Sunday’s game versus the Washington Redskins was a far cry from last weekend’s sellout at Ford Field.
After the Lions lost to the Minnesota Vikings in their first home game of the 2009 season, increasing their winless streak to an incredible 19 games, the fans of Detroit said no more. Many boycotted the game and it did not sell out, and as a result the Lions and the Washington Redskins were blacked out over a 70 mile radius.
By not coming to the game most were letting the Detroit franchise know they were tired of losing, and rightfully so. However, they missed a coming out party for the Honolulu Blue and Silver.
Showing guts, heart, determination and a solid defense, the Lions finally got out of the loss column with a 19-14 win over the Redskins at Ford Field.
At times I sat in the press box with one hand over my eye as I waited for the Lions to do something crazy to lose the game or for Washington to implement something spectacular to win the game.
After all, that has been the way things were over the past seven years of covering the Lions.
I, like most, hoped that 2009 would be a new year and day for the Lions in their quest for respectability and credibility in the National Football League.
I earlier wrote that starting rookie firstround draft pick Matthew Stafford was a mistake, especially with a proven veteran quarterback like Daunte Culpeper ready and willing to lead this team.
After this Sunday afternoon, I am still waffling on that point, but there was no doubting that the team the Lions put on the field Sunday was good enough to be competitive and win in the NFL.
The fact of the matter is I felt the Lions were good enough last week to come away with a valued victory, but first-year coach Jim Schwartz’s steadfast support of Stafford hurt the team’s chance for a victory.
No matter, Schwartz held serve and stayed with the rookie quarterback in game three and it paid dividends, with the result being the Lions won their first game in two years.
All year the team, its coaches and the organization in unison exclaimed that what happened last year was not even in their thoughts; however, after the valued victory over Washington, emotions came to the forefront.
“We not only got the monkey off our back,” said Lions owner William Clay Ford, “we got King Kong off our back. So now we can go ahead and start winning the way we could of before, but we could never seem to get over that hump. I’m hoping that this gets us over that hump and gives us a winning attitude and it takes off from there.”
Said offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus: “Today’s game was not on TV, because the fans felt we were not giving them a winning product. I’ll tell you, I was sick and tired of losing. After every game I’d go home with my head down. My mother would cook a great meal, but I could not enjoy it. But today I’m going home and I’m going to eat two or three meals with a smile on my face.”
Exclaimed offensive tackle Jeff Backus: “I’m happy for the team, the new coaches and players. This is what makes football fun. Losing took all the fun out of playing football, but this is the feeling that makes me feel that all the work and preparation is worth it.”
Said Schwartz: “We’d like to get to a point where a regular season win isn’t celebrated that much. I mean, it had the feel of a postseason win — the jubilation. The monkey is off our back, not only for the guys that have been here, but the organization and the city of Detroit.
It was well deserved. After the game, after we got together, said a few words and took a knee and said our prayer, players went back on the field and wanted to go celebrate with the fans that stayed. I thought that sent a strong statement about the kinship we feel with the city of Detroit.”
Some felt it was corny that the players came back on the field for only the third game of the season, but I liked it. What is said to me was that, although there was not a sellout, the fans that came were true fans and committed to the team. Conversely, the players wanted to acknowledge those that stood with them in a very down time.
“I’ve won two Super Bowls and I know what winning feels like,” Lions linebacker Larry Foote said. “Coming back on the field was an acknowledgement that we appreciate the fan base that has stayed by us. I like this team and I expect us to keep improving.”
With a city in manufacturing decline, it exacerbated the national perception of Detroit by the Lions losing, but now it’s a new day and the city, like the team, can look forward to brighter days – hopefully.
Leland Stein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.