ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Get ready this Monday night as our Detroit Lions will be playing their first meaningful nationally televised contest in too many years to recount. In comes the Monsters of the Midway (Chicago Bears) to try and do what Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Minnesota and Dallas could not — beat the Motor City Cats. How did the inept Lions get to the point where they are in the national conversation about NFL dream teams? How do we understand what is happening? Is it real?
Whatever the cause or situation, the 4-0 Lions are set to put their effort on national display this Monday and it should answer a lot of questions about where these Lions really stand in the NFL hierarchy.
No matter the Lions outcome versus the Bears, they are moving in the right direction. This 2011 team is for real and the linchpin behind their elevation is general manager Martin Mayhew. Sure, head coach Jim Schwartz is the organizer of the Lions’ on the field dreams, but Mayhew is the architect of the overall team’s collective. Selected by the Buffalo Bills in the tenth round (262nd overall) of the 1988 NFL Draft, the cornerback out of Florida State University played in eight NFL seasons from 1989-1996 and started in Super Bowl XXVI for the Washington Redskins.
What makes Mayhew different than ex-Lions president and general manager Matt Millen is his very real scholarship concerning NFL talent and his organizational skills. Also, after retiring from the NFL, Mayhew attended Georgetown University Law School. He graduated in 2000 with a J.D. degree. Millen brought Mayhew into the Lions organization as senior vice president, but when Millen in 2008 was released, he became the first African-American general manager of the Lions.
Mayhew’s skin color has long since been a non-issue as he has made all the right moves that are moving the Lions’ franchise into respectability in the NFL wars. Mayhew’s drafting, his acquisitions and free agents have all elevated the future direction of the Lions.
When Detroit Lions owner and chairman William Clay Ford announced the promotion of Tom Lewand to team president and Mayhew to general manager, I said way to go. Not only was I confident in the future direction that Mayhew was going to lead the Lions, so were all in the Lions administration. “Martin is a great friend,” Lewand said. “He has been exemplary for this organization since the day he walked into the door. I consider it a pleasure to work with him. I always knew he would be a great GM. I’m not surprised that this thing is moving in a positive direction. This is what I expected three years ago when we started this process.”
Said Lions senior vice president of Communications Bill Keenist: “You will not find person with more character and integrity than Martin. Everything he has done is not surprising. He’s a great judge of talent and he knows how to put a team together.” Said Lions coach Jim Schwartz: “The big thing is we do not stand alone, because he is very good at getting a collective voice. It’s not about just getting good players. Martin has set an environment where the scouts, coaches and administration all have a voice in the final decisions.
“From the beginning after he interviewed me in the selection process I knew there was something special between us. I had great confidence that we could all be on the same page and get pieces in here that would help move this franchise forward.” So far the 4-0 Lions have put the Matt Millen era in the rearview mirror and Mayhew is making all the right decisions.
“I feel great about the process,” Mayhew said. “I can’t say enough about the great job that our coaches and our scouts have done in this process. As I’ve said before, we believe the best thing to do is to take the best player available (in the draft), because we feel through free agency we can fill holes with better quality players.”