

Finally, it caught up with the Wings as Howe got older and they went through one of the longest droughts in history. They won it all in the old six-team league in 1955 and now, 41 years later, they are trying to win again.

The team is owned by pizza king Mike Ilitch, who bought the club in 1982 and has spent millions to bring it to the brink of success. The Red Wings are considered the most prosperous franchise in the NHL, with much of their success to Coach Scotty Bowman — winner of six Stanley Cups — employing six outstanding Russian players.

The Olympia was home to the Detroit Hockey Club from 1927 to 1979. It was designed by architect C. Howard Crane with a seating capacity of 11,563, which was increased to 13,375 in 1966. With standing room, total capacity was 16,375. The stadium was opened to the public in October, 1927, with a rodeo.