Monday, December 29, 2008

Detroit Lions Finish Winless in 2008

On Sunday, the Green Bay Packers defeated the Detroit Lions 31-21. With the loss, the Lions finished the 2008 season 0-16, giving them the distinction of owning the worst single season record in the history of the NFL.

The Lions have been bad for some time, but going 0-16 is just ridiculous.

I feel bad for Lions fans. The Lions have suffered through some rough times in recent history. They finished 2-14 in 2001 and 3-13 in 2002. They've had six different head coaches since the year 2000: Bobby Ross, Gary Moeller, Marty Mornhinweg, Steve Mariucci, Dick Jauron and Rod Marinelli. Most of their recent first round draft picks -- all very high picks -- have been busts. And as President and CEO of the Lions, Matt Millen ran the team into the ground for years, but was -- inexplicably -- allowed to hold onto his job until earlier this year (thereby continuing to do untold damage to the team's future).

And the icing on the cake: The Lions have never played in a Super Bowl.

Truth be told, I've always kind of liked the Lions. I still remember, back in my childhood, when the Bears beat the Lions in the Pontiac Silver Dome to clinch a trip to the 1984 playoffs (the Bears hadn't been to the playoffs since their wild card appearance in 1978). I started paying attention to the Bears, and the NFL, at the end of the 1984 season. Walter Payton had surpassed Jim Brown to become the NFL's all time rushing leader earlier in the season, but the playoff berth clinching game at Detroit was the thing that really caught my attention and made me start following the Bears. Of course, the following year, the 1985 Bears went on to dominate the NFL and breeze through the playoffs en route to what would be the most lopsided victory (at the time) in the history of the Super Bowl. But I can't stress how enormous the the Detroit game that sent the Bears to the '84 playoffs was to Chicagoans at the time.

And I remember watching that game and thinking that, as much as I loved the Bears, the Lions were pretty cool too.

Later in the decade, I attended several Bears/Lions games at Soldier Field in Chicago. My family had Bears season tickets, and I was as big a Bears fan as you could find. But I always had a soft spot for the Lions.

And I loved the Lions' uniforms. The reflection of Soldier Field's stadium lights on the Lions' silver helmets made them shine as if they were made out of tiny, crushed up diamonds.

Of course, the Lions' helmets were not actually made of tiny, crushed diamonds. But the Lions had a truly precious gem on their roster: superstar tailback Barry Sanders.

And just as I feel bad for Lions fans, I feel kind of bad for Barry Sanders too. He was one of the greatest, most electrifying players to ever take the field in the NFL. But the national media never afforded him the recognition that he deserved. And in 1999, when he was about to surpass Walter Payton as the NFL's all time leader in rushing yards, he abruptly walked away from the game (despite still being in his prime). The Dallas Cowboys' Emmitt Smith later broke Walter Payton's record. And while Smith was a workhorse who exemplified hard work, dedication and determination, he didn't have half the talent that Barry Sanders had (although in fairness to Emmitt Smith, I can't really think of anyone else -- save for Gayle Sayers -- who was in Barry Sanders' league, in terms of pure talent).

All things considered, I don't know if there's a more tough luck group of fans than Lions fans.

And the Lions are only adding insult to injury in the hard-knock city that is Detroit.

Detroit has been bleak for decades. But its economic fortunes have taken a turn for the worse as of late. And with the American auto industry hanging on by a thread, things aren't likely to get better any time soon.

Consider the following "requiem for Detroit," penned by the Weekly Standard's Matt Labash:

We tear through the ravaged east side–not to be confused with the ravaged west side. When he was growing up, Charlie’s mom had a flower shop down here, but there are almost no signs of commerce now. In my line of work, I’ve seen plenty of inner cities, but I’ve never seen anything in a non-Third World country like the east side of Detroit. Maybe the 9th Ward of New Orleans after Katrina. But New Orleans had the storm as an excuse. Here, the storm has been raging for 50 years, starting with the closing of the hulking Albert Kahn-designed Packard Plant in 1956, which a half century later, still stands like a disgraced monument to lost grandeur.

There is block after block of boarded windows and missing doors, structures tilting like the town drunk after a vicious bender. Some houses have buckled roofs, some have blue tarps, some have no roof at all. Which is not to say nobody lives in them. A mail carrier I see on the street says desperate squatters will frequently take up residence, even switching house numbers as it suits them. Not all fires are started maliciously. With no utilities, they’ll often make warming fires on the floor. At one point, we stop the car just to count how many burned-out houses we can see without moving. We count six, all from different fires.

We enter the firehouse of Squad 3/Engine 23, or the “Brothers on the Boulevard,” as they are nicknamed. It looks like a very orderly frathouse. There is Dalmatian statuary, in lieu of a real dog, a mounted swordfish, a photo of [recently killed in the line of duty fireman] Walt [Harris] holding a giant sub on the bulletin board. It is ordinarily a place filled with mirthful gregariousness, a place where new recruits might get dropped to their knees with buckets of water, or where middle-aged men play air guitar to Thin Lizzy solos coming from radio speakers.

But today, nobody’s in the mood to smile. In a 90 percent black city, a firehouse is one of the only truly integrated places. The photo that ran with Charlie’s April story contained white Sgt. Mike Nevin, smoking one of his ever-lit Swisher Sweets, clapping black Walt on the shoulder. They looked like ebony and ivory, living together in perfect harmony. They faced death together every day. When they call each other “brother” around here, they mean it.

Several wear shirts memorializing their fallen brother. A black wreath commemorates him on one wall. Charlie and I hang out for the better part of a day, and the stories come fast and furious. Firemen tell me that the safest time to be here now is Devil’s Night, the infamous night before Halloween for which Detroit earned its title as the arson capital of the world. With Angel’s Night counterprogramming, which sees more cops and neighborhood patrols on the street, they’ve managed to whittle the over 800 fires they suffered in 1984 down to 65 fires this October 30. Only in Detroit could 65 arsons in one night be considered a success.

The Lions' futility may be the least of people's worries in Detroit. But they sure aren't helping to lift anyone's spirits.

More here.

(Image: Flint Journal)

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