Full disclosure: I’m a fan of all Detroit sports teams.
I can’t help it, I was born into it. My parents had season tickets to both the Lions and the Red Wings. My dad worked right across the street from the old Tiger Stadium (aka Briggs Stadium and Navin Field) and my parents took me to the game the night the Tigers clinched their first pennant since 1945 in 1968. My grandmother told me that she saw Babe Ruth go from right field at Navin Field to the bar next to where my dad would later work and get two hot dogs and a beer during a game! My brother and I used my parents’ season tickets to go to every Thanksgiving Day game between 1966 and 1974, when I joined the Air Force. I got to play against the Red Wing Old Timers several times at the old Olympia Stadium, and I refereed several kids games between periods of Red Wing games. I got to meet several Detroit athletes and even got to know a few.
In that time, there have been some great moments. The ‘68 and ‘84 Tigers. The Pistons in the 80’s and 90’s. The Red Wings of the 1990’s and 2000’s, which I cheered on from afar.
But nothing from the Lions. Since the Lions last won an NFL Championship in 1957 (??!!) the Lions have won one (??!!) playoff game! That’s not one championship, that’s one playoff game! There have been glimmers of hope, and some great players, but no championships. In fact, the Lions are the only NFL team that was in the League when the AFL and NFL merged that has never even been to a single Super Bowl! I hear ya, Vikings and Chargers fans, but compared to Detroit, your losses are like comparing when my air mattress overturned to the sinking of the Titanic. No fans have endured what Detroit Lions fans have endured.
But, like a fresh spring breeze, new winds are blowing in Detroit. Back in downtown Detroit where they belong, the Detroit Lions look good. After a 1-6 start, the Lions now stand at 6-7 (their only loss a heartbreaker to the Buffalo Bills on Thanksgiving Day). NFL writer Dan Hanzus ranks them in the top ten in the NFL! They are favored this week on the road against the Jets! They have a very good offensive line, and so many playmakers on offense it’s a shame there’s only one ball to share! For the first time in several presidential administrations, they are in playoff contention after Thanksgiving, and probably will be favored in all their remaining games!
October 12, 2008. The Lions are early in what would become an 0-16 season. Lions QB Dan Orlovsky’s first NFL start. It’s early in a close game. Orlovsky fades back, and keeps on fading right out of the end zone for a two point safety! The Lions lose, 12-10.
A great thing about this year’s Lions team is that they have done it despite a slew of big name players missing significant time with injuries.
Dec. 31, 1983. The Lions have the ball on the 49er 26 yard line with time for one more play while trailing 24-23. No problem. The Lions have Eddie Murray, ironically nicknamed “steady Eddie”. The kick is up, and for Lions fans, is the real “wide right”.
The Lions have a real coach now. Dan Campbell has the whole team, and city, fired up!
The Lions have not had a well respected head coach in, well, the Lions, since 1957 have only had one former head coach hired by another NFL team as head coach! But it wasn’t always that way. In 1956, the Lions won the first of two consecutive NFL Championships. After the season, for some reason, the Lions traded star QB Bobby Layne to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Then, on the night before the first preseason game of 1957, Head Coach Buddy Parker suddenly and unexpectedly resigned, and his successors began a history of coaching ineptitude that was to continue for over 60 years! Brilliant coaching moves like throwing a challenge flag when it was illegal to do so, going against a 40 mile an hour wind instead of taking the ball in overtime, calling a fake punt from your own end zone that only the punter knew about, and challenging the Raiders as the League’s most penalized team for several years running. (Only, the Raiders still won games.)
If the Lions win out, and they will probably be favored in all their remaining games, they will finish at 10-7! Their playoff chances are real!
In 1980, the Lions drafted Billy Simms out of Oklahoma, to be their number one running back. Sims and the Lions started out hot, winning all their preseason games and starting the regular season at 4-0. Teams that start 4-0 have around a 90% chance of making the playoffs. But the Lions found a way to miss the playoffs, culminating with an overtime loss to the Bears on Thanksgiving Day. To this day, that game was the only game in NFL history where the overtime kickoff was returned for a touchdown, and the Lions were the victims.
What a deal the Lions swung when they let Matthew Stafford go! They got the Rams’ first round pick last year, which they parlayed into Jameson Williams! They got a starting cornerback! They get the Rams’ first round pick this year, right now projected to be the #4 pick! (go, anyone who plays the Rams!) And, they got Jerod Goff, who despite earlier missteps, looks great right now! What a great GM they have!
