Monday, December 3, 2012

The awakening

I remember exactly when I finally jumped off the bandwagon. After rooting for and supporting the Detroit Lions through thin, thinner, and flat-out anorexic episodes for decades, I finally came to my senses.

That happened after the 1998 season. When Barry Sanders walked away from the Lions, yours truly walked away too. Good enough for Barry -- good enough for me. Enough is enough. Though it would take a few more years for Sanders to break his silence as to why he retired with so many millions and "good years" still left in his future, Barry would eventually go public and say that having been around the Lions for so long had robbed him of his competitive spirit; he didn't see them becoming a championship caliber team anytime soon and, unlike so many others that worship money and the prestige, mansions, and other toys it may bring -- there are other things far more important in life. Like being true unto one's self.

Yes, Barry Sanders is in the NFL Hall of Fame, as well he should be, but had he stuck around like so many others would have for a few more years -- he likely would have set the bar for the all-time NFL rushing record so high that it would never be broken. But such personal accolades didn't matter to Sanders. He just wanted a realistic chance for his team to be a champion, and it wasn't going to happen. So he walked away. Quietly.

Just as he had accomplished so many great things on the gridiron. You never saw Barry Sanders spike the ball, thump his chest, trash talk, or do a dance in the end zone after yet another dazzling touchdown run. As the ultimate professional, Sanders let his play do the talking on the field instead of his mouth or other clown antics that we fans see so much of these days. His private life was off-limits and not open to discussion. Certainly he was aware of the ever-present media circus casting their tantalizing bait in his direction, but he would never bite. Top to bottom, Barry Sanders was, and is, a class act.

This is not to compare myself to Barry Sanders, because there's a few notable differences. I never went to Oklahoma State and certainly was never a superstar running back in the NFL. Last time I looked, Barry and I were still different colors and I'm several inches taller than he is. However, he and I do share one very rare thing in common. The same birthday.

But I admire Sanders, not only for what he accomplished on the gridiron, but for how he carried himself as a man. Then -- and to this day, he remains a humble guy.

Though he was the face of the franchise, unlike many Lions' fans, he understood when it was time to get the hell out, because you're only going to get beat up and nothing good is going to become of it if you keep hanging around.

Fast forward another 14 years with the Lions, and I dare say Barry was prophetic. Nothing good HAS happened. Though Sanders would have been gone many years ago even had he stuck it out -- he rightly saw it as a waste of his time. Some things are more important. Why would one want to continue taking a beating every week during the football season when their team has no chance of winning in the end?

That is the very same question die-hard Lions' fans should have been asking themselves all along. Why do they continue to throw away hard earned money only to tie themselves to the whipping post year after year? How many lashes and welts will it take before them come to their senses and realize the errors of their ways? Isn't 50 years in a row enough? Hello? Or maybe they like the pain. That's a scary thought.

The only people more pitiful than they are Chicago Cubs fans, but there's a major difference. Cubs' fans have come to accept their team as lovable losers. Lions' fans still think think they have a shot at glory every year. FOOLS.

Their local "homer" sports reporters have been spouting propaganda for years and years to the Lions' faithful. There's always hope, they say. They're wrong. Always have been. There is no hope for the Lions any time soon.

But wait, they say. Calvin Johnson is on a pace to break Jerry Rice's record for the most receiving yards in one year. Well gee. Good for Calvin. He might well go on to break a lot of receiving records because he's a freak receiver, and the Lions would be in Nowhereville without him. Yet an argument could be made that, despite all the millions he'll have coming, CJ might not be the sharpest knife in the drawer either. He recently signed an 8-year contract extension with the Lions. They'll likely milk him until his udders shrivel up and go dry, and by then the very rich, but misguided Megatron won't be of much use to anybody else. Chances of him going to the Hall of Fame someday? Pretty good if he stays healthy. Chances of him winning a Super Bowl while playing out that contract for the Lions? Not so good. Maybe he should have consulted Barry Sanders before signing that deal. Now, he's stuck in Motown.

