In the recent past, a Detroit Lions fan's favorite time of year was the offseason. Mainly for two reasons:
- They don't have to endure sloppy play and losing seasons.
- Speculation on who they should draft and what needs to be done to turn the team around.
What will it take to get this team turned around? I'm not talking about the draft or free agency. I'm not talking about coaching decisions or player personnel moves.
What I want to know is just what will galvanize this team to want to win?
The New Orleans Saints used the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina to rally the city. Katrina really had little to do with the player moves the Saints made to get to the Super Bowl. But the effect of the fans on the players is what really motivated the team.
Here they were, downtrodden and basically ignored by our own government, looking for something, anything to rally around. The New Orleans Saints gave them that. And it really started with the first game played in the Superdome after Katrina.
The stadium was sold out, and Saints players could not believe that in the midst of what they were going through, the fans were cheering for a football team if only to forget for three hours of all the crap they were enduring.
Did the Atlanta Falcons even think they were going to have a chance?
So what event, what connection will Lions fans have to galvanize the players of the Detroit Lions to play for their city instead of a paycheck?
I didn't want this article to be yet another rant about William Clay Ford, Sr. But he is the 800 lb. gorilla in the room.
Tom Benson, the owner of the Saints, wanted to give New Orleans the title of champion to prove to the rest of the world that despite being beaten down and devastated by a natural disaster, his city and his team could rise from the ashes and emerge victorious.
Sounds a bit like something out of Greek mythology, but you see my point. I'm not so sure the situation can be repeated in Detroit since the situation in the Motor City is more akin to a Tolstoy novel.
The fans of the Lions have been slowly beaten into acceptance of being losers.
So do we look at Ford as some sort of communistic leader who thrives on the backs of the fans at their expense? Kind of hard not to, isn't it?
We are all aware of how the Lions fared in the 1950s. Three NFL Championships and teams that were full of character—none more so than Bobby Layne.
But in 1964, he gained full control of the Detroit Lions and has done almost nothing since then to bring home a championship. There were some close calls in the 1990s including the 1991 12-4 season, which garnered the only playoff victory in his 46 years of ownership.
He must have thought the season was an aberration and more than likely was freaked out when his team did beat the Dallas Cowboys. I venture that he was probably the only person associated with the Detroit Lions that breathed a sigh of relief when the Redskins beat them the following week.
I miss the city of Detroit. I miss the fans of all of the sports teams that reside there. I miss the strongly stated opinions we fans have while at the game. And I miss the fact these discussions can spontaneously occur with strangers.
So what would be a rallying cry for the Detroit Lions players and the fans to connect on? It can't be about getting rid of Ford as much as that would please a majority of the fans. After all, he does pay these players to play.
How about just the mere fact that Detroiters are survivors and just deserve better? Does this team want to be the last ever to play in a Super Bowl? It's bad enough that the Lions are the oldest team in the NFL never to have played in one.
How can Ford not view citizens of Detroit as anything other than survivors?
There are companies that are buying huge tracts of land to hopefully make Detroit a manufacturing mecca again by building components for green technology.
There is also the rise of urban farms in Detroit. Inner-city farms have sprung up in urban areas to supply inner-city families with fresh produce and healthier food since, from what I understand, there aren't any real grocery stores in Detroit.
Doesn't this make Detroiters as much survivors as those in New Orleans? Granted, Detroit's devastation has taken decades to occur whereas Katrina was a much swifter blow. But the devastation between the two cities is fairly close.
The only real difference is Detroit's devastation is man-made while New Orleans' was a natural disaster.
Pleas to Ford are pointless. How long have our appeals to his arrogance to make the Lions a winner gone unheeded? I'd say about 46 years.
So it's going to be up to the coaches and players to rally. They will need to win despite Ford, much like in the fictional movie Major League, though I'm not sure how much motivation a life-size cardboard cutout of Ford would generate. The thought of any clothing being removed for each win makes me shudder!
The draft and free agency is important. But for the past several seasons, in the rare opportunities I get to see Lions games, the players need to start playing for more than a paycheck.
Time to get it in gear guys. Time to play for the fans and the city of Detroit.
The time is now.