On a national scale, nobody will ever match Tiger Woods’ fall from royalty. (We won’t even bother getting into the details.)
Sammy Sosa is a distant second place, going from hero to Billy Goat in Chicago. Heck, Manti Te’o’s fake girlfriend might have a say in this, too.
On a local scale, the Detroit version of “hero to zero” features four players, one in each major professional franchise.
TIGERS: BOBBY HIGGINSON
After the glorious years of Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, and Cecil Fielder, it appeared “Higgy” would be the next esteemed player of Tigers lore. His blue-collar work ethic and intensity matched the persona of the Motor City. He was a fan favorite for the die-hards in Tiger Stadium’s majestic upper deck, a player many yearned to see end his career on a winning note after drudging through the franchise’s down years.
From 1996-’98, Higginson averaged 26 homers, 89 RBIs and a .301 batting average. He was one of the few reasons to watch Tigers baseball during the Randy Smith era, a player who shined in the outfield and treated every at-bat as if the opposing pitcher spoke badly about his mother.
He keyed a 2000 season that saw the 79-83 Tigers briefly slip into the wild-card race. He batted .300 with 30 homers and 102 RBIs, also leading the majors in outfield assists, all inside sparkling-new Comerica Park.
But then it all went downhill – and the final years were ugly.
His bat speed plummeted. His arms were flimsy wet noodles. He drew the wrath of passionate Detroit fans in 2003 when his stats (.235 average, 14 HR, 52 RBI) fell grossly behind his albatross salary ($11.85 million).
The following season wasn’t much better. And then, after hitting .077 in 26-at bats in 2005, he called it quits.
Sadly, Higgy finished his career without ever being a part of a winning season.
PISTONS: RASHEED WALLACE
He was the lynchpin to the Pistons’ 2004 NBA title that dethroned the Shaq-Kobe era in soap-opera fashion.
‘Sheed was a villain during his Jail Blazer days in Portland, but every Detroiter embraced the complications of his bad-boy past – because Bad Boys belong at The Palace.
He was the glass slipper on the Pistons’ Cinderella run to the Finals, a perfect addition to compensate Big Ben’s dominant defense, Rip Hamilton’s jump shooting and the clutch 3-pointers of Mr. Big Shot, Chauncey Billups.
There was the “Guaran-‘Sheed” before Game 2 at Indiana of the 2004 Eastern Conference Finals. And there was the clutch performance the following year during Game 7 of the Conference Finals at Miami: He scored four points in a 31-second span in the waning minutes to push the Pistons into the NBA Finals for the second straight year.
“Rasheed made about three or four unbelievable plays down the stretch,” Pistons coach Larry Brown said to NBA.com.
A short while later, everything crumbled.
Wallace was the goat in Game 5 of the 2005 Finals. Ahead by two with 9.4 seconds left in overtime, he failed to follow the elementary concept of guarding the inbound passer, Robert Horry, who drilled a wide-open 3-pointer that gave San Antonio a pivotal 3-2 lead in the series and left many Pistons fans teary-eyed.
When Brown was fired in the offseason, it seemed like Wallace’s good behavior left, too.
In the 2006 conference finals, he disappeared against Miami.’Sheed shot below 39 percent from the field in five of six games and became a detriment under first-year coach Flip Saunders, often sitting outside the huddle in timeouts.
Then the kicker: Game 6 of the 2007 conference finals against Cleveland, a meltdown of epic proportions that even a Jail-Blazer-version ‘Sheed couldn’t beat. With 7:44 left on the clock, trailing by 12, the game still within reach despite the bleak outlook, Wallace lost his mind: Two technicals and an ejection, officially imploding the Pistons’ hopes on his own selfish terms.
And don’t forget about his miserable performance in Game 6 of the 2008 Eastern Conference Finals vs. Boston: He was clearly disinterested, 2-for-12 from the field, including 0-for-6 from 3-point land.
After the game, he told the Associated Press, “That’s the end, man,” a hint at the break-up of the Pistons’ championship core.
LIONS: NDAMUKONG SUH
Let’s see. A stomp of Green Bay OL Evan Dietrich-Smith, a flying kick to the groin area of Houston quarterback Matt Schaub, a car crash, a nuisance to metropolitan Detroit drivers, and an egotistical-manic attitude of invincibility that has yet to evaporate.
Ever since his 10-sack, 48-tackle rookie campaign, Suh has been more of a tabloid star than a gridiron hero.
His run-ins with the law include a woman’s $1-million lawsuit, a side-swipe drive-off on the way to practice, and a traffic ticket in Lathrup Village that was videotaped for the public. It’s maddening, because Suh has the potential to be the best defensive tackle in the NFL for the next decade, but to get there, his off-field acts must change.
It’s not a clear-cut certainty that Suh will be re-signed when his contract expires in 2014. Will he follow the footsteps of Charles Rogers, Joey Harrington, Mike Williams and countless other busts? Or will he mature with age and become a wrecking force in the trenches on a year-by-year basis?
RED WINGS: JOHAN FRANZEN
The Mule’s 6-foot-3, 220-pound frame used to be dangerous every time he entered the attacking zone. The 4×6 net appeared puny in comparision to his towering figure and blazing wrist shot. The puck fired off his stick like it had the weight of a pebble. He looked like a high school kid pushing around kindergartners during consecutive trips to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Franzen broke Gordie Howe’s playoff record for most goals in a playoff series with a nine-goal mutilation of Colorado in the second round of 2008. It was part of an 18-point postseason, a key factor as the Wings won their fourth Cup since 1997.
He followed with a 12-goal, 11-assist output in the 2009 playoffs, a run that included a 9-point series against Anaheim in a seven-game second round.
And who can forget his first-period explosion against San Jose in Game 4 of 2010? Three goals in 3:26?
When Franzen is on his game, he’s unstoppable.
But ever since that six-point performance against the Sharks, The Mule has played like My Little Pony: Three goals in his past 14 playoff games.
Today, Wings fans are begging for his departure, for someone to eat the remaining years of the 11-year, $43.5-million deal he signed in April of 2009.
Sorry, Wings fans. You will likely watch his lazy skating through 2019-’20.