Why William Ford Should Sell the Lions to the City of Detroit

Tim DevaneyContributor IDecember 19, 2008

The Detroit Lions have disappointed fans for over 50 seasons, teasing them with small rays of sunshine, and then viciously pulling back.

Barry Sanders was exciting to watch, but he wasn’t able to win a Super Bowl and quit too early. Calvin Johnson is supposed to be the next Randy Moss, but he’s not consistent enough. These bits and pieces of potential keep fans coming back for more, hoping for just one taste of success.

But it never seems to pan out.

In the 1990s the Lions were never dominant, but fans lived and died with the hope they’d win a playoff game (which rarely happened). In Barry Sanders we trusted.

Unfortunately, these last eight seasons have been extremely gruesome—even more so than previous decades. Forget not winning a Super Bowl. This season we’re talking about just winning one game. And that’s not much better than the last eight seasons.

Detroit is 31-95 since 2001 and averages only four wins a season. We haven’t made the playoffs since 1999.

The Lions have become a don’t-bother-we-won’t-win-anyway team, and it has fans groaning for owner William Clay Ford Sr., to sell the team. We’re sick of losing. Seriously, it’s nauseating. We get our hopes up, and then the Lions pop them.

Sometimes it’s deflating, like last season when the Lions started 6-2 only to lose seven of the last eight games. It’s was as if the Lions were sucking the life out of their fan base with a straw and sipping up every last bit.

The hope made the losing harder. This season we haven’t had that problem. It’s been a quick kill from the beginning. Detroit pressed the pedal to the medal in the wrong direction early on.

Either way, it’s depressing for fans. When you look into the eyes of Lions fans and you can see their disbelief. When you listen to their conversations and you can sense their hopelessness. It’s devastating to be a Lions fan and the easiest cure is to numb the wound and forget that it ever happened. Give up. Stop cheering. Stop watching. Stop attending games.

The other option is the scream for change. Fans who still care can fight for improvement. But who do we fight? We can’t “Fire Millen” anymore. No, the problem still is Ford, and fan pressure to sell the team will be at the pinnacle of its height if the Lions complete an 0-16 season. This would clearly be the last straw.

You can’t blame Ford for missing tackles or making bad trades. But after 44 miserable seasons the owner must eventually take responsibility. He’s had multiple NFL generations to make things right—he had Barry Sanders for crying out loud—and has done nothing. So the shouts for Ford to sell the team have grown louder, but it hasn’t happened yet.

And maybe that’s a good thing.

Sure, the Lions have been horrible and Ford is to blame, but the one thing he provides is consistency. At least we still have a team.

If Ford actually listens to our demands and sells the Lions though, we may end up waving goodbye to the bewildered franchise. Think about it. Ticket sales are down and fan spirit is at an all-time low. Ford is too stubborn to move the team, but if the Lions were sold to an owner who didn’t have Michigan connections why wouldn’t they move the organization to a better location?

It happened to the Cleveland Browns. It happened to the Houston Oilers. It happened to the Los Angeles Raiders. It can happen to us.

People assume Detroit is too prominent of a city to lose any sports teams, and that’s true for most Detroit sports teams. The Tigers are too historic too lose, the Pistons are too good and the Red Wings gave the city its name.

But the Lions?

They’ve never even been to the Super Bowl and have only won one playoff game in the last 50 seasons. The only seed they planted in the city was Barry Sanders, and chased him away. Fans are boiling with hatred and have drastically stopped supporting the team financially.

So why would any neutral owner keep the Lions here?

Yes, there’s a new stadium, Ford Field, and usually those tend to keep franchises around, but when it fails to rake in cash owners tend to look for other options.

So selling to a new owner could be dangerous. But we can’t keep going on like this with the Ford family. We need serious on-the-field innovations that take big steps toward improving the team.  And the only owner that could improve the team and assure the Lions would stay in Detroit is the city itself.

Detroit could purchase the team and appoint local executives to run it. At this point it, it should be up to the city to run the organization. If they truly want a football team they should take responsibility for it, win or lose.  

Now is the perfect time for the transaction. It’s a buyer’s market when it comes to the Lions. So the city could purchase the team cheap, put heartfelt efforts into cleaning it up and reap the rewards. With the suffering economy it would be difficult, but the project would bring the community together and slowly but surely the move would help the city financially.

The greater problem would be prying it away from Ford. He can hang on to the organization with a death grip and watch the team sink, or he can cut his losses and enjoy whatever life he has left, knowing the team would be in good hands. 

Most divorces are ugly, and that could very well be the case if Ford sells to a neutral owner. But what’s worse is seeing the Lions spiral into an endless pit of hopelessness.

The city needs to step up and take control of the future of its sports team, and Ford needs to step down and hand it over.