An Arena Report like no other

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March 29, 2007

The city of Detroit is known for many things: an incredible music scene (it is the home of Motown, rock legends KISS and a burgeoning hip-hop scene fronted by such artists as Eminem and ICP), being the home of America's three largest auto manufacturers (hence the nickname the "Motor City") and certainly being one of the most successful sports cities in recent history.

Thanks to the recent success of the NHL's Red Wings, Detroit is known to some as "Hockeytown," but there's more to it than that. The beginning of spring is a busy time in the Detroit sports scene, as the seasons of the Red Wings and the NBA's Pistons are headed down the homestretch and Major League Baseball's Tigers open their season. This weekend, however, thanks to the addition of WrestleMania, Detroit may just be the sports capital of America.

The buzz around Detroit, especially at all the other major venues in town, would be high even without WWE in town. The Tigers are coming off their most successful season since 1984, and the defending American League Champions will open their season on April 2 at Comerica Park, which is right across the street from Ford Field. As of this writing, the Red Wings have one of the best records in the NHL's Western conference, and will be a favorite to capture their second Stanley Cup this decade when the playoffs begin in mid-April. And if that weren't enough, the Pistons have one of the best records in the NBA's Eastern Conference, and have an excellent chance of being the top Eastern seed when the NBA playoffs begin in a few weeks. Even fans of the NFL's Detroit Lions, who haven't had much to crow about in recent years (the team has a 24-72 record in the last six seasons) are optimistic, as the Lions have the second overall pick in the upcoming NFL draft.

It's evident that Detroit-area sports fans have a lot to crow about… but everywhere WWE has been this week, the buzz has been all about WrestleMania. From the airport to the hotels to the area surrounding Ford Field and beyond, the presence of WrestleMania is everywhere. As some of my fellow members of the WWE.com team and I arrived at the airport, one of the first sights we saw was a giant banner promoting WrestleMania 23.

We decided to head to all the other major sports venues in town to see the buzz. Of course, the first stop was Ford Field, but we just can't reveal the atmosphere there quite yet; suffice to say it's busy, it's buzzing and it's in the initial stages of being transformed into the place to be this weekend. Even as my photographer was snapping some exterior photos, we were bombarded by a group of fans who inquired if tickets were still available. (Lucky for them, the box office was open and they went home satisfied.)

Right across the street at Comerica Park, preparations are beginning for the new season of Tigers baseball. Manager Jim Leyland's squad is the defending American League Champions, and their 162-game marathon begins less than 24 hours after WrestleMania rocks Motown. The field is being groomed, scoreboards are being tested and everyone is putting the finishing touches on the stadium grounds… but again, as we snapped photos from a parking garage across the street, WrestleMania was the word of the day. We were fortunate enough to have the director of security of the nearby Detroit Athletic Club allow us to shoot from the property, and as we did, all he could talk about was how great it was that WrestleMania was in town.

And sitting in the Hockeytown Café downtown (which is a stone's throw from Ford Field), one can't help but notice that WrestleMania is the order of the day; in fact, the marquee outside says that the establishment is the "fan headquarters" for the event. Of course, it's also right across the street from Fox Theatre (host of this weekend's world premiere of The Condemned and the Hall of Fame ceremony), so WWE has monopolized this radius of town.

Just walking down the street, WrestleMania magic is in the air. Nearby, the Joe Louis Arena/Cobo Hall complex features banners of current Red Wings players and past Stanley Cup wins. Intertwined in those? Of course, a few banners for WrestleMania 23.

But even out in the suburbs, WWE's annual spectacular is the order of the day. The Palace of Auburn Hills, home of the Pistons, is about 30 minutes from Ford Field but still buzzing about WrestleMania.

The final stop on our tour, just minutes away from the Palace, was the Pontiac Silverdome. Twenty years to the day that 93,173 people packed the massive structure to watch the event that many say put WWE on the map for good, we stood in the parking lot and could just feel the energy. Closing our eyes, we could see Hulk Hogan bodyslam Andre the Giant en route to handing the Hall of Famer his first defeat in 15 years. We could hear the thunderous ovation from the masses as Howard Finkel announced Ricky Steamboat as the new Intercontinental Champion. Most of all, we could feel the hair raise on our necks as those thoughts washed through our minds. The Silverdome held its final event just weeks ago, but even in disrepair, it's still one of the most important locales in WWE history. For any long-time fan, this may be as much of a "Mecca" of sports-entertainment as Madison Square Garden. The feeling we had standing there? Yeah, that's WrestleMania magic.

The largest crowd to ever see a sports or entertainment event in the metropolitan Detroit area is 93,173. This Sunday, 75,000-plus will pack Ford Field, as WWE recreates history while once again making it. Just this decade, Detroit has seen NHL and NBA Championships, the Super Bowl, the NBA All-Star Game and the largest crowd to ever witness a NCAA men's basketball game. But WrestleMania? It just may be the granddaddy of them all, and it sure feels like it around here.

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