I returned from the family trip Sunday in time to see the magic of Justin Verlander who guided the hot and cold Tigers to a 3-2 victory over Pittsburgh.
He gave up five hits, struck out seven and made one mistake when he gave up a two-run home run that tied the game. But I am not here to rehash what Verlander did. He seems like money on the mound and money in the bank. While watching Verlander I got into a personal debate.
Who is Detroit’s most important athlete? I did not say the best, although you have to be pretty darn good to be part of this discussion. But who is the guy that makes the most impact on the Detroit sports scene?
There are three major candidates in my book. They are Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson of the Lions and Verlander. They not only represent Detroit on the field but represent off the field also. Stafford and Johnson are record breaking players who can express and market themselves. Johnson has made great strides on the field but I was also impressed with the way he handled media responsibilities during the NFL Draft and his marketing with Madden 2013.
Johnson is no longer the soft spoken shy giant that came to Detroit. He is more outspoken and seems ready to put Detroit on the map. He is also a damn good wide receiver, unlike anyone we’ve seen before. He reminds me of former Lions wide receiver Herman Moore except he is bigger, faster, stronger and better.
Stafford, meanwhile, could become the best Lions quarterback in history. That includes Bobby Layne who the old timers carry a torch for because he was part of the Lions championship run in 1957. But Stafford is already better than him. The position has evolved into the premier position in football. Layne could never throw a football like Stafford.
Stafford and Johnson are exciting to watch but there is just something about JV. You cannot turn him off and it is amazing to see how he handles a baseball. People talk about the heat he brings, but my favorite pitch is that 12-6 curve ball that snaps into the strike zone and buckles the knees of just about anybody who faces him. I just love watching the guy pitch. I would love to take a turn at the plate just to see what it looks like.
Detroit is blessed with good sports stars now. Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Ndamukong Suh, Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Greg Monroe are top notch athletes. You may consider one of them Detroit’s most important athlete.
So who is your choice?