Sometimes, the last thing a city needs - particularly one with self-esteem and self-image issues - is for the Super Bowl to show up.
Put Detroit in that category. Don't worry too much about Detroiters arguing the point. They're in for a lot of gratuitous smirking and cynicism from out-of-towners, as most Super Bowl host sites have been, except for Miami, San Diego and the City Formerly Known as New Orleans.
But there's nothing exaggerated about the ills that have befallen Detroit in recent months, both in the industry that has defined it for the past century and in the chief sports diversion that has failed to divert its misery.
The auto industry is bad. And so are the Lions.
There is a common bond between the two, unfortunately for that bond: the name Ford. That name will be beamed around the world this week as Sunday's game approaches, because the host stadium bears the name and because the owner of the team is a descendant of Henry himself.
But the Ford Motor Co. and Lions owner William Clay Ford have had a miserable winter, and the pageantry and spectacle surrounding the game in his city will be hard-pressed to divert all attention from that.
The NFL isn't responsible for that, but it is guilty of bad timing and a touch of arrogance. When the city was awarded the game in 2000, no one could have predicted the calamitous trouble the American car business would endure right when the world arrived for its big party. It could have guessed that the Lions would still stink - they've won one playoff game since 1957 and haven't gone since 1999 - but one can always hope for a miracle.
Then again, Detroit then is much of what it is now, and the gratitude of the league office to the Ford family for building a new, taxpayer-funded stadium is what put the game back in a cold-weather, economically deprived city. The excesses of a Super Bowl and the woes of Detroit are a bad juxtaposition that can't be ignored. But the NFL asked for it.
By the way, as it was suggested in this space last Sept. 15, don't swallow what the league and city officials are feeding you about the Super Bowl's impact to the local economy. They're saying $300 million. Dozens of economists who don't have their hands in any league's or city's pocket have debunked such figures for years. UMBC economics professor Dennis Coates said then of the prospect of post-Katrina New Orleans being revived with a Super Bowl: "Whether a stadium or a Super Bowl can save a city financially, definitely not."
So, Detroit shouldn't get its hopes up this week.
Ask locals what depresses them most, the stunning news of Ford's planned layoffs and plant closings or the latest Lions belly-flop, and odds are good that the potential loss of 30,000 jobs (announced earlier this month) would win out. It's the latest in what seems like four decades of devastating news that has kept the local and state unemployment rate disturbingly high.
Since October, major auto-parts supplier Delphi has declared bankruptcy and put 24,000 jobs in jeopardy, Ford has announced its "adjustments" and General Motors has made plans to cut up to 24,000 jobs, thanks to losses in 2005 of $8.6 billion, with a B.
At that rate, the Motor City nickname is destined to be as anachronistic as Steel City is for the home of the AFC champions.
Yet the depression has yet to inspire Detroiters to go into full-revolt mode. That was left to Lions fans, who finally snapped with about a month to go in another lost 5-11 season. First came the "Fire Millen" signs at the games, then the signs at road stadiums, then anywhere Detroit teams played in any sport. Then came the Web sites and petitions and, finally, the Dec. 18 protest known alternately as the Angry Fan March and (my preference) the Millen Man March.
Sure, the nominal target of this was inept Lions vice president Matt Millen. But the true target was the emcee of this week's festivities, the Lions' owner since 1964, William Clay Ford. One fan at the march reportedly wore a cap with a play on one of the car company's slogans, "Blame Ford First."
Another was quoted by the Associated Press as saying, "I don't think this is going to change anything, with the way the Fords are. But we have to do something so that they know we care."
Now, on www.firemillen.com, there is talk of actual Detroit fans - whoever can manage to get into Ford Field, since tickets for home-team fans are severely limited in favor of big corporate spenders - bringing their "Fire Millen" gear to the Super Bowl. Can't imagine that would generate smiles in the owners' box during the game.
Then again, if the music is loud enough this week, the searchlights bright enough and the champagne bubbly enough, maybe nobody will notice.
Read David Steele's blog at baltimoresun.com/steeleblog