Monday, December 22, 2008

The last thing these Detroit Lions need is hope


If you're a Lions fan — and, believe me, there are still thousands out there (somehow) — you should be ecstatic right now. You should be more excited now than you were at this time in 2001, 2002, '03, '04, '05, '06, and '07.

And you should ask for a Cheese Head for Christmas or Hanukkah.

Why? Well, it's obvious. The Detroit Lions have finally stunk so bad, have finally proved so incapable — from ownership, to the front office, to the coaches, to the players, to the vendors — that they're on the brink of history.

A loss in frigid Green Bay Sunday, where they haven't won since '91, and the Lions will be the NFL's first 0-16 team.

And when it comes to the Lions, 0-16 seems like the only result that will get people in the organization to take a long look in the mirror and exclaim, "Nothing is working!"

Since Detroit last had a winning season, going 9-7 in 2000, it has been consistently bad. There was the 2-14 campaign in 2001 and the one-win improvement to 3-13 the following year. Then came 5-11 seasons, with a 6-10 march to nothing sandwiched in-between. Under current coach Rod Marinelli, Detroit started bad (3-13), gained a quartet of wins to 7-9, and now, well, you know...

But not until now, and perfectly coinciding with all the other depressing news choking the Motor City, has a sense of despair overtook this morbid, one-playoff-win-since-1957 franchise.

I would always laugh after previous 5-11 seasons, when people predicted the Lions to make the playoffs; when a radio host actually picked them to advance to the NFC championship game; when, after drafting yet another "big-play" wide receiver, everyone gushed over how unstoppable Detroit's offense was going to be.

I'm not making this stuff up. I lived a 40-minute drive from Ford Field up until the 2007 season, and every August overly priced tickets were sold, prognosticators forecast division championships...and then, sometimes after a couple wins, everything went downhill.

I don't consider myself the smartest person, but I must admit I'm proud of never getting caught up in Lions Fever. Even last year, when Detroit got out to a 6-2 start and everyone from Monroe to Pontiac was asking about playoff tickets. Around 2003 I told myself that I'd never predict the Lions to make the playoffs—that is, until they actually made the playoffs (if that makes sense).

So the fans continued flocking to Ford Field, filling the already-heavy pockets of owner William Clay Ford, and the Lions continued to lose. And, sure, coaches were fired. But Matt Millen stayed on board as general manager, many ineffective players were retained, and there was never talk of an "overhaul."

(On a side note, how sad is it that after the Detroit Pistons made the Eastern Conference finals for the sixth straight season last May and lost to the Boston Celtics, fans called for Joe Dumars to blow up the team. Yet after the Lions put together a seventh consecutive losing season, there was no such talk?)

Now, at long last, the memo has been sent: The Lions suck, they're terrible, they're awful. The offense. The defense. Special teams. The coaching staff. All of it.

"The Detroit Lions are the worst franchise in major American professional sports."

If I had said that even a year ago, I'm sure there would have been plenty of dissenters. But now? Outside of some baseball fans in Pittsburgh, I think a good portion of American sports fans would agree.

"Over the past eight years, no franchise has been worse than the Detroit Lions."

But it's taken an 0-15 season — hopefully soon to be the first 0-16 campaign — to dampen the spirit of the team's faithful and sometimes, sadly, extremely docile supporters. Finally, Ford Field has experienced empty seats; five of the last six games failed to sell out, with Tennessee's butt-whoopin' of the Lions on Thanksgiving the lone exception.

Only 49,309 people attended Sunday's home finale against the Saints, a tidy 42-7 New Orleans victory. It was the second-smallest crowd since the stadium opened in 2002.

The Lions intentionally made the capacity of the stadium (65,000) about 15,000 less than that of the team's former home, the Pontiac Silverdome (80,311), in an attempt to avoid TV cameras panning oceans of empty seats during games. The move worked for six and a half seasons.

But a team that can't win — at all — changes things. Even in Detroit.

Now, of course, the positive thing (I guess) is that as long as things go according to plan at Lambeau Field Sunday, this franchise will have nowhere to go but up (I think). And it is my hope that wholesale changes will be made in an effort to do just that.

With Ford in charge, however, who knows what will be done. There's a good chance the Lions will never make the playoffs under his ownership. That's simply one of those sad facts of life.

But here's what will happen over the next eight months as a result of this historic season:

1. There will be no positive predictions for the 2009 team.

2. No returning players — if there are any — will allow themselves to get fat thinking about improvements that were made during the season and late-season victories that created meaningless momentum.

3. Whoever is coaching the team will ride his staff and players harder than a jockey rides his horse coming down the stretch run of the Derby.

4. And Lions fans will finally expect the worse, regardless of whom their team drafts, knowing that their team is terrible until it proves otherwise.

I, for one, can't wait until the 2009 season. Let's call it the "Season of Realistic Expectations for the Lions."

Then, maybe, we'll be pleasantly surprised when something good happens on the field.


Peter Robert Casey said...

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Please let me know if you would be interested.

Your's in Hoops,
Peter Robert Casey

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