The NFL started its 89th season on 9/4/2008 with the New York Football Giants kicking off against the Washington Redskins at the Meadowlands in New Jersey. Until the first points were logged against your favorite team, hope sprung eternal. There is always the chance, here in the age of league parity, your team will catch that lightning in a bottle, go to the Super Bowl and win the mythical World Championship. There is only one group of fans that knows this will never happen to them. They know they will never see the Lombardi Trophy raised over the head of their teams quarterback and the most valuable player of their team will not be going to Disney World. I know because I am a member of that sad sack group – Detroit Lions fans.
Lions fans have endured a lot since that fateful day in 1958 when the team traded away legendary quarterback Bobby Layne: losing season by the dozens, poor Chuck Hughes having a heart attack and dying on the field during a game in 1971 and of course, driving the best pure running back the game had ever seen into retirement during his prime in 1999 are on the top of the lowlight reel.
This past decade with Matt Millen at the helm hasn’t been any sort of walk on the beach. Far from it, the Kitties have the worst winning percentage of any team in the NFL from 2000-2007. The past two years, under head coach Rod Marinelli, things have begun to turn themselves around. The guys look like a football team, you know, they score points and have more plays for positive yardage instead of negative. They are even creeping close to the mythical .500 record, not seen by Detroit football fans since 1999. Just when you thought it was safe to go into Ford Field and watch what maybe a season when the team might just compete, the nonsense starts all over again.
Rudi Johnson, a former Cincinnati running back noted for his tough inside running, was cut for a younger, cheaper replacement. The Lions jumped at the chance for this free agent pick up and released Tatum Bell, a running back the team feels has grossly underachieved during his tenure on the active roster. The two men briefly crossed paths as they went the respective ways and exchanged what both called pleasant words of encouragement.
According to a Detroit News article by John Niyo, the rest was caught on a surveillance camera. Bell walked off Johnson’s Gucci bags. Although they were returned, all of Johnson’s belongings, credit cards and cash were missing. Initially Bell denied the whole incident. When informed it was all on tape, he claimed he intended to grab the bags of another player who was cut. Johnson thinks he was robbed, pure and simple, although he has elected not to involve the authorities.
This little tableau played out on ESPN and other networks, managing momentarily to upstage the Republican National Convention. Frankly, it was embarrassing. Why couldn’t one of our players get caught doing something sexy? A DUI, drugs, steroids all would have been preferable to this sorted little tale of petty theft. I feel bad for the father’s that are trying to take their kids to these games. A losing franchise is bad enough but how do you explain it all to your son?
When I was 12, lo those many years past, the Lions were playing Pontiac at the Silverdome, about 10 miles from the house. Scot, Joel and I would beg to be taken to a game or two every year. Mom scoffed and Dad flatly refused. His refusal, however, had nothing to do with his general hatred of American football. No, it was on far more practical grounds. “They’re a bunch of losers. We can stay home and watch them lose just the same as going to the game,” Dad would say.
Now he had a point. If Kitties have been bad these past seven years, they were arguably worse in the mid ‘80’s. They were a team of no names that performed up to expectations – miserably. Daryl Rogers, the head coach, once asked a reporter what he had to do to get fired. But I was a fan. I wanted to go to a game. I had to find a solution.
The solution came from of all places, the Shul where my parents were members, B’Nai Israel. The Shul, to make some extra money, had a concessions booth at the Silverdome. It was open for concerts, events and of course for Detroit Lions games. The man who ran the committee to staff the booth was always in need of people to work. For a couple of seasons, I would faithfully sign up and report to the Shul parking lot early Sunday morning to hop on the bus to go to work. Mother was happy I was volunteering my time and she or the Old Man would always come to get me at the Silverdome after the game. What she didn’t know, at least initially, was I went just to see the game. Michigan law states in order to work at any establishment that sells alcoholic beverages you must be eighteen years old and that included concessions booths at the various stadiums in the metro Detroit area. So when I would show up, they couldn’t use me and I got to watch the Lions lose in person, for free.
After three or four weeks of me doing the same thing, Mom and Dad caught on but they didn’t put their foot down. They thought it better than hanging out at the mall, I suppose.
One late November Sunday, I crawled into the Old Man’s new Mercedes. “So, how did they do,” he asked.
“They lost of course,” I replied, frustrated that the Lions had never heard of an innovation to the game of football that happened in the late 1800’s: the forward pass.
“You saw that game for free, that’s about what a loss is worth,” he replied.
He had a point.
I continued doing the same thing on Sundays until I was 15, when I discovered girls and began an era of totally different frustrations.
So now as my boys are 0-11 and I think they will lose them all. Anyone care to take that action?