Joey Harrington has been booed, criticized and sarcastically ripped in Detroit, but one of the city's sports heroes says the attention comes with the territory. It's called tough love.

'People are pretty normal here. It's everyday living, not Hollywood, not New York City,' says the Red Wings' Steve Yzerman, maybe one of the five most revered Detroit athletes ever.

The adulation 'makes you feel like what you do is important and matters and, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn't matter that much to be an athlete. So, I enjoy the atmosphere. It's a great sports town.'

There have been times, believe it or not, when the Red Wings captain has been booed on the ice. For the past 10 years or so, it has been hard to boo the Red Wings, the NHL's Stanley Cup champs in 1997, 1998 and 2002.

'I'd rather have a big following and people booing than nobody in the building at all,' Yzerman says.

They call Detroit 'Hockeytown,' but Red Wing Darren McCarty says, 'This whole city and state would erupt if the Lions win.

'Right now it's like they're hibernating as Lions fans. It's so frustrating.'

McCarty grew up just outside Windsor, Ontario, across the Detroit River from the Motor City. He has played on champion Red Wings teams and watched as the baseball Tigers and the NBA's Pistons also won titles. The Lions? Well, they haven't won the NFL championship since 1953.

Harrington 'is a bright spot there and, when you hear him interviewed, he's got the right attitude,' McCarty says. 'He's got the attitude it'll take to play quarterback in this city. He doesn't get too down, doesn't get too up.'

Harrington drew plenty of attention last year as Oregon's Heisman Trophy candidate. But it only partially prepared him for the kind of scrutiny he has found in Detroit. As McCarty says, the two most scrutinized people in Detroit are the Red Wings' goalie and Lions' quarterback.

The Pistons' Clifford Robinson, in his second year in Detroit, played with the Blazers in one-horse Portland.

'When you play here, the fact you have basketball, hockey, football and baseball, the fan base is more spread out,' he says. 'You don't have articles in the paper every day about how bad Joey Harrington is. Or how bad he's doing.'

But Detroit, adds the Pistons' Ben Wallace, is 'a blue-collar town. They look for people to come in and work every night.

'If you work hard and do your job, the fans definitely support you. If you go out and go through the motions, then Detroit is going to be a tough place to play.'

Yzerman has met Harrington once and has attended three games.

'Very nice, bright young guy,' he says. 'He conducts himself well. He'll do well. He's already popular in this city.

'There's some good people here, a lot of good areas and, hopefully, we can get this downtown turned around and, at some point, the city will thrive again,' he says. 'That's the only area where we're really lacking, along with a lot of U.S. cities, unfortunately.'

Go to top