Dave Birkett and Anthony Fenech and Helene St. James and Vince Ellis and Chris Solari and Nick Baumgardner Detroit Free Press
Published 12:08 PM EST Jan 1, 2019
Free Press sports writers relive the most memorable sports moments of 2018 for the Detroit Lions, Detroit Red Wings, Detroit Pistons, Detroit Tigers, Michigan Wolverines and Michigan State Spartans:
The Detroit Lions landed their No. 1 coaching target to replace Jim Caldwell when they hired Matt Patricia the day after the Super Bowl. Patricia’s first season in Detroit was a rocky one full of negative headlines, but he was a hot commodity 12 months ago.
Before his season ended prematurely with a knee injury, Kerryon Johnson looked like he might be the answer to the Lions’ long-standing problems at running back. Johnson became the first Lion to top 100 yards rushing in more than four years when he had 101 yards in a September win over the Patriots.
The Lions sent Golden Tate, their leading receiver the past four years, to the Philadelphia Eagles at the October trade deadline for a 2019 third-round pick. They got good value, but ruined their playoff chances as they lost five of eight games after the trade and finished the year 6-10.
— Dave Birkett
Swag, slams and sorrow: 2018’s most memorable games for Michigan teams
Van Gundy fired; Casey hired
In a protracted process, Pistons owner Tom Gores decided to move on from Stan Van Gundy after four seasons. Also team president, Van Gundy left behind a bloated cap sheet with little roster flexibility. Enter Dwane Casey, who was fired after leading the Raptors to the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference – only to lose to the Cavs and LeBron James once again.
Griffin scores 50
The Pistons power forward, noted for injury-marred seasons recently, scored 50 points in an emotional overtime victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Oct. 23. The performance was an early season announcement that a healthy offseason would allow Griffin to mount a strong candidacy for the 2019 All-Star Game in Charlotte on Feb. 17. The game will be a couple weeks past the one-year anniversary of the Pistons’ blockbuster acquisition of Griffin.
Casey wins at Toronto
The Pistons first-year coach is still bothered by his firing in Toronto, so the win there in November left a sweet taste. The Pistons overcame a 19-point deficit and Reggie Bullock’s winner off an inbound play set off a wild celebration at Scotiabank Arena.
— Vince Ellis
More: Here’s how the Detroit Pistons are approaching trade market
Detroit Red Wings
Joy at the draft
As the first round of the entry draft approached, the Wings coveted forward Filip Zadina, but he was expected to go third overall. But when Zadina became available at No. 6, the Wings pounced, adding a winger they see as a future game-changer.
‘Z’ you later
Just how much longer Henrik Zetterberg would play had been in question since he underwent back surgery in 2014. The answer was delivered in September, when the captain announced during training camp he was hanging up his skates after 1,082 games with the Wings.
Leading with Larkin
Dylan Larkin’s ascendancy with the Wings took substantial shape — first with a five-year, $30.5 million contract in August, and then with naming him an alternate captain before the start of the season. He has embraced being a leader on and off the ice, and likely will be wearing the ‘C’ next season.
— Helene St. James
More: Swag, slams and sorrow: 2018’s most memorable games for Michigan teams
Drafting Mize at No. 1
With the team’s first No. 1 overall pick in 22 years, they selected Auburn junior right-hander Casey Mize, who profiles as a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher. The pick was a no-brainer, but there are no guarantees: The Tigers’ rebuilding process will hinge largely on Mize reaching that potential.
[Casey Mize was groomed to be Tigers’ No. 1 pick. Here’s how]
After 16 seasons, veteran designated hitter Victor Martinez retired to great fanfare during the final home series of the season at Comerica Park. Martinez was influential on the Tigers’ youngsters during his final season and will go down as one of the better designated hitters of this generation. For his career, Martinez hit .295 with 246 home runs.
Hello, old friend
On a losing skid entering the All-Star break, the last pitcher the Tigers wanted to see was former ace Justin Verlander. But the Tigers beat up Verlander on July 15, tagging him for six runs on six hits, including four home runs. Verlander returned the favor in September during his emotional return to Comerica Park, but the Tigers’ win was huge inside the clubhouse and came at a perfect time.
— Anthony Fenech
Back in the title game
Michigan basketball hoisted its second Final Four banner after qualifying in April for the second NCAA championship game of John Beilein’s tenure. The Wolverines were bested by eventual champion Villanova, but finished 2018 with a calendar record of 34-5 and currently rank No. 2 nationally.
Ohio State collapse
Michigan football’s 10-game winning streak in 2018 created optimism that the program’s 14-year Big Ten title drought would end. But everything came crashing down in one afternoon, as Michigan’s once-vaunted defense was shredded while its offense was lifeless in a 62-39 drubbing at Ohio State. Jim Harbaugh is now 0-4 against the Buckeyes, Urban Meyer is retiring and the pressure is through the roof.
Michigan football did accomplish a few things it failed to do in 2017. It thrashed Penn State and Wisconsin. But tops on that list was getting back in the win column with a 21-7 win at Michigan State on an emotional day that included a pregame confrontation, Devin Bush Jr. cleating the midfield logo and Harbaugh calling Mark Dantonio “bush league.” Makes for an interesting 2019.
— Nick Baumgardner
Larry Nassar/sexual assault fallout
The disgraced sports medicine doctor’s convictions led to a number of issues, including the resignation of university president Lou Anna K. Simon in January. A few days later, athletic director Mark Hollis resigned hours before an ESPN report looking into other allegations of sexual assault involving MSU basketball and football players over the past decade.
Basketball rise and fall
Amid the tumult of the ESPN report, NBA lottery picks Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr. helped guide Tom Izzo’s team to a Big Ten regular-season title. Bridges was mentioned in FBI documents released by Yahoo! Sports but was cleared by MSU and the NCAA to play, but the Spartans lost to Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals and then got eliminated by Syracuse in the second-round of the NCAA tournament.
Mark Dantonio’s team won the Holiday Bowl to finish 10-3 in 2017 and built high expectations with all but three starters returning this fall. The Spartans’ defense lived up to those lofty dreams, but injuries on offense began to mount early and derailed hope for competing for another Big Ten title. The Spartans finished 7-6, including a 7-6 loss to Oregon in Monday’s Redbox Bowl.
[Mark Dantonio took first step to changing in Redbox Bowl, but don’t expect overhaul]
— Chris Solari
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