Issuing bold declarations and proclamations concerning the future plight of our Detroit Lions is like trying to climb Mount Everest in Chuck Taylor tennis shoes or hunting lions on the African plains with a only a toothpick as your defense. Hope is all the longsuffering Lions faithful have for all the years of watching and supporting one of the original franchises.
I, like most Michigan professional football aficionados, as the NFL Playoffs moves toward its climatic conclusion — the Super Bowl — watch with interest, but also with a sense of when will it be our turn to compete at the highest level in the NFL?
Unfortunately for the Detroit NFL watchers, all we can do is watch as city after city revel in the joyful ride that comes with seeing one’s team ascend to the NFL Playoffs. It has been a decade, from 2000 through 2009, that the Lions have not been close enough to even get a whiff of the playoff fever. Their last playoff appearance was on Jan. 8, 2000; they lost to the Redskins, 27-13, in the wild card game.
In fact, the list of teams in the NFL that have never appeared in the Super Bowl is now down to New Orleans, Cleveland, Houston, Jacksonville and Carolina. Think of this, out of the 32 teams in the NFL, only six have never ascended to the “Big Game.” However, New Orleans, Cleveland, Jacksonville and Carolina have all competed at the highest level and have come very close to getting to the NFL’s final game. Only Detroit has languished in the basement of the NFL with no apparent shot at ever being good enough to compete for a shot at the “Big Game.”
Only during Barry Sanders tenure did the team give its faithful hope of being at least in the playoff mix and conversation. The sad part is that since his retirement the team has been on a steady decline. The stupid part is some Lions fans have the audacity to blame Sanders for retiring. The real fact of the matter is he gave Detroit ten of the most fascinating years a running back can produce and the result of his extended effort was he punched a ticket to the NFL Hall of Fame on the first ballot.
It is foolhardy to even suggest that Sanders is part or a reason for the Lions steady downward spiral. The culprit is easy to identify: Matt Millen and his too-long reign as the designer of the Lions’ future.
Since the Lions exited Millen after the team made history as the only NFL franchise to finish a season 0-16 in the 2008 season, the new architect of the Lions future direction, Martin Mayhew, gets a pass from me for the very less than stellar 2-14 season just produced by him and his first-year coach, Jim Schwartz.
Although I‘ve decreed that Mayhew and Schwartz should not be completely tried as guilty in the court of public opinion, they will most definitely be on trial and judged accordantly in the upcoming 2010 season.
It is a sad reality when a team’s fan base or its general manager can exclaim that the Lions are getting better after a team finishes a woeful 2-14 in 2009, but the fact of the matter is two wins are better than no wins.
“I would say, obviously, 2-14 is unacceptable,” Mayhew said in the season-ending, reflective press conference in Allen Park. “That’s not what we’re going to be about. And I think 2-14 really is something that the entire organization needs to improve on. Nobody should feel comfortable. Everybody is a part of 2-14. And that’s something we have to have a sense of urgency about improving.
“From where we started, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I knew it was going to be hard to accomplish our goals this year, and I think we all went into it understanding it would be a difficult task. But that doesn’t mean that you accept being 2-14.”
Now the question is how Mayhew and company are going to improve on the 2-14 disaster? I say defense and more defense. Fortunately the 2010 NFL Draft is brimming with very good defensive players, so the Lions should be able to help one of the worst defenses in the NFL.
My guess is the Lions will have a shot at Oklahoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy with the No. 2 pick, because most agree that Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh will go No. 1 to St. Louis. I also say bring back linebackers Larry Foote and Julian Peterson.
The Lions took very small baby steps in 2009, and nothing short of adolescent steps should be acceptable for the 2010 squad, coaches and front office. Will 6-10 be progress? Maybe for this team, yes!
Leland Stein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.