If you’re a sports fan around here, it won’t be easy saying good-bye to 2011, one of the most-entertaining years we’ve seen. But I’ll say this: 2012 shouldn’t be bad either.
The Lions reached the playoffs for the first time in 12 years, and finally will play big games in January. The Tigers won their division for the first time in 24 years. The Red Wings will be back in the playoffs for the 21st consecutive season. If rookie Brandon Knight keeps showing flash, even the lagging Pistons could be interesting. (Hey, it’s possible!)
I’ll stop short of calling this a golden era of Detroit sports. But it’s getting closer, especially when you factor in the college teams. Michigan and Michigan State football each won 10 games and landed in good bowls. Both schools should finish in the upper half of the Big Ten basketball race and reach the NCAA Tournament. Even Wayne State football went all the way from (virtually) nowhere to the Division II championship game.
The Lions have laid the foundation to contend for a while. So have the Tigers. And one of these years, we’ll stop taking the Wings’ incredible success for granted.
There are two keys to the winning ways: Coaching and dynamic stars.
Detroit has solid-to-great coaches in every sport. The Wings’ Mike Babcock is the best, maybe in all of hockey. The Tigers’ Jim Leyland is better than fans admit, in my humble opinion. The Lions’ Jim Schwartz is a bright new force. The Pistons’ Lawrence Frank probably is solid, although he has a helluva challenge right now.
In college, Tom Izzo is as good as it gets in the country. John Beilein is as clever as it gets. Mark Dantonio and Brady Hoke are excellent leaders firmly establishing programs.
Coaching matters a ton. Players matter even more, and there are future Hall-of-Famers all over the place. Honestly, this has to be the biggest star bounty in years here.
Red Wings: Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, with Jimmy Howard on the rise.
Lions: Calvin Johnson, Matthew Stafford and Ndamukong Suh, with Cliff Avril on the rise.
Tigers: Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Jose Valverde, with Doug Fister and Alex Avila on the rise.
Pistons: Well, hope for Knight and Greg Monroe and pray for another shot at the lottery.
I haven’t even mentioned the collection of talent on Michigan State, from likely first-round pick Jerel Worthy to runner Le’Veon Bell to a terrific senior quarterback-receiver duo in Kirk Cousins and B.J. Cunningham. And Michigan has Denard Robinson, as unique as any athlete we’ve seen, with another season to develop and dazzle.
It was a rollicking 2011 — from the Verlander Watch every fifth day to Cabrera’s batting title to Megatron’s leap to the top of NFL receivers. I’m not sure it can be eclipsed in 2012, but you know what? It has a shot.