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Look Forward, But Remember the Past

Disclaimer:  I must be feeling inspired this week, as this is my second post in the past few days.  Maybe it's that pre-camp excitement in the air, but I've got football on the brain just about 24/7 right now.  I know... we're a few weeks from an actual game yet, and that's only a pre-season one, but it's close now.  We can all sense it and feel it.  

I guess there's no real disclaimer here except sorry if I ruffled any feathers with the political stuff... tried to keep it to a minimum.

The Lions are steeped in tradition, just like most other storied franchises out there.  Problem is, most of that tradition we would all assume leave behind.  The new staff, Schwartz and Mayhew more specifically, has talked at length about wanting to move or look forward and not to dwell on the past.  Sounds quite sensible, right?  You want your players and fans to forget all of the misery from a season ago in hopes of parlaying optimistic feelings and painting a bright, cheery picture of the days to come.  But to be frank, isn't that what just about any new coach inheriting a losing club would say?  I know I would.

Not that I'm going to argue generating optimism amongst the fanbase... Lord knows we need it, but there might be a good reason to keep that miserable past fresh in our minds.  For the Lions, these woeful seasons are a collection of scars and life lessons that have been dealt over the course of 75 years.  Like people, some teams learn much quicker from mistakes of the past.  How many times will you hit your head on a low beam before you learn to duck in that spot?  For some, it only takes once.  The Lions still haven't learned to duck quite yet.  The result is many headaches, bruises, and even a few stitches from time to time.  Last year however, resulted in a full-on concussion.  So hopefully, we have either learned to duck or we bought a helmet... but one way or the other, the Lions appear to have finally learned a lesson.

The thing about lessons is that without those visible scars, we soon forget once again that the beam is there.  Time creates new bad habits or reversion back to old ones.  Case in point... September 11th, 2001.  I'm going to try not to get too political here, as this is not the place for it, but this is one of the best examples of how soon we forget a hard learned lesson.  Complacency led this country to let its guard down and we got sucker punched by a much lesser foe.  America immediately took off the gloves, struck back and then vowed to never let her guard down again.  But here we are, less than a decade after the worst act of hatred and terrorism in our glorious country's history, and our government leaders are now squabbling over terrorists rights, illegal immigrant rights and worse than anything else, where to make defense budget cuts.  How quickly we forget the wounds of the past.  Time quickly fades those scars and we soon go back to the way we were... complacent.

I should note that although it's wise to keep mistakes fresh in our minds with the purpose directed at not making them again, it's also good not to dwell on the negative.  This creates cynics and pessimists.  I won't rehash the argument of pessimism versus realism here, but there is a significant difference between the two.  The better bet is to chalk the focus on past mistakes up to constructive criticism.  Use the information of the past to make a comparative analysis of the current and future.  I've tried to do that with this year's off-season moves and have found that I am more optimistic when using that mindset.  For example, draft day (aside from the Stafford pick) was an exercise in frustration.  I was puzzled and discouraged by each and every pick on the first day.  Flash forward to today.  Using the comparative analysis method above, I can now re-evaluate the picks.  First, I look to the mistakes of the past.  Aside from Stafford, Millen would not have taken any of these other guys.  Pettigrew, Delmas... neither would have been taken because they were not flashy picks and there were "better" players in need positions on the board.  Millen always went with the obvious needs or flash (with the exception being 2008 when he basically let Marinelli run the draft).  He almost always chose glamour over substance and was perpetually trying to stick square pegs in round holes with respect to the scheme of the day.  He also failed to see his past player's faults and didn't try to replace them until it was far too late.  Mayhew's approach was much different and much simpler... take the best player on the board.  So they took the best quarterback, the best tight end and the best safety in the draft with their first three picks.  This is most definitely not the way Millen drafted and certainly an approach Lion's fans were not expecting.  In my mind, this is reason for optimism.  Does it guarantee success this year or even in the years to come?  No.  But did Mayhew commit the sins of the past with his draft day plan?  Unequivocally, no. 

It appears Mayhew learned from Millen's mistakes and then initiated his own off-season plan.  Right or wrong, it's his plan and appears to be a different tactic than any of his predecessors.  And I'm not speaking only to the draft.  His approach appears different across the board... personnel, philosophical coaching hires, etc.  Until it fails, it should give us all a lot of needed optimism.  Sure, you can be a cynic and chant "same ol' Lions" until you are Honolulu Blue in the face, but why?  If Ford had hired Millen and Marinelli clones, sure, go nuts.  But from everything I've seen so far, he hasn't.  Mayhew's methodology is fresh, aggressive and bold and Schwartz is a rock star who has the intellect to be a real game-changer on the sidelines.  I'll choose to be optimistic about that until they each give me a reason to think otherwise.

William Clay Ford will never change.  That's an unfortunate fact and will keep a shadow looming over the Lions until his time here is done.  But contrary to the common public conviction that he is the ultimate puppet master, I believe that this is the Mayhew & Schwartz Show right now and we as fans will live and die by the plan they enact.  The mistakes this franchise has made are too numerous to count.  We've had the mentality of insane person perpetually beating our head against a brick wall over and over with no signs of learning lessons from the pain.  We keep doing it because it's all we've ever known and no one sane enough to show us the correct way has intervened.  So today I feel, at the very least, we've finally put a helmet on and we are charging at the wall at a slower rate than in the past.  I think 0-16 has finally caused us to sense the pain to some extent, if not fully, and redirect our motives to a safer path.  In my mind, the future is bright and we need to keep our focus to the great things this team will accomplish.  But I also feel it would be an enormous error on our part to forget the mistakes of our past and not learn valuable lessons from them.  Not that we'll forget the awful years we've endured... that's not my point.  The purpose of this post was to get everyone moved from the cynic perspective to the comparative perspective.  Instead of using the "same ‘ol Lions" approach to everything, look at the mistakes of the past and compare them to what we are doing today.  If we all do that, I think that we'll be able to see the positive direction we are moving in.

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