The Michigan Daily - Monday, September 10, 1990 - Page 13
magic missing in
It's hard to say goodbye to an old friend - leaving for another school,
'Wther job, another state, or another life.
It can choke you up.
For the past few years, I have written about the friendship I struck up
with an, older man who's in his late 60's, looks in his 70's, acts like he's in
hi$ 20's and shows the enthusiasm of a person not yet in double digits.
His name is Joe Diroff, but to most people, he's simply known as The
Brow. Joe's claim to fame is an eyebrow which literally starts on one side
of' his face and does not stop until well past his other eye. In between it
bushes out a couple of inches.
He's also known for his cheerleading. While no Detroit sports team can
'e about a public relations gimmick such as the Phillie Fanatic, the San
ego Chicken, or any other monstrosity, all Detroit teams can call the
Brow their own.
And he's human.
He'll be there, cheering, even if two (or three) of the local teams are
competing at the same time. A few years ago, the Detroit Pistons faced a
big playoff game at the Silverdome, the Tigers were in the pennant race at
Tiger Stadium, and the Red Wings were skating in front of a sold out
playoff crowd at Joe Louis Arena. The Tigers started at 7:30, the Red Wings
8:00, and the Pistons 9:00 and an hour drive away.
Brow showed up at all three places, performed his show, and moved
You can call him an old fogey, not knowing what to do with his old age.
You can yell and howl for him to sit down and shut up because you're
trying to watch a game, not some sideshow.
But fans enjoyed him, and the spirit he employed made everyone smile.
You at least can laugh when you see a man approaching the mandatory
retirement age dancing at half court in a variation of an old World War II
dance step. The hands would fly in the air, the feet would reach as high as
the waist, and the word "PUMP" would pop out of the mouth.
That was The Brow.
To him, sports means more than just a box score in the next day's
wspaper. It's about a city, it's people, and the mood the town takes.
Simply put, sports bring people together. A town can get behind a team,
and for a day, maybe a season, some of life's problems are forgotten. A
team winning a championship or having a good year can make racial
problems and prejudices disappear faster than any public service
As Joe said a few years ago, "Sports are good for the community. When
a community has problems, people need a lift and sports can give that lift.
Through sports, race, color, or creed make no difference. It brings a
* It's something the Brow learned after all his years working with people.
After teaching in the Dearborn and Detroit public school system, Brow
retired. Instead of just wasting away in a rocking chair, he became motivated
to try to put something back in the community. He knew he could dance,
and he knew he could make signs - something he told one of his grade
school teachers years ago. He also loved sports. Together, he soon created
Handmade signs were carried to the park and to the airport, where he
would greet the team when they departed or arrived back home from a road
trip. Tiger announcer Ernie Harwell recalls a time the team got off their
flight at the Windsor airport at 3:00 in the morning.
Brow wouldn't be there, the team thought. Couldn't be - across the
'rder, middle of the night, too late for the old guy.
Then the cheers arose. A scream of encouragement. And a bright colored
,row was there.
Although, when Brow travels, he usually never gets to stay too long.
The Fabulous Forum security forcefully removed him in Los Angeles at
the NBA Finals after not taking kindly to his behind-the-bench partisan
cheering. This year, both Portland and Chicago gave Brow an early exit
from their arenas.
pandemonium, the energy and enthusiasm that the Brow was expelling had
him pumping and pushing those squeezers.
However, this time, they were full. And the first two rows of onlookers
faced going home and trying to explain to their wife how they ended up
doused with ketchup and mustard.
That's the Brow.
Then there's the well publicized incident when the Red Wings first went
to the Stanley Cup semi-finals in Edmonton under Jacques Demers. They
had just been eliminated and Brow joined them on their flight home.
Their season had a finality to it. No more games. No Stanley Cup. But
soon there was a hat being passed among the players. Later, Joe was handed
a handful of money, over $300 as a sign of the team's appreciation. The
player's asked Brow to lead them in a cheer. And he belted out the time
honored classic, "Strawberry Shortcake."
Ah, yes, Strawberry Shortcake.
For the past six years, I have coached a softball team of young boys and
the last three have brought us championships. The first time we clinched
after a couple years of so-close heartbreak, I invited the Brow to cheer at our
game. He graciously accepted, drove for an hour, and cheered my team on.
With the score tied in the sixth inning, Joe felt the team needed a lift. He
entered the dugout and told them it was time for a cheer.
Not Hammer Time.
It was Strawberry Shortcake Time.
And there was no way you could touch this. When the second line of the
cheer came around (Gooseberry Pie) the upper dentures went flying out of
He graciously caught them, stuck them in his pocket, and carried on.
But something sad has happened since the humorous events I have just
This year, Brow never made it to my softball championship game. And
he's been missing Lions and Tigers games too. After asking around, I found
he was in the hospital.
