In my last post, we examined how perception affects how teams are viewed in the greater scheme of things in the NFL. Today, I'm going to kind of piggyback on that thought and talk about respectability and how it affects teams, and the Lions especially.
Throughout most of the 1990's to 2000, the Lions fielded decent, competitive teams for the most part basically making the playoffs every other year or so, just missing them, or falling wildly out of contention for only a relatively few years. Reason being, the coaches (Wayne Fontes, are you reading this? Your input would be welcomed!) pretty much acted in the role of GM after Russ Thomas aka 'Mr. Settle-for-Mediocrity' finally exited stage right in 1989, thus having a better view of what kind of players were needed to fit the system.
These Lions teams drafted relatively well as well as brought in several key free agents and played with and defeated some of the toughest teams, even after Barry Sanders suddenly retired, but still just couldn't seem to pull it together. Free agents didn't mind coming here, and several of them shined. However, as the 20th century drew to close, so did the remaining respectability the Detroit Lions organization had. The ushering in of the now infamous Matt Millen regime was viewed upon as a dawning of a new, and brighter future for these Detroit Lions. One that was promised playoff and Super Bowl victories and the hopes that the Lions would be mentioned in the annals of NFL history. Oh how they were, but certainly not how they (or any other team) hoped to be mentioned.
More after the jump....
The dawning of the Matt Millen era was the sunset of the respectability era. The 2001 draft can be considered at least a partial success due to the fact that Jeff Backus and Dominic Raiola, who are the centerpieces of our current offensive line, are still on the roster. With the exception of Calvin Johnson, every draft pick from 2002-2007 is no longer on the roster. This is absolutely inexcusable and contributed greatly to the ugly, embarrassing, completely humiliating, but in this man's opinion at least, completely necessary 0-16 season.
Why was going 0-16 necessary you ask? It was necessary for the simple fact that this absolutely had to be the defibrillator that would shock some sense of urgency and willingness to succeed back into this team from top to bottom, but more particularly at the top. I personally didn't want to see my beloved team go winless, but deep down in the pit of my soul, I knew that the road to XVI must come to fruition. I remember all of the moans, groans, and here-we-go-agains when Millens job was divided up between Tom Lewand and Martin Mayhew. People wanted Scott Pioli or someone proven to hand the keys of the franchise to, but that didn't happen.
So we hoped for the best.
When news broke of the famous in Detroit, but infamous in Dallas, trade of Roy Williams to the Cowboys for 1st (Brandon Pettigrew), 3rd (DeAndre Levy), and 6th round (Aaron Brown) picks, there was a sense of cautious optimism or even (GASP) praise for the Lions front office. This was the staple in helping to start proving to the masses that we had people in the front office that were not afraid to be aggressive in wanting to oh my gosh!...build this team through the draft! Certainly a new and alien concept in Allen Park. Since, Mayhew has proven and shown me and many other Lions fans that he is for real on wanting to build this into a respectable franchise.
I for one am tired of hearing that when there are some free agents out there that could really help this team, the Lions are always last on the list. We could only get relatively big-name guys if A.) there are no other options for the player to go to B.) massively overpaying (money talks....?), or C.) all of the above. I'm tired of people not wanting to come here because we aren't and in most people's view will never be a contender. This guy wants to go to a contender, that guy wants to go to a contender. The thought of that player coming to the Lions is laughable and revolting. It drives me up the wall, as well as Lions fans everywhere.
Since the start of the Mayhew era, we've brought in through the draft very important and talented young players. I absolutely love how the coaching staff and front office are working together, instead of doing their own thing without any idea of what the other is doing. In the past two seasons with Mayhew and (the) Schwartz at the helm, they've taken the right steps in starting to rebuild this franchise. In so doing, their actions have brought in surprisingly rave reviews from 'experts' around the league and media. The old philosophy was to do everything by impulse and try to build through free agency. Ooooh I'll take that guy! We all see how that went. Everybody wants to play for contenders, nobody wants to play for a laughing stock unless they have no choice for the most part.
That's another era I'd like to see come to an end. I'd like to see players want to come here instead of 'Oh mannn, I'm going to the Lions. Sighhhh....' We can get that once we start putting those W's up on the board. With wins comes respect. With respect comes a swagger and a 'want' to play.
That's because respectability is a key and undeniable part of any successful franchise, regardless of the sport.