The Lions: America's Real Team
by Rick Rockwell
The Detroit Lions should be America’s Team.
Forget the Dallas Cowboys. Forget the New England Patriots. Forget the Tennessee Titans.
Those teams may have captured the nation’s football fans this year and in seasons past, but they do not really represent America. No, this year, the Detroit Lions are America. They are a metaphor. They are winless. They are searching for answers. They are desperate. And they know that their solutions are not easy ones. They know it may take years to correct their downward spiral.
That’s America right now. Sliding down the canyon wall into recession. Hoping against all hope that the slide is not off the precipice altogether and into economic depression. New leadership is standing in the wings, no doubt. But we still have to play out this season with the team we have. As Donald Rumsfeld so cynically put it after failing to equip our troops with sufficient body armor and armored humvees: “You go to war with the army you have, not the army you want.”
So it is with the Detroit Lions who have more than a few parallels to the black and blue state of our government, our economy and our times.
First, let’s start at the top with ownership. The Ford family owns the Lions. No better team to represent down-trodden times in America than a team owned by one of the big three automakers. The Ford family has been as tone deaf about how the Lions are run, as they have been about the cars their company makes. Now, after they have lost 96 percent of their capital in stock losses in the past decade (Yes, you read that figure right.) and are fighting to retain control of their company the Ford family has awakened not just to the plight of their industry but the plight of their team.
So after years of wailing by fans of the Lions, the family finally sacked team president Matt Millen (31-92 record over eight years). This was the man who picked wide receivers to be the team’s top draft pick three seasons in a row. Forget about building a team around a strong offensive or defensive front. Forget building around a quarterback (Joey Harrington, Millen's pick as the quarterback of the future in 2002 was a bust). Forget a dependable running back (rookie third rounder Kevin Smith has shown potential this season but not brilliance). No, the strategy was for a corps of fleet receivers.
That strategy might work if you had Mike Martz as your offensive coordinator, the man who built the Greatest Show on Turf in St. Louis with the Rams. And indeed, Martz was with the Lions for two seasons. But now Martz is unhappily employed in San Francisco. And although Martz' offensive made Jon Kitna into a very good quarterback, with Kitna injured this year and Martz on the west coast, the Lions offense has crumbled. Almost in capitulation, the Lions traded wide receiver Roy Williams to the Cowboys for a basketful of future draft choices. And the team turned to washed up quarterback Daunte Culpepper in desperation when the various Lions backups could not produce.
Typical for the Lions though, Coach Rod Marinelli seems indecisive about what to do as the Lions sink toward the historic notoriety of the only team to earn a regular season record of 0-16 in the National Football League. Last week, barely three weeks into Culpepper’s time with the team, Marinelli pulled Culpepper mid-game for Drew Stanton. And then Marinelli had to re-insert Culpepper when Stanton was hurt. The lesson: If your ship is going down, pick a quarterback and stick with him. Culpepper is still learning what passes for an offense in Detroit. Giving him less time behind center is illogical. But that sums up a mountain of recent history by the Lions.
Of course, Marinelli must know his head is on the chopping block too. Likely, he and Culpepper will be sent walking at the end of the season. Someone will be coming in to clean house. Just like how Bill Parcells went down to Miami after their 1-15 season last year and remade the team.
For Lions fans, this wholesale change will be good. They’ve been asking for it for years. But with the total collapse of the Lions, the team’s owners finally realized such change was long overdue.
Such it is for the Lions. Such it is for Detroit. Such it is for Ford. Such it is for the U.S. automakers. Such it is for the U.S. economic and political systems.
And so therefore, the Detroit Lions are America’s team, at least for the rest of 2008.
Week 13 Office Pool Predictions
Game of the Week: Bears at Vikings (Vikings)
Upset Special: Steelers at Patriots (Steelers)
Panthers at Packers (Packers)
Falcons at Chargers (Chargers)
Chiefs at Raiders (Raiders)
Ravens at Bengals (Bengals)
49ers at Bills (Bills)
Cardinals at Eagles (Eagles)
Dolphins at Rams (Dolphins)
Giants at Washington (Giants)
Jaguars at Texans (Jaguars)
Broncos at Jets (Jets)
Saints at Buccaneers (Buccaneers)
Seahawks at Cowboys (Cowboys)
Colts at Browns (Colts)
Titans at Lions (Titans)
Last Week: .438
2008 Season: .640
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The Lions: America's Real Team