It’s playoff time, and that means one thing in Detroit: octopus.
The tradition of throwing octopus on the ice began back in 1952. Brothers Pete and Gerry Cusimano, being from a fish market family, thought that an octopus would be the perfect good luck symbol for the Red Wings. It had eight legs, and the Wings needed eight straight wins for the Stanley Cup. Made sense to them, anyways.
They brought their first octopus to Game 3 against the Canadiens. Pete threw the octopus on the ice after Gordie Howe scored his first goal. Official George Hays, one of the portlier linesman, skated over to remove it from the ice. When he reached down and saw what it was, both skates came off the ice and he skated away.
Seeing this, Detroit defenseman Marcel Pronovost skated over and hit it with his stick. This caused one of the tentacles to move, and Pronovost decided to skate elsewhere. The players stood around nervously until a groundskeeper removed the octopus with a shovel.
The good luck charm worked, it seems, as Detroit did win in eight straight. Pete and Gerry’s dad, however, didn’t care for octopus throwing. At the time, octopus were a delicacy imported from Portugal and cost $4.00 a pound. Every time he saw them take an octopus to the rink, he’d complain that they were throwing away a meal.
The key to getting the octopus onto the ice was a good pre-game boil. “If you try to throw an octopus raw, it tends to get away from you,” Pete told journalist George Plimpton. “It’s slippery; hasn’t got any bones or anything. If you boil it, the octopus shrivels up a bit and you can get a handle on it. Even so, you have to sling the octopus stiff-armed and kind of sideways, like tossing a hand grenade.”
Pete was once asked if he’d ever attempted to throw the octopus at someone. “Once I tried to hit Ted Kennedy of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Missed him and hit Vic Lynn of the Red Wings. As I was saying, it’s hard to throw an octopus with pinpoint accuracy,” he replied.
Ever since then, throwing octopus during Wings’ play-off games has become a tradition. Even instituting a $100 fine plus arrest didn’t deter fans. Now though, fans are just as likely to throw stuffed octopus.
Oddly, Joe Louis Arena does not specifically ban octopus, but they do threaten to cancel season tickets and prosecute anyone caught "throwing items in the arena."
There's nothing like tradition.