Ahh, what a history of TERRIBLE draft picks! As proof, I offer Jahvid Best, Joey Harrington, Andre Ware (who is much better as a commentator than he was as a passer) , Charles Rogers, the wrong Mike Williams, and Reggie Rogers. I will forgive you if you don’t recognize any of these names, but they were all first round Lions picks since 1987.
Commentators I never knew were from Detroit are suddenly ga-ga over the Lions. I hear “experts” on ESPN and the NFL Network call them, “the upstart Lions”, “the explosive Lions”, “the Feisty Lions” and even “My Lions”!
In The whole decade of the 1940’s, the Lions won only 35 games, an average of 3.5 wins per season. In 1942, perhaps as foreshadowing what was yet to come, the Lions went 0-11.
“The never say die Lions…”
What about the Barry Sanders desertion during training camp, a head coach named Wayne Fontes, two then record setting field goals of 63 and 66 yards on the last plays of the game, and, sadly, the only NFL player who actually died on the field during a game? As my mom frequently said, “Those donkeys…”
And yet, like my old dog that can’t hear anymore, I love ‘em. Even if this season collapses, the Lions use the Rams’s #1 pick on a dog, Dan Campbell becomes a Hari Krishna, and “The Money Badger” returns to his Charger form, I’ll still love ‘em. Time marches on and both the Lions and I have changed, but I still remember my roots.
SF 49ers (-3 ½) at Seattle Seahawks: Be careful, because the injuries have got to catch up with the 49ers, as they have the last couple of years. But they’ll win this one.
Buffalo Bills (-7 ½) vs Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins have been bad on the road, and in the last two games, they’ve looked soft. This week in the snow against the Bills in Buffalo is not the time to be soft.
Jacksonville Jaguars (+4 ½) vs Dallas Cowboys: Those Cowboys are inconsistent, and the Jags are hot and at home.
Las Vegas Raiders (+1) vs New England Patriots: Do the opposite of logical when it comes to the Raiders.
Cincinnati Bengals (-3 ½) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Bengals are hot, the Bucs are not.
Detroit Lions (even) at NY Jets: I swear, the line just changed. GO LIONS!
Last week 5-2
I don’t know how many hours, or days really, I’ve spent through the years watching or reading Mike Leach interviews. I never had the fortune to meet him, but he seemed to me one of the most fascinating people I’ve watched or read about, and football was only a small part of the reason why. I’ve spent many of the past week down the rabbit hole, since I heard about him being hospitalized Sunday night, reading tales about him. The one that sums him up the most was a quote from Hal Mumme, the former coach with whom Leach invented the Air Raid offense at Valdosta St. before taking it mainstream at Kentucky, then Leach took it to Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Mississippi St., and his assistants took it all over the football world from there.
Mumme talked about how he and Leach would argue about Geronimo and Quanah Parker, and about whether the Apache or Comanche were the more fierce warriors. I have a friend with whom I have similar arguments almost every day, but I’d have paid a few weeks’ wages to be a fly on the wall of some of those Leach and Mumme conversations.
Mike Leach died Monday night, and I’m about as sad about it as I have ever been over the death of someone I didn’t know, mainly because Leach was someone I wished I did know.
Texas-San Antonio (+1 ½) over Troy: The early bowl games have always been extremely hard to handicap because they usually come down to motivation, not talent or tactics. Now the transfer portal and the trend of players opting out adds even more uncertainty, although I’m wondering if it’s possible to judge a team’s motivation by how many players opt out, or conversely, decide to play. Either way, I’m stepping very lightly through the first bowl games, and this is the only one in the first week I’m willing to stick my hand in my pocket for. UTSA is in a blow for the third straight season, but they lost the first two, and quarterback Frank Harris has already announced he is returning for his final year of eligibility next season. That tells me this will be a team that will show up to play, and after losing two straight bowl teams, they’re coming to win, not to play. I don’t think the Sun Belt was as strong overall as some of the upsets its teams pulled off made it seem. I’m riding with the Roadrunners.
Colts (+4) over Vikings: One thing Jeff Saturday has done since taking over as interim coach of the Colts is get Jonathan Taylor going. Now, coming off a bye after that fourth quarter collapse in Dallas, the Colts should be able to put up a fight against a Vikings team that seems to take every game down to the wire.
Bengals (-3 ½) over Buccaneers: It was jarring to see how off Tom Brady was last week, and there’s always the fear that he’ll bounce back from a terrible game and look like the Tom Brady of old. But more likely, he’ll just continue to look old.
Patriots (-1) over Raiders: The one thing I’ve done consistently all season is get Raiders games wrong, and here I go, trying again. Last week’s loss undid all the positive vibes they had built in their winning streak, and it might be their breaking point.
College: No picks