December 24th 2000; a date that will live in Infamy. The day Stoney Case turned the ball over twice in the 4th quarter to Chicago and thus The Lions missing the playoffs and sparking the beginning of the most painful decade in the history of sports in Detroit. The Matt Millen Era.
The New Attitude-
Who could forget?! This was the first time I ever heard the slogans "New Attitude" and "Restore the Roar!" Of course it sounded good at the time, and why wouldn't it? The Lions always seemed so quiet during the off-seasons that when you hear inspirational slogans from a former Linebacker who is now running the team, you have to be excited!
Fitting a Square Peg into a Round Whole-
His first order of business already left people scratching their heads. He brings in Marty who we all know was from the famous Mike Holmgren coaching staff. They wanted to install the West Coast offense using practically 90% of Bobby Ross's player personnel which is your typical Midwest smash-mouth football. Marty was definitely a character too; its almost as if he stayed up late at night and practiced goofy faces that he saw coaches do in sports movies.
The season starts and all the sudden the Lions start noticing something… they can't seem to win a game! At the time I remember it didn't seem so much that we were that bad, its was that we just couldn't finish games. Remember during that season other than being demolished on Monday Night Football, we were in most of the games! And then who could forget the the big win against Minnesota followed by Jonnie Morton telling Jay Leno to kiss his ass. The ending excuse for this season: "We're still adjusting to a new system."
With the Current Pick the Detroit Lions Select… What???
There were questionable things that Millen did but what brought him into constant speculation with the fans and media is his draft choices. First off I want to address this to everyone who reads this blog before we start turning into Monday Morning quarterbacks... You all wanted Charles Rogers. You all wanted Joey Harrington.
What Millen failed to do is his homework on these guys. Anyone who knew Charles Rogers or was in within 100ft of him could smell the California chronic and yet did that matter? No! He was the big time receiver the Lions dreamed of and it makes you wonder; did Millen even meet with this guy before he drafted him? I'll bet he spent 10 minutes watching a highlight film on the guy, and then said "Ok, we'll draft him."
How about Joey? He undoubtedly had the mechanics, a competitive spirit and a hell of an arm but what else? To be honest I don't even know . I'll go double or nothing that neither did Millen. But he sounded awfully good and ofcourse Mel Kiper liked him so he has to be the guy to take.
The worst pick of Millen Era was not Joey or Charles believe it or not; it was actually Mike Williams. Here is a guy who played 1 year at USC; he followed the advice of a thug from Ohio State to challenge the NFL on the eligibility rule because they just couldn't wait to break into the league and make big pay checks… as if Williams wasn't making enough money at USC already. After they lost, he was ineligible to return to USC to play football.
So now we have a guy who has not played football for a year and a half and has already clearly shown his level of maturity and where his heart is.
Lets pretend for a minute that guys like DeMarcus Ware, Shawn Merriman, Jammal Brown, Roddy White, Marlin Jackson, Health Miller, or Logan Mankins were not available. STILL… what would ever posses Millen to draft a guy like Mike Williams? The same reason he drafted Charles Rogers! I promise you the only thing Millen did again was watch a 10 minute highlight film of the one year he had at USC and said "Ok, we'll draft him."
Because of these botched picks; you had to cringe when he picked Calvin Johnson and not because Calvin was like the rest; but because it was the 4th receivertaken in 5 years and after all its Millen making the pick!
There are many moments where Millen made his stamp as the biggest idiot in the history of the National Football League but I think that everyone will agree that things started to get crazy and heated the day Ford renewed Millen's contract for 5 years and made him the 2nd highest paid GM in the NFL despite recording 16 wins in 4 years. A source in the Ford Family believed that despite his record, he is the best GM the Lions ever had... later we would find out that just about everyone else in the English speaking world disagree with that statement.
Fans began protesting and it got very creative too. An "Orange Out" was orchestrated by The Lions Fanatics in 2005 against the Bengals."Fire Millen" chants were heard not only at Lions games but at all other Detroit sports games and even Wrestlemania 23! The chant was becoming about as natural at a sports event as "The Wave." While all of this was going on; Bill didn't care. It came to a point where you wanted to call Bill Ford or walk up to him and simply ask him "What the hell did the City of Detroit do to you to deserve this?"
The Beginning of the End-
After another lackluster and ineffective Off-Season and Draft; the Lions would begin the Season which would soon go down as the worst season of any football team in the history of the National Football League. After starting 0-3 even members of the Ford Family were starting to get fed up. Junior decided to vent on television and says that if it were up to him, Millen would be gone. Ironically enough just 2 days later, Millen was packing his bags and heading home to seclusion in Pennsylvania. Even though this was a brief ray o f light on a football team that had storm clouds since 2001... there was too much damage done. The Lions had flat-lined and finished the season 0-16.
While this was a joke to just about everyone in the country, it left a very serious scar in the City of Detroit and the entire State of Michigan. The man tore apart the team that we loved since we can remember and ran it right into the ground and then went and hid under a rock for the next few months while we suffered right along with our beloved team until the very last game.
I Would Have Fired Me-
We all remember the night when Millen was put on the air for the first time. He sat down with Dan Patrick and for 3 1/2 minutes spat off a well rehearsed confession of responsibility. One thing we never heard was an apology. I honestly think that if that if the man would have looked into the camera instead of Dan Patrick and told the people in the City of Detroit how sorry he was for the mess that he created and admitted that he should have stepped down long before he was fired; it would have at least been a way for the people of Detroit to take the first step in moving on.
Instead he took responsibility and indicated that there are no excuses and that there were other factors but it just was time to move on. Easy for him to say.
We all know what he did and its something that none of us will ever forget. One man's pride was the cause of an implosion of a football team that is beloved by a City that has prided themselves on working for every inch of everything in life. Will we ever forgive Matt Millen? Maybe, maybe not. All I can say is that in my lifetime, our city has brought in 4 Stanley Cups, 3 NBA Titles, 1 World Series Championship and a National Championship in College Football and I love the City of Detroit. And in closing I will answer the rhetorical question that Lions fans have been asking all their lives: Will the Lions win the Superbowl in my life time? Answer: Yes