Given the sorry state of the Lions this season, I have spent a ton of time over the past week or so looking over scouting reports on draft prospects, examining NFL contracts to see who might be available in the offseason, and trying to evaluate just what the Lions might be able to do to avoid a repeat of this soul-crushing season in 2009.
However, in the course of all this, I can't help but think back to the "good ol' days" of Lions football, the 1990s. I'm sure back then none of us figured we'd ever be longing for the days of Wayne Fontes and company, but it looks like that could well be the heyday of the franchise in our lifetimes.
I was mostly wondering if anyone else remembered the 1999 season. Specifically, Week Seven. The Silverdome is packed for a matchup of unlikely first-place opponents, the St. Louis Rams (6-1) visiting the Detroit Lions (5-2).
Down 27-24 with time running out in the fourth quarter, the Lions are facing an impossible situation: 4th-and-26. Starting quarterback Charlie Batch and top receiver Herman Moore are both injured. Gus Frerotte is under center. Germane Crowell is split wide left.
The outcome of the game is a mere formality for the evenutal Super Bowl champions. Despite tasting their first defeat at the hands of eventual Super Bowl opponent Tennessee a week prior, thankfully this tough win would prevent any prospect of a losing streak.
Frerotte takes the snap and drops back. Crowell fires off the line and down the field. Seconds later on the left sideline, Crowell comes down with a spectacular jump ball. The Lions needed 26 yards. They got 57.
A touchdown strike to Johnnie Morton and a last second Ron Rice interception sealed the deal and the Lions took a two-game lead in the NFC Central.
These types of triumphant moments are what is now missing from the Lions' seasons.
Sure, it's easy to focus on the fact that the Lions collapsed in 1999, finishing the season 8-8 while the Rams would lose a singular game the rest of the way. But that was a team that banded together after the shocking retirement of Barry Sanders and gave their fans an entertaining game, a signature moment, and a competitive football team.
After all, the NFC was littered with 8-8 teams that season, and the Lions made it into the postseason.
Now, and for the past several years, what little magic the team seemed to have has been replaced by a ghastly and existential sterility. The team plays in a much nicer facility these days, but it doesn't feel the same as the cavernous dome in Pontiac. The excitement is gone. It doesn't even feel like Detroit has a football team anymore.
Looking back on that 1999 season is a lot of fun, though. It was an eventful one. It was the last time the Lions made the playoffs, even though they snuck in after losing their last four games and got immediately crushed by the Redskins, ironically the last team they had beaten in the regular season.
That was the year of the Music City Miracle. It was the year the Rams shocked the nation, going from worst to first. It was the last season a single Lion fan had any midseason thoughts of competing for the division crown.
It was capped by a Super Bowl ultimately decided by a solitary yard.
I can only wonder if the Detroit football fan will ever get the feeling of the '90s back.
To the fans of other teams it probably doesn't make sense. After all, they didn't win a damn thing, but the team had talent. The team was entertaining. Not every draft pick was an automatic bust. They were far from an elite team, but more importantly to us, they were more than just a punchline.
When do we get that back?