I went to visit and walked in his room. There he laid.
The vitality of the Brow was no longer there. He didn't care about sports
too much either. Instead he moaned and talked incoherently.
Here was a man who enjoyed life. Made others enjoy it by his actions.
Improved the human condition. Didn't have a bad bone in his body. Didn't
cause the problems that plague our cities. Only worked to improve them.
But somehow, for some odd reason, - in the middle of his travels, of
cheering a basketball team to victory in Portland, a hockey team in
Edmonton, or a softball team in Troy - he was robbed of the enthusiastic
The good life was gone. The memory and mind had started to fade and
tests had yet to prove anything conclusive. Now, instead of hitting the Tiger
game, Joe was confined to a bed. He wasn't the same person anymore.
It didn't seem that life was fair.
The next night, I sat on the first base side of Tiger Stadium. The crowd
was large - the Oakland A's were in town.
Instinctively, I looked for the Brow.
It was quiet.
There was no noise.
There was no spontaneous cheer, no yell of "CUUUUUT" when a pitch
neared an opposing batter, no rhythmic applause, and no man dancing in the
aisles, his hands ascending towards the heavens as if his legs and arms were
pulled by a string.
There was no Brow.
It didn't seem right. It didn't seem fair.
And it isn't the same anymore.
Good luck Joe, and get well.
The Brow, otherwise known as Joe Diroff, came to Yost Ice Arena in 1989
to offer his support for the Wolverines in a game against Michigan State.
The sign reads: 'M' will cream Spartan team.
But his fervor extends to more than sports. He's done cheers at senior
citizen homes, Ronald Reagan political rallies, the Pope's trip to Detroit,
and the opening of a new church in a building that had special ties to Joe.
You see, Brow's from an old neighborhood in Detroit, living on the
Northwest side. He's seen the neighborhood change. Last year, his longtime
Catholic Church was ordered closed by the Archbishop of Detroit for
The order stuck in Joe's soul like a knife. This was the place he attended
Mass for years. Saw his nine kids grow up there. You can't close up those
memories. He threatened to sit on the steeple if they attempted to tear it
He fought the closing.
After it finally shut its doors for the last time, he filed a lawsuit in court,
paying over $100 of his own money to do so. It failed. Brow lost. There
were no bottom of the ninth comebacks left. A Protestant church bought his
beloved Saint Monica's parish.
What would he do the first time it reopened to this new crowd? Would he
fight to keep these prospectors out of his church'?
Nope. He showed up with signs to this now predominantly Black
church. Did cheers. Welcomed them to their new home.
And why not, he said? Detroit Mayor Coleman Young praised Brow's
actions as a sign of throwing away stereotypes and making the community
So that's the Brow.
Yet this is the Brow too. Grab a ketchup squeezer. And a mustard one
Why aren't the Yankees going to win?They can't Ketch-up.
Why can't they catch up? They can't cut the Mustard.
Can you relish that?
That's the new cheer Brow invented this year. He carried empty squeezers
of ketchup and mustard around so he could perform his poetic work. But a
few months ago, he went golfing with his sons and in the clubhouse
someone handed him the ketchup'and mustard squeezy bottles on the table
and asked him to do the cheer.
The whole crowd loved it. And at the end, through all the excitement and
INTRAMURAL SPORTS PROGRAM
ALL CAMPUS, CO-RECREATION, AND FRATERNITY
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 11, 1990
11AM - 4:30PM INTRAMURAL SPORTS BUILDING
ALL CAMPUS TENNIS TOURNAMENT
ENTRIES DUE: WED., SEPTEMUER 12, -1990
4:30PM INTRAMURAL SPORTS BUILDING
TOURNAMENT DATES: SUNDAYS, SEPT. 16, 23, 1990
Outdoor Recreation Program
Wall Climbing Clinic
Wednesday, September 12, 1990 7 - 8:30pm Sports Coliseum
Call 764-3967 to register
C ar t touch this!'
Daily ' :
WIL ~efine IF Yo
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*he Brow offers his congratulations to a champagne-soaked Mike Gili
after his team won the 1989 softball title.
MOVING UP HAS A WHOLE
DIFFERENT MEANING FOR
AIR FORCE ROTC CADETS.
Virtually all college students plan to move up in their
career. But Air Force ROTC cadets can begin the train-
ing toward a career that goes higher and faster. In fact, if
you'd like to begin a life in the sky, your best first step is
Air Force ROTC.
You'll learn the confidence you'll need whether
you're going to plot a course as a navigator or take the
controls as a pilot. FAA-approved flight lessons will
launch you for the first time. And as your college career
develops, so do the skills you'll need as an Air Force
Begin early in college, and you'll be eligible for schol-
arships that can pay expenses and provide you $100
each academic month, tax-free. After graduation, you'll
be ready to take the challenge of an intensive. rigorous
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