December 13, 2006 at 1:00 am

June 28, 1976

Bob Seger's homecoming at Pontiac Stadium

After years of struggle, Seger burst out of the funky bars and into stadium shows after the success of his 1975 album "Beautiful Loser" and the live album "Live Bullet," released in early '76. His June 1976 show at the Pontiac Silverdome, then still called "Pontiac Stadium," was a key step in his transition from Detroit's best-kept secret to national rock star. Detroit News reporter Lowell Cauffiel accompanied Seger and the band on their way to his biggest gig yet.

It was in the final minutes of daylight Saturday and, viewed from the east, Pontiac Stadium formed an enormous silhouette against a brilliant orange sky.

Rock singer/songwriter Bob Seger was eyeing the sight through the window of his approaching, rented limousine.

"There it is -- looming in the sunset. No, I'm not nervous," he chuckled, pulling two cigarettes out of a pack at once.

Inside the stadium were 67,000 loyal and zealous Michigan fans -- the high point of Seger's performing career, which began only a few miles away in a Pontiac bowling alley where he used to sing 14 years ago.

With Seger at age 31 finally gaining wider, national recognition Detroit-area fans have long claimed he's deserved, the concert represented the biggest coming-out celebration in Michigan's musical history.

Seger grew up in Ann Arbor, the son of the late Stewart Seger, a first-aid medic who worked for 22 years in the Ford Rouge plant and moonlighted as a saxophonist and leader of his own 13-piece orchestra.

After being discovered in the early '60s by his current manager and then local teen club owner Ed "Punch" Andrews, the young Seger embarked on a recording career that's since led to nine albums and almost two dozen singles.

Most were hits -- but only in the Detroit area and parts of the Midwest.

Appropriately, the Motor City claimed Seger as its own, calling him "Detroit's best-kept secret."

Also dubbed the "prince of Detroit rock 'n' roll," the singer's never forsaken his roots, still maintaining a home in the area despite the lure of the country's entertainment centers on the East and West coasts.

It was his recent album, "Live Bullet," -- recorded at Cobo Arena last year -- that fueled new popularity for the singer, climbing higher on the national record charts than any previous LP.

"His music, well it's just fantastic," said 16-year-old Randy Jordan of Taylor. He was wearing a Bob Seger T-shirt and sitting on the main floor of the stadium.

"The reason people around Detroit like him so much is because, like he says, 'Detroit is the rock capital of the world.' "

While Jordan and others -- concertgoers ranging in age from early teens to middle 30's -- waited for the performance to begin, Seger and the five members of his Silver Bullet Band were trying to control the heebie jeebies in their dressing room.

"It's just another gig," rationalized guitarist Drew Abbott, who hails from Royal Oak. "Funny, there's been 140 people who've asked me about my nerves. They're more shook than I am."

"Don't believe them for a minute," said Seger's companion, Jan Dinsdale, as she watched the musicians warming up on their instruments. "They're scared."

Seger was pacing about, having doubts about a new white outfit made specially for the show, undecided whether to wear sunglasses on stage and apparently as worried about his fans as his wardrobe.

"I have sort of a guilt complex about playing here," he said. "It's so big and I'm worried about that barricade wall in front of the stage. Anybody that's standing against it is going to be Jell-O by the time this thing is over. I hope nobody gets hurt."

When Seger and the band did appear, they were greeted by an overwhelming roar from the sold-out crowd, homemade banners bearing his name and bottle rockets and display fireworks shot upwards by fans from the main floor.

"Hey, Deeeeeeeeeetroit!" he shouted, and the mere mention of the city in following songs drew cheers.

As the singer moved through more than a dozen hits like "Katmandu," 'Back in '72," "Lookin' Back," "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man" and "Beautiful Loser," the crowd roared with approval.

At musical high points, the sea of humanity on the main floor moved up and down in waves.

Bodies were standing and clapping even in the high, back rows of the stadium, as Seger appeared to make the giant structure seem as intimate as a small concert hall.

Remarkably, pushing and shoving was at a minimum in front of the stage.

Seger and the band -- Abbott, Charlie Martin, Chris Campbell, Robyn Robbins and Alto Reed, all homegrown musicians -- were awarded three encores embellished by thousands of lit matches and further barrages of fireworks.

Wrote the rock bible, Rolling Stone magazine, in a recent review of Seger:

"He works his heart out and perhaps tells us something special about what it means to be the average guy -- with or without a guitar."

Said one 21-year-old fan after the sweat-drenched Seger disappeared into the stadium's catacombs at the finale:

"You know, for some reason I feel kind of proud."