Hang on, of the Lions's eight losses this year, seven of them have been by 8 points or less. Given a few breaks here or there, they could easily be 8-4 instead of 4-8, the rose-tinted spin-meisters continue to spew forth for the Lions' lemmings to eagerly devour.

Yeah? Well, 8 losses are 8 losses and, not counting the woeful Jacksonville Jaguars, given a few breaks here and there, the Lions could also easily be 1-11.

Let's do a little inventory. Head coach Jim Schwartz is 22-38 with the Lions. He went berserk over a post-game handshake with 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh last year. Besides some of his other bone-headed strategies in games past, Schwartz cost the Lions another game over not knowing the proper procedure for throwing a red challenge flag in a game on Thanksgiving this year. He has presided over a team that has included a few players arrested on drug charges, one slugging another teammate in practice, a thug best known for a stomp, but has continued to wreak havoc in other ways -- both on the field and off --  and a wide receiver sent home for reasons that Jimbo won't talk about. After almost 4 years as a head coach, his team still shows a complete lack of discipline with all the stupid penalties they commit. Week after week after week. This is totally unprofessional. Good teams don't do that. Nor do they have defensive coordinators like Gunther Cunningham drop-kicking a clipboard on national TV when their own failures to plan better, or at least get it communicated to the players, wind up contributing to yet another loss.

There's a little typical Honolulu blue and silver story that goes along with Gunther Cunningham. He was born in Germany shortly after WWII ended in 1946. An American soldier dad and a German native mom. A lot of that stuff went on back then. Gunther arrived in the US at the age of 10 in 1956. Fast forward through a few decades and Cunningham had found success in the NFL as a defensive coaching specialist for other teams. Then he came to the Lions as one of Jim Schwartz's first hires. Guess what? Cunningham didn't become a naturalized US citizen until 2010, though he'd been in the country since 1956. That's 54 years, and the longest green card extension yours truly ever heard of.

The superb irony is he was a perfect fit for the Lions and added another appropriate niche in their sorry history. 54 years is just about the same amount of time that has transpired since the Lions have been contenders in professional football, well over a decade before the Super Bowl even came into existence. And now the former Herr Cunningham seems to think drop-kicking a clipboard is a punch line for a bad joke -- otherwise known as the Detroit Lions' defense -- which he is ultimately supposed to be held responsible for. The above mentioned spin-meisters will tell you the Lions defense is around #13 in the NFL. A little better than average. That's true, until it gets to any critical moment of their games. Then they fold like a house of cards in a hurricane. Stats can be deceiving, but would anyone dispute that the only thing that matters in the NFL are wins and losses?

At that, take a look at the only teams that have never even made it to the Super Bowl -- let alone winning it. The original Cleveland Browns never did. If one wants to get into all the expansion stuff and teams relocating to other cities with another name, they've all been there, one way or the other, save for the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Houston Texans, and the Texans look like they might be knocking on that door fairly soon. Maybe even this year.

The Lions may have moved from Briggs/Tiger Stadium, to the Silverdome in Pontiac, and back to Ford Field in Detroit over the years, but they've always been the Detroit Lions. Since 1934. No doubt that team is an original. Perhaps the NFL Hall of Fame folks should consider inducting the Lions' franchise for having achieved a benchmark heretofore never equalled and unlikely ever to be surpassed in the future.

Give them a plaque for finding a way, any way, in any year, with any coach, or any players, to always wind up being losers. In a perfect world, that plaque would be nailed to an outhouse door in the back yard nether regions of the NFL Hall of Fame. Lions' fans only would be directed there, and once arriving to do their "business", would discover that besides having a putrid smell that's accumulated over decades -- there's a vending machine inside that will sell them toilet paper -- one sheet at a time -- and each one costs 20 bucks.

Maybe that would finally wake them up to the reality that they've been duped over all these years. Nah, probably not. Some people are just destined to continue their pursuit of unicorns or magic pills that turn water into gasoline. FOOLS.

But I'd bet Lions owner William Clay Ford would be collecting a rather handsome profit from that toilet paper machine in the outhouse, and laughing all the way back to his ivory tower.

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