Sunday, April 9, 2017

Farewell to the Joe

Editor's Note: I actually went to Pittsburgh a week before, but want to get in on the Joe Louis Arena thinkpieces before the train on that runs out. So I'll talk about Pittsburgh's new boring building soon enough.

Let's get this out of the way first. Detroit has and always will suck. This is an undeniable fact of life. The only certainties in this world are death, taxes, and Detroit's suckitude.

However, my first, last, and only trip to Joe Louis Arena was like an old Western movie. Good, bad, and ugly.

The good, or at least charming, was Joe Louis Arena itself. But I'll get to that later, after finishing the analogy.

The bad is obviously the fact that Detroit, both the city and their hockey team, suck. For some reason the city feels more important than it should be. And finally, after 20 years of agony, the Red Wings are finally missing the playoffs. We can all breathe a sigh of relief, the evil has been defeated.

Detroit is definitely the ugly. Like the 2014 Winter Classic, also hosted by the Red Wings, was a complete clusterfuck to get into. The traffic was atrocious, and the arena is cut off from the rest of the downtown by highways, so the only way to really get there is to park at their garage, which was $25, for a team well out of contention. It wasn't well done at all.

The cashier booths looked like penalty boxes though, that was nice.
Ok, admittedly, that analogy worked better in my head during the game (surprisingly enough, I don't write at the arena). The Joe just evokes old memories. If you go to a modern arena, like TD Garden, the Air Canada Centre (it's Canadian) or the United Center, you can't imagine that all time greats like Bobby Orr, Johnny Bower or Bobby Hull ever laced up there (because they didn't, let's be honest). But, even though the arena actually postdates his career in Detroit, walking through the Joe, you could totally envision Gordie Howe coming through the tunnel (admittedly, he did play two games there, as a Hartford Whaler, but this is all besides the point).

Joe Louis Arena is stuffed to the gills with an old-school charm, I know I'll mention it ad nauseum, but it is very much true. It's only got a single concourse, like newer arenas (the SAP Center in San Jose springs to mind), but it's a very wide concourse. The game was sold out, but it wasn't nearly as cramped as other arenas are. Still, because of the clusterf*** that was getting there, I didn't get to my seat until about the end of the first period. Might explain all the empty seats you see on TV, nobody could get in!

So, at the game, I was in the very last row, either sitting on top of my seat or standing most of the time (I wasn't blocking anybody), as Detroit played the Ottawa Senators (not the really old team, the one that got started in the 90s).
Great opportunities for Wikipedia level pics though.
Of course, because I had to drive about three hours back home, the game went to a shootout. The amount of noise during the shootout, and indeed, whenever the home team scored, was almost deafening. The only regular season game I can think to compare it to was in Buffalo, when the Maple Leafs were in town, but then it was about 50-50 home and away fans, this was 90% Red Wings fans, just making a deafening sound.

Detroit won the game, after six rounds of a shootout, but that's far from the major point of the game. The real reason to go to a Red Wings game this year was to celebrate the Joe. It's the last vestige of "old time hockey". It hasn't been considered modern in years, with its comparatively minuscule center hung screens, old style color matrix boards in the corners encouraging fans to cheer, and lack of gaudy luxury boxes. It had (as I type this sentence, the final horn sounds on the last game played) cramped media areas, no in-arena team shop, and was pretty much completely cut off by highways from downtown, but that was all part of the charm.

Obviously the team wants a building with all those expensive (and money making) luxury boxes, and the media will love the massive press box they get to hang out in. But Little Caesar's Arena won't have that well-worn feel. It'll also have a corporate sponsorship, unlike the building it replaces. The new building will be all super-modern, and quite possibly completely indistinguishable from any other NHL arena. Without the team/city branding, it's hard to tell many of them apart.
The banners will likely move over, possibly not the "division playoff champion" ones
I know that technically Madison Square Garden was older, and more famous. But it's also crap. For crying out loud there were more than enough urinals at the Joe, which is very, very important.

So farewell Joe Louis arena, I can't believe I'm saying this, but I'll miss you.

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