Detroit sports icons

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by Dominic Santina
Co-Sports Editor


While it has been a trying time for the city of Detroit and Detroit sports fans alike, you will have a tough time walking through the city without seeing people wearing sports apparel. Fans are hoping for some excitement from any of the Detroit teams, as they have spent a great deal of time revisiting the prior successes while wearing the jerseys of the legends that have made their mark on the city.

Below will include two icons from every major Detroit team: One icon from the 21st century, and one from the 20th century. Two wild cards will finish out the top ten spots.

Gordie Howe

Detroit Red Wings

Gordie Howe played 25 seasons for the Red Wings before leaving for the World Hockey Association. Howe then came back for one season in the NHL to play with his sons at age 51. Howe was a 21 time all star while in Detroit and appeared in 15 straight all star games. Howe scored 801 NHL goals, and over 1000 goals total over his entire hockey career. As one of the greatest of all time, he helped changed the face of hockey.  His long tenure with the Red Wings along with his amazing statistics makes him beloved in Detroit.

Ernie Harwell

Sportscaster for Detroit Tigers

While not an actual athlete in Detroit, Ernie Harwell finds himself at the number two spot because of how respected he was. Harwell worked for the Tigers from 1960 to 1991, when he was fired. Then, thanks to Mike Ilitch, was rehired in 1993 to start broadcasting for the Tigers again and would retire at the end of the season in 2002. Harwell broadcasted two All Star games and two World Series on national broadcasts. Yet, it was the 42 years he spent out of his 55 year career broadcasting for the Tigers in his laid back style that makes Harwell an icon in Detroit.

Bo Schembechler

Head coach for the Michigan Wolverines

It says something when you have two non-players in the top three. That is what happens when you have people with the kind of history that Harwell and Bo Schembechler have. Schembechler coached Michigan football for 21 years after coming over from Miami University. During his time as coach, he only had one season with a record of .500 or worse. The rest of his 20 seasons were all winning seasons, which speaks for itself. His team appeared in 15 straight bowl games as well. The one thing that is disappointing in Schembechler’s coaching career is that he never won a national championship and went 5-12 in bowl games.

Steve Yzerman

Detroit Red Wings

The most historic franchise in the city of Detroit has two of the top athletes in Michigan. Steve Yzerman earned the nickname “the Captain,” after being named captain of the Red Wings at age 21. Yzerman played all 22 seasons in Detroit. What Yzerman is remembered for is ending the streak of missing playoffs and bringing three Stanley Cups to Detroit in six years. His long tenure, leadership, and ability to win championships is why he is a fan favorite and icon in Detroit.

Justin Verlander

Detroit Tigers

Justin Verlander is the only player to still be active on this list. While Verlander was traded from Detroit at the end of last season, he is still beloved in Detroit. Verlander started his career in Detroit and spent 13 years here which included two World Series appearances, multiple all star games, and two no hitters. Verlander is the only athlete since I have been alive that Detroit sports fans follow religiously and give him the utmost support. He won his first World Series championship last year with the Houston Astros and is heading toward his second.

Isiah Thomas

Detroit Pistons

Isiah Thomas has a history like Yzerman but due to injuries, did not have as long of a career.  Thomas helped bring two championships to the Pistons while beating the Chicago Bulls both times to reach the NBA championship. The one downside to Thomas was the way he acted after a loss to the Bulls; many people believe this ruined his chances at being a part of the “Dream Team” for the Olympics in 1992.

Barry Sanders

Detroit Lions

There is a love-hate relationship with Barry Sanders. His talent and stats put him on the list, yet the hurt feelings from his early retirement leaves Sanders in the bottom half of the countdown. Sanders played 10 seasons with the Lions and rushed for over 15,000 yards in his career. He also had 99 touchdowns, just one shy of the 100 mark.

Al Kaline

Detroit Tigers

Kaline Corner in Comerica Park is named after Al Kaline, who patrolled right field for the Tigers for 22 years. He is one of very few players in Detroit history that has a spot in a stadium named after them. He was a 15 time all star while in Detroit and helped the Tigers win the 1968 World Series championship. Kaline finished his career with more than 3000 hits, just shy of 400 home runs, and a career batting average of .299.

Calvin Johnson

Detroit Lions


While Verlander is the only active athlete in the countdown, Johnson should be. As a big wide reciever threat drafted in 2007 by the Lions, Johnson became a fan favorite in a hurry. His ability to go get any football thrown his way helped him make a highlight catch almost every time he stepped onto the field. Once again, a Lions player is lower on the list because of the hurt felt from a star player retiring early. Even in just the nine years Johnson played, he still put up fantastic numbers such as 11,000 receiving yards and 83 touchdowns. Like Sanders, had Johnson played out his whole career, we would be talking about two of the best players to have ever played the game.

Ben Wallace

Detroit Pistons

Unlike other athletes on this list, Ben Wallace was not a Detroit product. All other athletes on the list came up through the development leagues in Detroit’s system. After playing in Orlando and Washington, Wallace was brought in to help the Pistons. Wallace came in during the 2000 season and would stay through the 2005-2006 season. He would help raise the first championship banner for the Pistons since the “Bad Boys” in 1989 and 1990. Wallace would leave to go play in Chicago and Cleveland before coming back and spending his final three seasons in Detroit. Wallace recently had his number retired with his banner hanging in Little Caesars Arena.

For helping to restore Pistons basketball and spending his final few years with the organization, Wallace finishes off the list.