Detroit, Michigan has been the home of some of the baddest, some of the meanest, and no doubt some of the toughest professional athletes to ever play their respective sports. In honor of Halloween, we take a look at ten of the scariest guys to ever wear a Detroit uniform. I made the list in no particular order to let you decide who’s number one.
Bill “His Heinous” Laimbeer
Bill Laimbeer was the baddest of the Bad Boys and deservingly so. For most Detroit Pistons fans, if Laimbeer didn’t play for your team, you would most definitely hate him too. He took pride in the dirty work and I do mean dirty. A skilled rebounder who had a smooth shooting stroke for a big man, Laimbeer became notorious in the 1980s as a player that didn’t hold back on the court and got the job done by any means necessary. He’s the type of guy you would want on your side at all times and never a part of the opposition.
Darren “Big Mac” McCarty
If there is one Detroit athlete that exemplifies the brute grit of the town, it is probably McCarty. An Ontario-born winger who was drafted in 1992 by the Detroit Red Wings, McCarty quickly picked up a reputation as a player who didn’t back down from a fight. This is no more evident than by his infamous fight with Colorado Avalanche forward Claude Lemieux that some say broke the Wings’ 42 year Stanley Cup curse. He went on to win four Cups with the Wings as a part of the legendary “Grind Line.”
Ndamukong “Kong” Suh
Probably the most feared defender to ever don the Honolulu Blue and Silver, the Detroit Lions drafted Ndamukong Suh with the No. 2 pick of the 2010 NFL Draft, and general manager Martin Mayhew has said that it wasn’t even a second thought about the decision. Much was made of the way Suh exited Detroit but there is no denying what he meant for the franchise while he played here. He brought undeniable talent and a mean streak that made the Lions defensive line among the NFL’s best while he was a part of it. Sometimes this mean streak got him into more trouble than he could handle but Suh’s presence on the field made the jobs of the other ten defenders playing alongside him that much easier.
“Terrible” Ted Lindsay
Standing at only 5-foot-8, Ted Lindsay was told early on in his hockey career that he would have to either have another growth spurt or play larger and tougher than his size. He chose the latter and never looked back. Scoring over 800 points in his NHL career, Lindsay helped the Red Wings to four Stanley Cup titles in the early fifties as a key figure of the team’s “Production Line” along with the likes of Sid Abel and Gordie Howe. His hits were notoriously unrelenting in a time when no masks were worn. He even stood up to league brass for the sake of the first NHL player’s union which eventually led to his trade to Chicago in 1957.
Dick “Night Train” Lane
Hall of Fame Lions’ defensive back Dick Lane holds what is possibly the most impressive NFL record to date. He recorded 14 interceptions as a rookie in an era when the season was a lot shorter and teams passed the ball a lot less. Being a ball hawk was not all he was known for. His punishing hits while he played for the Cardinals and Lions, were so lethal that he was bestowed the nickname “Night Train” because offensive players would always say they never saw him coming. Way before there was Richard Sherman’s and Deion Sanders’, there was Dick “Night Train” Lane. What a name.
Thomas “The Hitman” Hearns
If you’ve never heard of the “Motor City Cobra” then you may know much less about the sport of boxing than you think. Hearns fighting career ranks among the all-time greats and it started, and ended, in Detroit. He grew up tough by slap boxing on the Motor City’s tough east side streets and was groomed in Detroit’s infamous Kronk Gym. He became a devastating knockout puncher and would go on to become the first fighter in history to win five world title belts in five different divisions. Hearns remains a prominent figure in the Detroit sports scene to this day.
Ty “The Georgia Peach” Cobb
One of the greatest baseball players that ever walked this planet is also the greatest Detroit Tiger to ever walk this planet. The word “scary” doesn’t even begin to tell the story of Ty Cobb. His temper on the diamond was as hot as lava and he was known as an aggressor on and off the baseball field. Cobb wrote shortly before his death, “In legend, I am a sadistic, slashing, swashbuckling despot who waged war in the guise of sport.” Cobb remains a legend of the game of baseball whether people liked him or not.
“Big Ben” Wallace
As a teenage kid growing up in Detroit, I idolized many athletes of the early 2000’s. None quite struck a chord in my soul the way that Ben Wallace did. He was the epitome of hard work and blue-collar attitude. The tenth of eleven children, Wallace grew up in rural Alabama and was virtually unknown to the basketball world until Charles Oakley discovered him and advised the coaches at Div. II Virginia Union University to give him a shot. He popped on a few NBA radars but ended up going undrafted and spent his first four seasons with the Wizards and Magic before landing in Detroit in 2000. He would go on to become one of the true Piston greats and one of the best defensive players the league has ever seen. His number (3) will be retired by the Pistons this year.
Cory “The Sledge” Schlesinger
Most people don’t remember the names of fullbacks. It’s a dying position in the NFL. But the Lions’ Cory Schlesinger may be one of the few exceptions. Maybe it was his extended neck roll. Maybe it was the beard. Or maybe it just was the way he played the game. Schlesinger played almost his entire career for the Lions and through many losing seasons he became the constant never-say-never presence on the team. He was known for his great pass-catching ability out of the backfield as well as the main lead blocker for the iconic Barry Sanders. Being in this man’s blocking lanes was never the right idea.
Joe Kocur & Bob Probert – “The Bruise Brothers”
During the mid-late ’80s there was not a more feared duo in the NHL than Joe Kocur and Bob Probert. Affectionately dubbed the “Bruise Brothers” by fans and media alike, they set team records for penalty minutes and were the definition of enforcers. Red Wings faithful will forever remember these two as guys who didn’t back down from a fight and often were the ones instigating it. The late Probert would go on to become the Wings’ all-time leader in penalty minutes and Kocur is not too far behind him at second.