CHICAGO — The start of 2010 or any NFL season is always a time for optimism, especially for Detroit Lions fans, who are some of the most loyal anywhere.
All wonder every year if this is going to be the year the Lions turn it around and get off the NFL basement floor. I felt a twinge of anticipation as I waited for the kickoff of yet another season of football at Chicago’s Solider Field.
The Lions jumped out to a 14-3 lead in the second quarter over rival the Chicago Bears, and that is when disaster hit. Second year quarterback Matthew Stafford injured his right shoulder late in the first half and did not return to the game. Afterwards neither Stafford nor Coach Jim Schwartz could say anything definitive, pending an MRI test. When I looked into Stafford’s face in the locker room after the game, he was distraught.
“It’s not fun,” he said. “I worked hard to get back from other injuries and get prepared for this season. I felt like we had the offense going pretty good, but no way is this what you want on opening day.”
Without their acknowledge leader, the Lions’ offense bogged down and they eventually lost 19-14 to the grateful Bears. Backup Shaun Hill did nothing with the offense until a last minute drive.
In the post game press conference Schwartz sounded confident about turning the team over to the 30-year-old journeyman Hill.
“We are confident in Shaun,” he said. “That’s why we brought him here. We are not going to change our offense.”
What else was Schwartz going to say?
He sure could not get up there and say the reason why Hill has not been a starter in the NFL is because he has limited skills.
As if Stafford’s injury was not hurtful enough to Lions fans, the officials negated Calvin Johnson’s apparent 25-yard catch that didn’t count for a touchdown according to NFL rules with only 24 seconds left in the game.
I could only think back to umpire Jim Joyce’s blown call that cost Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game in June. I said to myself, “This cannot be happening again!” But it did.
NFL referee Gene Steratore tried to explain the controversial call that cost the Lions a victory. He said the play was not judged with the two feet or one knee or anything of that scenario. He said it was the process of the catch. (“The what?” I wondered.) He went on to say that catching the football when he goes to the ground, he must maintain possession of the ball throughout the entire process.
I heard him, but Johnson did have control of the ball through the so-called entire catching process. What I saw was that Johnson had both feet and a knee on the ground before he let the ball go. And as he turned over he had the ball in one hand and it never even slipped out of his palm.
Schwartz took the high road saying, “The time I stand up here blaming the officials for a loss is the time I don’t have to do this anymore.”
Cute, I guess, but I would like to have seen him go Vince Lombardi on that call.
“The game is over,” Johnson said. “The first thing that went through my head was that we finally won in Chicago. I found out after I sprinted halfway across the field that it didn’t count. I thought I had control of the ball the entire catch.”
Added Louis Delmas: “That happened in New Orleans in our first game last year. I tackled Jeremy Shockey in the end zone last year and he did the same thing and they called it a touchdown. It looked to me like Calvin caught that ball.”
Leland Stein can be reached at email@example.com.