Attempts to equate sports with religion never fail to sound trite at best, blasphemous at worst. And yet here I am, about to describe for you my final pilgrimage to a place of concrete and metal, a place constructed with unsavory angular exterior walls and sharp points jutting out into the unforgiving Midwestern air.
An icy place with hundreds of steep, ill-conceived, pre-ADA steps.
A place shaded to match the dull winter skies found here and, as if a foreshadowing in 1979, the color of the oppressive fog that would figuratively settle over top the city once things would all go horribly wrong.
There are tubes on one side of my Mecca, futuristic in a very retro sense, and harsh winds coming in from the river on another.
If this place was only a scrap heap of building materials, flat colors and odd angles, it would makes no sense for a pilgrimage. But of course this place is so much more.
This is a place I’ve devoted more time to being inside than I should have during the past quarter century and many more hours thinking about ways to get myself inside again and again and again. This is Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan and there were only 7 home games left to worship during before the place would be shuttered forever.
I had to go back for one more game to pay my final respects.
The team is terrible this season, flat-out rotten, and my all-time favorite player, #91 Sergei Fedorov, stopped skating there many, many years ago. There was no real reason to make the 1200 mile round trip trek again. But there was every reason to go back to The Joe. This was my final chance to be inside the place where so much of my happiness was sourced since age 13.
There will be no playoff games at The Joe for the first time in 25 years and the mood of the Red Wing fan is sour right now, but I could not NOT return to Detroit for one more game inside this beautiful red & white hockey palace.
I quickly made plans, used points for a flight, car, airport parking and booked the cheapest hotel I could find. I threw some underwear and socks into my backpack along with a brand new jersey that will symbolically form a bridge between past, present and future for me and my beloved Detroit Red Wings.
Big thanks to IceJerseys.com for supplying me with a finely sewn authentic new Red Wings hockey jersey featuring the name and number of my new favorite player to make this final pilgrimage more memorable.
Andreas Athanasiou is the speedy, nearly-magic young Canadian man with a very Greek name that I adore to watch play much like I did Fedorov and Datsyuk before him.
He’s a guy I hope to watch get better and better as the team does the same over the next 3, 5, 10 years. My new Andreas Athanasiou #72 Red Wings jersey is as a symbol of a hopeful future while I reflect back on a glorious past.
It was in this jersey that entered and left the Joe for the very last time on Saturday afternoon.