There are so many reasons why Michele Wayman wanted to come early to see the Detroit Red Wings players walk the red carpet one last time into Joe Louis Arena.
Her dad was a die-hard fan who took her to many games while she was growing up in Orchard Lake. She rang in New Years Eve at The Joe in 1999. She remembers going to the last game at the Detroit Tigers’ stadium, and thought the nostalgia and energy would be similar.
“This is like the end of an era,” said Wayman. “It’s good to see people coming together in Detroit.”
Wayman was among thousands of Metro Detroiters and others as far away as the Netherlands who arrived hours before the historic last game on Sunday at The Joe to be a part of the red-carpet activities before the 5 p.m. game.
Clad in Red Wings jerseys and other familiar team garb, fans lined the steps, the Detroit riverfront and the guardrails marking off the red carpet. Some arrived a few hours after sunrise and began lining up to catch a glimpse, grab an autograph or even pose for a selfie with Red Wings players and alumni.
“You come to see the players one last time and send them off,” said Rob Clark, a Clinton Township resident among the first to arrive Sunday morning outside The Joe. “It’s bittersweet.”
Others came to be a part of Detroit’s sports history.
“You can’t ever come back to The Joe again,” said Michelle Brier, a Swartz Creek resident. “It’s the last game here.”
While many came from around the region, the last games at The Joe lured Vincent Hoftyzer and Joan Hartog from their home in the Netherlands for a week in Detroit.
The couple has been following the Wings for years, starting after Hoftyzer got a PlayStation in 1997 and a National Hockey Legaue game was included. At the time, the Red Wings had the highest rating and soon he became a fan, traveling to games in Detroit but also to Colorado and Toronto. For them, coming to Detroit for the last games was an important part of their allegiance to the Wings. So they’ve spent thousands of dollars on plane tickets, hotel costs and game tickets.
“It’s a bit sad,” said Hoftyzer said. “The Joe has had so many moments.”
Added Hartog: “It has its own spirit here.”
Players began arriving after the sun came out and the crowds grew bigger. First to arrive was Red Wings Captain Henrik Zetterberg, then Frans Nielsen and then goalie Jimmy Howard.
Soon after, Red Wings alums walked the carpet including Nicklas Lidstrom, Mike Vernon, Chris Chelios, Vladimir Konstantinov, Tomas Holmstrom, Joe Kocur, Chris Osgood and former coach Scotty Bowman.
In all, more than 100 current and past players streamed past. They walked down the carpet, stopping to shake hands with fans, take pictures and sign jerseys, hats and posters.
“You are all part of history!” said Erich Freiny, Red Wings public address announcer, to the crowd.
Along the route was Craig Bowles, a Northville resident and 32 year season ticket holder.
“It feels tremendous, just to see all the fans, all the players, to remember all the history,” Bowles said, with Diane, his wife of 38 years.
Asked how he felt about the new stadium for the Wings, he said he’s ready.
“Can’t wait for it,” Bowles said.