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The Greatest, Forgotten Season in Sports History

This year marks the 75th anniversary of possibly the greatest season in sports history. The season belonged to Detroit. And most people forgot all about it. Well, except for 32-year-old Charles Avison, a Detroiter dedicating his career to bringing back the legacy.

First, the untouchable season: In 1935, the Detroit Tigers, Lions and Red Wings won their first championships. Joe Louis went from unknown amateur to international champion; thousands of people nationwide literally danced in the streets after his fights. Detroit was home to champions of diving, golf, sprinting, softball, skeet shooting, billiards, badminton and even checkers. Detroit even had the “Babe Ruth of Speed Boat Racing,” Gar Wood, whose races would bring crowds of up to 600,000 to the Detroit River. Michigan's governor and the Detroit City Council proclaimed April 18 as “Champions Day” for Detroit. The media called Detroit “City of Champions.” No other city has achieved such feats.

Five years ago, Avison first learned of 1935's greatness after finding a brief mention of it in a Tigers statistics guide. As a lifelong Detroit sports fan and history buff, Avison marveled at his discovery. It changed his life. He tried to learn more, but found minimal resources. With old newspaper clippings as his primary source of information, Avison began learning all about the period when, he says, Detroit sports were born.

The good news? “Nobody has taken the ‘City of Champions' title,” according to Avison, “It's still there–we've just forgotten about it,” he said. Avison believes many people chose to toss Depression-era memories, including those of 1935's victories, and concentrate on moving forward after World War II. His full-time job is making sure nobody forgets again. He wants to give people something positive to associate with Detroit. “All I've got is my conviction that this story can bring a positive benefit to not only Detroit, but Michigan, as well,” he said. Avison also feels responsibility to honor the teams involved and provide resources on this deep vein of history.

Avison started his own publishing company, Diomedea, to publish books on this era. He wrote one himself, Detroit: City of Champions, which was published last year, and is working on another. He travels Michigan, informing people of Detroit's standing title and trying to bring back Champions Day as an annual event. And he wants to do it now. “If it is not relevant enough to bring back the story for the 75th anniversary, when will it be relevant?” Avison asked. “Do we have to wait for the 100th anniversary, when the memories are even more faded?”

Coincidentally, the 1935 season happened during the Great Depression, a time when many believed Detroit was hit hardest. “In the middle of the Depression, this season gave the city something that no other city could give its fans,” said Avison. Despite the city's current struggles, he believes this history gives Detroiters something they can still hold onto: pride. “Detroit's already lost enough of its former grandeur. This is one thing that cannot be taken,” he said. “Because even if another city does win three national championships in one season, who are you going to put up against Joe Louis?” Touché, Mr. Avison. So, fans of Detroit Sports and Detroit City, take heart. We have plenty of problems. But we are still Detroit, City of Champions.

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  • 1

    While I have heard the term "City of Champions" in reference to Detroit before, I've never known the origin. Thanks for this article, I always enjoy clarifying and learning new things about the city of Detroit. One more thing: bring back Champions Day!

  • 2

    I consider myself somewhat of a Detroit sports junkie, and had never heard of this. The thing about Detroit'ers and Michiganders is they love their sports and take great pride in their sports. Amidst all of the struggles that Detroit has gone through recently, you still see people in the stands supporting their team (yes, even the Lions). Sports in Detroit are a way for people to escape from their struggles and come together. I support Champions Day.

  • 3

    Crazy interesting. I love history and sport. Good story.

  • 4

    Congratulations TIME for capturing such a great story. As someone who came from the Great Depression, so often we reflect on the negative aspects of that era. It is refreshing to bring light to what Detroit is all about. Let's CELEBRATE and make Champion's Day known. I'm all for the 75th anniversary! Thanks for your drive Mr. Avison!

  • 5

    So wonderful to get a peek of the famed Glory Days of Detroit! Hopefully more people will be inspired and motivated to be a champion for the city of Detroit in any way they can. Thank you TIME for this inspiring article!

  • 6

    I have lived in the Detroit area my entire life, while it has been only 50 years I have never heard of this.
    Guess the Tigers are great for bring the city pride even during the Riots it was the only thing Detroit had going

  • 7

    This story is wonderful! Charles worked long and hard on this one. I have a copy of the book, which Charles advertised well, by educating the public at malls, festivals and libraries. These places were not just in Detroit either. Avison is passionate about Detroit, and 'City of Champions' proves that. If only the powers that be in Motown would be as dedicated as Charles.

