On Monday's edition of ESPN's NFL Live, there was a brief discussion about the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays (formerly known as the Devil Rays) have had a miraculous turnaround this season and currently claim Major League Baseball's best record. This is miraculous simply due to the fact that the Rays have sucked for their entire existence.
The Rays have had to play in the same division as the Red Sox and Yankees, and in that division they have finished better than last place only once. Also, to truly show just how pathetic this franchise has been, in their 10 seasons prior this one, the Rays never have been above .500. In fact, the closest they came to playing .500 baseball was in 2004 when they finished with a record of 70-91.
2008 has been much different for the Tampa Bay Rays. Thanks to a good manager and a well-rounded roster that has been built over the past few years from the ground up, the Rays are atop all of baseball with the league's best record. The turnaround prompted NFL Live's analysts to pick a team that could be poised to do the same in the NFL this coming season. After a few teams that just can't seem to have success were named off by Trey Wingo, both Mark Schlereth and Mike Golic picked the Detroit Lions as the team most likely to turn things around in Rays-like fashion.
Although the Rays have only been around since 1998, their short history is very comparable to the Lions longtime mediocrity. Sure, Detroit has had some success in the past, but since 1957 they have won only one playoff game. As hard as that is to believe, it sums up just how bad this franchise has been. Despite having one of the league's best running backs of all time, the Lions only were able to squeeze only a single playoff victory out of the Barry Sanders era.
Perhaps the best shared trait between the Lions and Rays is the struggle they both have had to get to .500. The Rays, as previously mentioned, have never hit the .500 mark, and the Lions haven't been there since the 2000 season. What's the difference for Tampa Bay this year? On the field it is talent and good managing. Off the field people like to say the turnaround happened because the word "devil" was dropped from their nickname. Obviously that's not the reason, but it is an interesting coincidence.
Speaking of coincidences, guess who was hired the offseason following Detroit's last winning season? That's right, Matt Millen. I'm not comparing him to the devil or anything like that, but dropping him certainly seems like it would be something that could get this team moving in the right direction. Then again, so could good coaching and a talented roster (and a new owner), which is what got the Rays atop Major League Baseball.
As far as the comparisons go, I think the mediocrity of the past is the only thing similar between the Rays and the Lions. Last season it appeared as though the Lions finally were going to turn things around, and look at what ended up happening. A 6-2 start turned into a 1-7 finish, causing us all to think that a .500 season may never happen again. Also, the Lions' roster isn't being built to win in my opinion. Sure, there have been good additions like Ernie Sims and Cory Redding, but those positive moves are far outnumbered by the draft busts, free agent debacles, and poor trades that have been the story of the Lions' failures under Matt Millen.
Despite what Schlereth and Golic may think, I just do not see a turnaround in the Lions' future. I suppose they could surprise people and finally get to 8-8, but anything beyond that is really pushing it. Plus, until the Lions' own "devil" is dropped, the future likely will only resemble the past.