Super Bowl XL was 15 years ago at Ford Field. Here’s what has changed in Detroit sports

Detroit Free Press

Ryan Ford | Detroit Free Press

Today marks the 15th anniversary of Super Bowl XL, when the NFL’s biggest spectacle visited the city that was home to a franchise which had never qualified for it. (And, yes, still hasn’t.)

On Feb. 5, 2006, the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Seattle Seahawks, 21-10, in front of 68,206 people at Ford Field in Detroit. Receiver Hines Ward caught the final touchdown for the Steelers and MVP honors, but Detroit native Jerome Bettis was the face of the celebration.

Two days from now, and about 1,200 miles due south of the Motor City, the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers will kick off in front of far fewer people, capping a decade and a half of change for the league, and for Detroit. (Don’t worry, though, there’s still a Michigander (by college, at least) in the middle of the Super Bowl party — Tom Brady says hi.)

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In between those events, Metro Detroit’s landscape has transformed in ways big (The Joe and The Palace are gone, and replaced with Little Caesars Arena in Midtown) and small (empty retail spaces along Woodward that became packed pop-up bars for a week of celebration are now mostly empty because of coronavirus restrictions).

Detroit’s sports teams haven’t been immune to change, either. The Shock won two titles, then left for Oklahoma, then left that state for Texas. The Tigers went from a rebuild to AL champs — twice! — to a rebuild. The best quarterback and wide receiver in Lions franchise history came and went. The Wings and Pistons went from title contenders to lottery mainstays.

In short, it has been a crazy 15 years. Let’s take a look at where Detroit’s pro teams stand, then and now.

Lions

Record between Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl LV: 89-150-1 (.373).

Playoff berths: 3. Championships: 0.

In 2006: The Lions were coming off a 5-11 season that had gotten coach Steve Mariucci — viewed as a savior delivered from one of the league’s dynasties — fired on Thanksgiving weekend, less than three seasons after he was hired. His replacement, Rod Marinelli, was a position coach short on resume and long on inspirational soundbites, such as “I understand football character. Guys who love football and want to be a champion. I’ve been around that, so I know what to look for.” The roster was getting a shakeup, too, as the Lions’ marriage to Joey Harrington — a quarterback taken early in the first round and ground down by years of losing — was dissolving quickly. Within a few months, a veteran from the West Coast (whose name also happened to start with “J”) would take the reins at QB: Jon Kitna.

How the Lions drove Joey Harrington into depression; Thanksgiving revenge memories ]

In 2021: The Lions were coming off a 5-11 season that had gotten coach Matt Patricia — viewed as a savior delivered from one of the league’s dynasties — fired on Thanksgiving weekend, less than three seasons after he was hired. His replacement, Dan Campbell, was a position coach short on resume and long on inspirational soundbites, such as “When you knock us down, we’re going to get up, and on the way up, we’re going to bite a knee cap off. And we’re going to stand up and then it’s going to take two more shots to knock us down. And on the way up, we’re going to take your other knee cap.” The roster was getting a shakeup, too, as the Lions’ marriage to Matthew Stafford — a quarterback taken early in the first round and ground down by years of losing — was dissolving quickly. Within a few months, a veteran from the West Coast (whose name also happened to start with “J”) would take the reins at QB: Jared Goff.

Dan Campbell may be ‘the only guy that can resurrect’ the Lions. Here’s why ]

Pistons

Record between Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl LV: 534-639 (.455).

Playoff berths: 6. Championships: 0.

In 2006: A team on a mission for success in June, the Pistons were battling for the No. 1 spot in the playoffs. It was hardly a smooth run, however, as the team’s backcourt was banged up, and Darko Milicic, a prized first-round pick out of Europe still not yet old enough to legally drink in America, was spending much of his time on the bench. Could veteran coach Flip Saunders, who never quite got over the hump at his previous stop, put it all together?

In 2021: A team on a mission for success in June, the Pistons were battling for the No. 1 spot in the draft lottery. It was hardly a smooth run, however, as the team’s backcourt was banged up, and Killian Hayes, a prized first-round pick out of Europe still not yet old enough to legally drink in America, was spending much of his time on the bench. Could veteran coach Dwane Casey, who never quite got over the hump at his previous stop, put it all together?

[ Pistons could be historically bad this year. Just in time for a stacked NBA draft ]

Tigers

Record between Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl LV: 1,148-1,176 (494).

Playoff berths: 5. Championships: 0.

In 2006: After hundreds of losses — 406, to be exact — as part of a rebuild, there was finally light on the horizon, thanks to the arrival of Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya, a pair of talented pitching prospects (one a blue-chipper drafted high in the first round, the other not so much) who dominated Double-A foes on their way up. Likewise, there was a new guy in charge in the dugout: Jim Leyland, a World Series winner who’d been out of baseball after a sudden end to his previous employment. The offense didn’t look quite as rosy, but Magglio Ordonez, the team’s biggest veteran bat, looked healthier than he had in years. In short, expectations weren’t high, but hey, these guys were nearly at .500 — .467, actually — on Labor Day, right? And spring training was only two weeks away …

Why Tigers’ Casey Mize knows exactly what he needs to improve ]

In 2021: After hundreds of losses — 345, to be exact — over four seasons as part of a rebuild, there was finally light on the horizon, thanks to the arrival of Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal, a pair of talented pitching prospects (one a blue-chipper drafted high in the first round, the other not so much) who dominated Double-A foes on their way up. Likewise, there was a new guy in charge in the dugout: AJ Hinch, a World Series winner who’d been out of baseball after a sudden end to his previous employment. The offense didn’t look quite as rosy, but Miguel Cabrera, the team’s biggest veteran bat, looked healthier than he had in years. In short, expectations weren’t high, but hey, these guys were nearly at .500 — .462, actually — on Labor Day, right? And spring training was only two weeks away …

What Tigers’ Spencer Torkelson’s No. 3 prospect ranking means for his future ]

Red Wings

Record between Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl LV: 577-411-154 (.572 points percentage, .505 winning percentage).

Playoff berths: 11. Championships: 1.

In 2006: After a long, long layover with no games — thanks to the 2004-05 lockout — the Wings were back on the ice and fighting for the No. 1 spot in the playoffs. But there was a growing confidence, thanks to the veteran leadership of captain Steve Yzerman. In net, a new era was beginning to dawn, with Jimmy Howard getting his first four career starts. The future on offense looked bright, too, especially with 20-something star Henrik Zetterberg among the team leaders in points. Of course, win or lose, there was one thing you could always count on: A completely packed Joe Louis Arena.

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In 2021: After a long, long layover with no games — thanks to the 2020 coronavirus pandemic — the Wings were back on the ice and fighting for the No. 1 spot in the draft lottery. But there was a growing confidence, thanks to the veteran leadership of general manager Steve Yzerman. In net, a new era was beginning to dawn, with Jimmy Howard making his retirement official. The future on offense looked bright, too, especially with 20-something star Dylan Larkin among the team leaders in points. Of course, there was only one thing you could always count on: A completely empty Little Caesars Arena.

Contact Ryan Ford at rford@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @theford.

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