I can remember a time in Detroit when winning was actually a possibility. My dad and I would sit down in our living room and turn on the tv, ready for a Sunday afternoon of Detroit football. The Lions won sometimes. It sounds weird to say, but it's the truth. Even then they were a franchise headed nowhere fast. When they did manage to crack the playoffs, they did not succeed. But back then, a loss was not taken like it is today. Back then, when our Lions lost, it was cause for anger. It was a game that could have been won; a game that they should have pulled out of with a victory, but we had somehow managed to blow it. Now when they lose, I am not surprised in the least. No anger, no disappointment, no playoff hopes dashed. I simply shrug my shoulders and ask, "by how much?"
The 90's were one of the most successful decades in team history. Wayne Fontes' lovable mediocrity. Barry Sanders running circles around opponents' defenses, always providing a show until he retired abruptly after the 1998 season. The team reached the playoffs six times during the decade. They put up a fight in their division year after year. They could never seem to hang with Brett Favre and those pesky Green Bay Packers, but it was fun. In 1999, the Lions limped into the playoffs by losing four straight and finishing with an 8-8 mark. They lost in the first round to Washington by a score of 27-13, because they are the Lions.
The next season, the Lions found themselves with hope at the end of the season--something not unusual yet for the organization. Bobby Ross had lost his cool and quit after the ninth game of the season. Gary Moeller replaced him and kept the team in contention. I can still remember watching this game. The ability to be competitive was still there. The excitement (I don't know if I speak for everyone here, I was only 13 years old). The playoff hopes. The empty feeling in the pit of my stomach as Paul Edinger's field goal sailed through the goal posts in the waning moments of the 4th quarter. The Lions would finish the season at 9-7, narrowly missing the playoffs. The rest, is history.
After that fateful season, Gary Moeller was fired as head coach, despite being the only Lions coach with a winning career record to his name in the past 30 years. Granted, it was only 4-3. However, what happened next made Moeller look like a God. William Clay Ford hired an unproven GM as President and head of player operations. Former player and television announcer, Matt Millen had arrived.
Thus began the Dark Ages. Mornhinwheg, Mariucci, and Marinelli. The botched draft choices--Charles Rogers, Joey Harrington, Mike Williams. The "Millen Man March," to protest an undeserved contract extension given to Millen by team ownership in 2005. Most importantly, never a winning season. Never a playoff game. With one of the league's worst cumulative records since Millen took over in 2000, the Lions had become a joke. Year of futility after year of futility, road loss after road loss, I continued to watch and hope for a return to the days when they would at least be fun to watch again. It's not that I minded them losing, as long as they were still competing. But weekend after weekend, loss after loss, things just kept getting worse. I still watched as they cycled through quarterbacks. One replaced another, with unfounded dreams of team improvement. I think the point at which I officially stopped caring was when Jon Kitna took over and I finally realized that this organization did not know how to win anymore.
Millen is gone now, and it appears as though Kitna is too. On Injured Reserve for the year, he and the Lions have had a falling-out that has revealed the new direction in which the organization is headed. Under temporary leadership of Tom Lewand and Martin Mayhew, things are slowly being repaired. Mayhew orchestrated one of the best trades in recent Lions history when he shipped disgruntled wideout Roy Williams to the Cowboys along with a 7th round draft pick in return for first, third and sixth-round picks. The trade demonstrates that there are obvious intentions of rebuilding. This year is a bust. At 0-6, the Lions should be taking a look at just what it is that they have. Gosder Cherilus and Jordan Dizon therefore should be in the lineup weekly. There should be no pretense here of salvaging the season. Instead, we should be looking to salvage players off of the worst team in the NFL.
Marinelli might be coaching to keep his job, and I can respect that. I will even go as far as to say that I believe he can be a successful coach at the NFL level. This comes with a caveat. It cannot be in Detroit. The same goes for Martin Mayhew and Tom Lewand. While Mayhew did just pull off a great trade, and I think that he does have an extremely bright and prospective career ahead of him as GM someplace in the league, this one needs to be about the fans. Everyone is excited about change. Mayhew and Marinelli are not the only two people around the league with talent in them. I am positive that out there somewhere is someone else who can step in at GM and begin to right the sinking ship (actually, the ship on the bottom of the ocean that is covered in algae and rot) that is the Detroit Lions. It should be a new face, one not associated with the past eight years in the slightest.
A new GM and a new coach. Next April's draft will bring some new talent, hopefully in the form of offensive linemen or defensive players. I will be excited again, at least for the time being. I will be full of hope. And I ask one thing of everyone involved with the Lions for the next couple of years. I'm not looking for a Super Bowl here. A few playoff wins would be nice, but I don't want to get greedy. Just get this thing back where we had it before Millen stepped in and made a complete mess of things. Come on guys, do this for me. Do this for all of the dads out there who look forward to Sunday afternoons, spending time on the couch watching football with their kids. Do this for those of us who have grown up Lions fans, but are starting to forget what having a competitive team to root for feels like. Please, do this for all of us. Make losing fun again.