Latest Information:
Around the Nation
2:18 pm
Sat October 1, 2011

Like The Lions, Detroit Finally Has A Winning Season

Originally published on Mon October 3, 2011 6:27 am

After many awful seasons this year's Detroit Lions are — can you believe it — undefeated. To add to the glory, each of the Detroit car makers is showing signs of health with increased quality and profitability. It's long-awaited good news for a city that's been through bad times.

There's no denying that Detroit has had an image problem for quite a while. A whole cottage industry has sprung up over the years with many people from all walks trying to help turn that image around.

Charlie Wollborg is kind of a professional cheerleader for the Detroit region. He runs a marketing firm called Curve Detroit. He likes to tell this story from Detroit's past:

"At the turn of the century, our chief export had fallen out of vogue, and everybody wrote Detroit off as, you know, 'They're done.' But you know, we moved out of the fur trade," he laughs.

Wollborg says Detroit has been reinventing itself for centuries. He sees his beloved Detroit Lions as tied up with the new story of Detroit, because everybody pretty much wrote them off as a team that was "meh."

"When you listen to them in the locker room, they know that they are a good team," Wollborg says. "They know they're better together. And you look at the city, and the city's been kind of written off. But if you talk to the young entrepreneurs here, there's that sense of optimism – they don't believe the bad PR about Detroit.

There are a lot of people who don't believe all the bad PR. Brandon Walley is an artist and activist who's trying to help revive the city. As a matter of fact, he's building a statue of the science fiction cyborg Robocop for Detroit. The city needs every positive, he says.

"I think this city, you know, overall it needs so much that yeah, a winning team – anything that's going to bring people from the suburbs down to Detroit, even if they're going to the game, is a plus," he says.

Detroit residents Jeff Smith and his wife Melita Alston Smith are Tigers fans.

"We have good ball players," Jeff says, standing outside one of Detroit's hip new barbecue restaurants. "That's what it is, good ball players. It's not about turning the city around, it's about some really good ball playing."

Jeff says everybody knows the problems of Detroit — unemployment, flight of the middle class — but right now he's just rooting for a repeat of the 1984 Tigers' World Series win.

But, his wife says, "That's how Detroit is going to be regardless of how the sports teams are performing."

The Smiths say they'll definitely take a win. After all, you've got to root for Detroit. And the Tigers and Lions, too.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, Host:

The Detroit Tigers will finally get their shot at the New York Yankees tonight. The first game of their baseball playoff was stopped by rain last night. But the rain is the only thing that's been stopping the Tigers lately.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The Tigers won four straight to close out the year and 20 of 25.

MARTIN: And it's not just baseball. The Lions, long the doormats of the NFL, are actually undefeated. And those Motown carmakers, they're actually making a little money too. So NPR's Sonari Glinton hit the streets to find out if the Motor City really is on a roll.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HELLO DETROIT")

SAMMY DAVIS JR: (Singing) You're a fighter, you're a lover, you're strong and you recover...

SONARI GLINTON: There is no denying that Detroit had an image problem for quite some time, and a whole cottage industry has sprung up over the years with many people from many walks of life trying to turn that image around. One of my favorite attempts was the late Sammy Davis Jr.'s from the 1980s.

JR.: (Singing) Hello Detroit. You won my heart. Your renaissance and waterfronts give you a flair of your own.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HELLO DETROIT")

GLINTON: But it's cars and sports that really grab people's attention about Detroit. Best example, this Chrysler ad from this year's Super Bowl.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHRYSLER SUPER BOWL AD)

MAN: Now, we're from America, but this isn't New York City or the Windy City or Sin City, and we're certainly no one's Emerald City.

GLINTON: Charlie Wollborg is kind of a professional cheerleader for the Detroit region. He runs a marketing firm called Curve Detroit. Wollborg likes to tell this story from Detroit's past.

CHARLIE WOLLBORG: At the turn of the century, our chief export had fallen out of vogue, and everyone wrote Detroit off as, you know, they're done. But you know, we moved out of the fur trade.

GLINTON: Wollborg says Detroit has been reinventing itself for centuries. He says his beloved Detroit Lions are kind of tied up with the new story of Detroit, because everyone pretty much wrote off the Lions.

WOLLBORG: When you listen to them in the locker room, they know that they're a good team, and they know they're better together. And you look at the city, and the city's been kind of written off. But if you talk to the young entrepreneurs here, there's that sense of optimism. They don't believe the bad PR about Detroit.

GLINTON: There are a lot of people who don't believe all the bad PR. Brandon Walley is an artist and activist who's trying to help revive the city. As a matter of fact, he's building a statue of the science fiction cyborg Robocop. Walley says the city needs every positive.

BRANDON WALLEY: I think this city, you know, overall, it needs so much that, yeah, a winning team, anything that's going to bring people from the suburbs down to Detroit, even if they're going to the game, is a plus.

MELITA ALSTON SMITH: (Unintelligible).

JEFF SMITH: Okay. Okay.

GLINTON: I met Jeff Smith(ph) and Melita Alston Smith(ph) outside one of Detroit's hip new barbecue restaurants. They are both Tigers fans.

ALSTON SMITH: It's not about turning the city around. It's about some really good ball playing. That's all it is.

GLINTON: Smith says everybody knows the problems of Detroit: unemployment, flight of the middle class. But right now, he's just rooting for a repeat of the 1984 Tigers' World Series win. But his wife says...

ALSTON SMITH: That's how Detroit is going to be regardless of how the sports teams are performing.

ALSTON SMITH: That would be me.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ALSTON SMITH: Yeah. He's born and raised in Detroit.

GLINTON: The Smiths say they'll definitely take a win. I mean, you've got to root for Detroit, don't you? Oh, and the Tigers and the Lions too. Sonari Glinton, NPR News, Detroit.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HELLO DETROIT")

MARTIN: (Singing) And I will always be there for you. I will say, oh... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.