  • 8

    In all that is going on in Detroit right now...I must say that the city needs this. This story is remarkable and has the ability to provide a ray of glimmering hope for a city that has undergone some very rough times. The truly humerous part is when Pittsburg called themselves the city of champions with only 2 championships in one year. Boston came close but the Patriots ruined that. Detroit needs something to feel positive about and this is it! I wish that more people in the city of Detroit knew the story so that when this anniversary came around they has something to celebrate. For all those that don't know this story and want to learn more, I found Charles' Book its at , I would love to see Time take this story to the next level. I would buy an issue that featured this article!

  • 9

    I met Charles at an art fair in the metro Detroit area last year and purchased his book there as a gift for my father-in-law, who is a big Detroit sports fan, especially the Tigers. Having lived near Detroit my whole life, I never knew about this season until meeting Charles and speaking with him. It is so important for more people to know about this, especially around here. Detroit is known for so many negative things and is viewed as an awful place by much of the country. We really need this positive thing to be proud of and to celebrate. Since no other city has accomplished this feat, it is also important that those outside of Detroit know about this too. Time, please put this in your print magazine! I would buy one!

  • 10

    Men, if you've got hair on your chest, then bust out the beers, nudy magazines, and turn on the game. Charles is a man's scholar! His dedication to the greatness of the city of Detroit is both inspiring and virile. As a die hard sports fan of Detroit teams I ask myself "why was this great day forgotten!" The people of Detroit and the Nation need to know again. People need to dream again. And people need to be inspired to believe that anything is possible even if the nations economy is in the dumps. Charles, tell the world about Champions Day! I support any effort to bring back one of the most historic years in sports history! I look forward to hearing more about Champions Day and hope to read more on the subject!.............................sway

  • 11

    I was on holiday in Detroit in November catching up with old friends when i met this guy Charles at the shopping centre ( mall , sorry im Scottish ) , after chatting to him i was amazed about this part of history that was somehow forgotten , what an achievment to have for any city .
    When i got back home i couldnt get this out of my head , so went online and found Mr Avison s book , bought it ,read it and loved it, never met someone so passionate and determined about anything before its infectious.
    Im getting Scotland hooked on this too


  • 12

    Truly Detroit is the real City of Champions. I cannot believe the city itself is not standing behind this plea to get this holiday reinstated. No other city has or probably will again accomplish this feat. With all that Detroit has gone through, let alone Michigan , you would think anyone in "power" would use would it could to do to bring this state into recognition that it deserves. Please help our cause. Bring back Champions Day, and thank you Charles Avison for all of your hard work and effort to bring back Champions Day (Love the book!!)

    Kim and Morrie Andrews
    Grand Rapids Michigan

    Thank You.

  • 13

    Pretty amazing story really... What other city can boast three championships... let alone those three being the FIRST three that city received. It must have been an amazing time to live in Michigan.

    I'll second what so many others have said that this is a story that I really didn't know about until very recently. We need to get more people aware and involved in Bringing Back Champions Day!

  • 14

    Fantastic!!! Who knew!?! Thanks Charles for bringing this to our attention. What a HUGE accomplishment for Detroit (and all Detroit fans)! Finally something positive for Detroit. We all know the big "D" could use a little positive attention for a change! What a better way then by "Bringing Back Champions Day!" Let's share it across the U.S.! In fact, across the world!

  • 15

    Being a Detroiter and a Detroit sports buff, I was amazed that I did not know that this occured! Nice article.

  • 16

    There are plenty of positive things happening in Detroit. People just don't care to focus on them. All they care about is the negitives. When the fact is there is violence and crime in every city! Big or small!

  • 17

    This is a fascinating story. A fact this major that has been disregarded is a good analogy of the city of Detroit itself.

  • 18

    We need to bring back Champions Day. I can't believe we have forgotten all about this important day. Good job Charles for bringing this to light.

  • 19

    With all of the professional sports reporters and journalists how could a statistic like this go unnoticed and forgotten for so many years? Without question we need to bring back Champion's Day and restore the city of Detroit's deserved recognition.

  • 20

    [...] since we all love Detroit sports history, I want all my fellow Detroit Lions football fans to check out detroit.blogs.time and tell me what you think about[...]

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