Disclaimer: I'm back on the optimism horse and starting to get pumped for this coming week's events. I mean, how can you not be? We've got the first preseason game this weekend as the culmination of the Hall of Fame ceremonies, then Madden '10 comes out next Friday and then the moment we've been waiting for since last December... the first preseason Lion's game. Nothing but blue skies right now... not Joey "Blue Skies"... just regular blue skies.
Coming into this season, the Lions needed a lot of help everywhere. They needed a huge upgrade in talent with both players and coaches. They needed to have a great draft. They needed to have the fans forgive and forget (as much as humanly possible). Largely, I think they've done well in most respects. They've come through the off-season filling quite a few of those voids. We've picked up some good free agent talent, made some excellent trades and had what appears to be a pretty respectable draft. We've hired some good coordinators and a smart, up-and-coming head coach to guide us through the next phase of our journey as Lion's fans. There is a lot to be excited about right now.
There is one person in particular that we've brought on board that I am very excited about. I'm excited because I think he is exactly what these Lions need right here, right now. I don't know about you guys, but I love the hiring of Gunther Cunningham. To be quite honest, I might question your love of the game if you don't at least like Gunther as a coach. This guy is football, through and through. I think we should petition Merriam-Webster to put his mug smack dab next to the definition, because that's what he is and that's what he represents. I actually had second thoughts about posting this today... even though I had most of it already written... because the other local publications all had something about Gunther on their sites when I did my rounds this morning. Cunningham was interviewed yesterday after practice, thus all of the articles. I should have known that most of the local lackey's only report when spoon-fed the exact words to write. But in true Gunther fashion I thought, "You know what, screw it. I'll post this anyway, because The Gun deserves it."
My adoration of Gunther Cunningham really has a lot less to do with his overall successes and failures in his career as a coach and more to do with what he represents for the Lions. Let's face it... the Lions over the past few years, especially defensively, can be summed up with one word... soft. I'm not sure anyone can really argue that. The Gun is the opposite of soft. In the era of fancy-pants, candy-ass prima donna's like Tony Romo and Terrell Owens, Cunningham represents toughness, grit and true determination. They way he portrays his desire to field the meanest unit of defenders in the league sends shivers down my spine. What fan doesn't want to be able to say, "We've got the baddest defense in the league and if you come into our house, we will punish you." I used to be so envious of the great defenses... those like the 80's Bears and the 00's Ravens. They won half the battle against you before you even got on the field with them. They'd walk out of the tunnel, knowing thoroughly how tough and physical they were. Then they'd stare down the opposing team and give them that "Yeah, you know what's comin' next" look. But the biggest thing was that they actually came through and put the hurtin' on people. Damn, that's good football!
But of course, we have to set expectations accordingly. We will not be the '85 Bears out there this year. And just because Gunther's here, doesn't mean that we'll have the meanest defense in the league. To be honest, The Gun hasn't fielded a great defensive unit in quite a while. But you see, I put that on the personnel departments in Kansas City more than Cunningham's ability to coach. If you give Michelangelo a set of Crayola crayons and expect a replication of the Sistine Chapel, you are going to be sorely disappointed. It still might be better than what the amateurs could do, but in comparison to the other great artists around the world, it will appear low grade. Same holds true here in Detroit. He ultimately needs more talent before this unit will be great. But the intangible toughness that he brings is absolutely priceless, in my opinion.
Marinelli had some of this toughness, but it was more militant and cerebral in nature. He thrived on execution and repetition. He treated toughness as more of a slowly acquired quality that came as a result of staying the course. It was framed in the sense of being mentally tough rather than physically dominant. Now don't get me wrong, it's good to be mentally tough. I think no other coach in the history of the league could have handled 0-16 better than Marinelli, but you could clearly see the physical portion of toughness was non-existent in the 2008 Lions. The Gun on the other hand, represents a Dirty Harry kind of toughness. Can't you just see that crazy bastard pointing a massive .44 caliber handgun at someone's face and asking them to make his day? Can't you just picture that snarling upper lip quivering as he slowly and blissfully squeezes the trigger? That, my friends, is toughness. And that is what our defensive players have to deal with each and every day. How can that attitude NOT rub off?
If our defense can exude a quarter of Cunningham's attitude and toughness, we will be a much better unit this year. If they can come out of the tunnel with a little swagger and look at the opposing team with that "I'm coming at you hard" attitude, they will no doubt improve this season. Every team in the league has strong, physical players. But only the ones that have the attitude and toughness to match the physicality routinely lay the wood each and every Sunday. I'd love to be a fan of a team that every opposing offense looks at says "Crap, we're gonna get the snot knocked out of us today." I wish we could harness The Gun's attitude and feed it intravenously to our players before each game. I'm not sure we could lose if we did.