It’s ‘Champions Day’ in Detroit! A toast to Detroit sports history – Detroit Free Press
It’s been a while since the City of Detroit has enjoyed a major sports championship.
But if you can believe it, there was a time when winning a championship came natural to the Motor City.
That time – as many old-timers reading this story may recall – was 81 years ago.
Today, April 18, is known as “Champions Day” in Detroit, a designation handed down by then-Michigan Gov. Frank Fitzgerald in 1936 after one heck of a run by Detroit sports teams, one which gave Detroit the nickname “City of Champions.” Yes, young ones, this is a real thing; there’s even a Wikipedia entry on it.
Though Detroit enjoyed a number of individual and team athletic achievements in the 1930s, the “City of Champions” moniker really took hold when the Detroit Tigers won the World Series in 1935, the Detroit Lions won the NFL championship that same year and the Detroit Red Wings won the Stanley Cup in 1936.
All three championships were the teams’ first. At the time, the Windsor Daily Star considered it “the most amazing sweep of sport achievements ever credited to any single city.”
At around the same time, legendary boxer Joe Louis was making his rise to prominence, recognized by the Associated Press as the “Most Outstanding Athlete of 1935.” He would begin his long run as world heavyweight champion in 1937.
“Champions Day” was such a big deal that the city hosted a banquet at the Detroit Masonic Temple, sponsored by the now-defunct Detroit Times, to honor the championship teams, plus a number of other Detroit sporting accomplishments that occurred in the 1930s. More than 600 fans showed up for it, according to the Windsor Daily Star.
The best part of that banquet? It lasted less than two hours. “There were no long-drawn-out speeches to harass listeners or lengthy ceremonies to annoy the athletes themselves,” the Windsor Daily Star reported.
This wasn’t just a local thing, either. The nation recognized Detroit as the “City of Champions” as well. The White House presented Detroit with a wooden plaque during the 1936 Traverse City Cherry Festival, signed by then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the United States’ 48 governors. Inscribed on it: “A nation appreciative of those qualities of character essential to success in competitive athletics salutes Detroit, which in this year of 1936 richly merits recognition as the City of Champions.”
The plaque is now at the Detroit Historical Museum.
Still the ‘City of Champions’?
So what has happened in Detroit sports since 1936? A rundown:
Success here and there: Most notably, the Red Wings repeated as Stanley Cup champions in 1937, then won five more championships over the next two decades. The Tigers didn’t win their second World Series until a decade later, 1945. The Lions went on a run of three NFL championships in the 1950s and have basically done nothing since (though you already knew that). Joe Louis reigned as world heavyweight champion from 1937-49, the longest such reign in boxing history. The city later would add the Detroit Pistons in 1957 and win three NBA titles.
Detroit ranks No. 4 in championships: Eighty years later, Detroit as a city still stacks up favorably in major professional sports championships with 22, but that number trails the likes of New York (which has 54, including 27 from the Yankees alone), Boston (37) and Chicago (29).
If you count Major League Soccer championships, Los Angeles also has more than Detroit with 25 (including five from MLS). If you count the Shock’s three WNBA titles, Detroit would still place fourth.
Given the size of those markets, Detroit still looks quite good in sports championship lore. However, as previously noted, Detroit hasn’t won a major sports championship since 2008, which marks the city’s longest drought in decades.
Detroit’s 1935-36 title run still holds up: Detroit remains the only city in America to win three major sports championships in a single sporting year. Several cities have won two titles in the same year – most recently, Pittsburgh’s Steelers and Penguins did it in 2009 and Boston’s Red Sox and Patriots did it in 2004.
Speaking of Boston, it’s worth noting the impressive run of major sports championships in Beantown over the past decade. Since 2007, the Red Sox have won two World Series, the Patriots have won two Super Bowls, the Celtics won the NBA title in 2008 and the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011.
That said, Detroit has plenty of sports history to own – including the nickname “City of Champions.”
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