Detroit Lions: 7 Biggest Misconceptions in Lions History
What's more frustrating than being a Detroit Lions fan?
Talking to fans of other teams who know you're a Lions fan.
We've all been there, and everybody knows the kinds of typical responses you get. There are different reactions for different people.
Some express pity or patronization.
Some will give you the encouraging "keep hope alive" message.
Some will just laugh and poke fun at you directly.
Some say they respect you for sticking with your team, or say that they "like the Lions," and are "hoping to see them do well." This is the ultimate patronizing insult.
You know what teams nobody likes? The ones that consistently beat down the rest of the league (think Colts, Patriots, Steelers). At one point, even Vikings and Packers fans were feeling bad for the Lions. I, for one, have no need for the pity of division rivals. They shouldn't be rooting for the Lions, they should hate them.
Regardless of how people react when you say you're a Lions fan, all of them, and I mean all of them, misinterpret the facts. And it's not their fault. They don't know the Lions like we do, and they shouldn't. We're the fans, not them.
That doesn't change the fact that it's irritating. So in an attempt to clear some of this up, here is a list (and explanation) of seven of the biggest misconceptions about the Detroit Lions.
Wayne Fontes Was an Idiot
Let's go over Wayne Fontes' resume as a coach, shall we?
Fontes holds the franchise record in both wins (67) and Super Bowl-era playoff wins (one). Sure, the Lions were 1-4 in the playoffs under him, but show me another Lions coach in the last 50 years who went one-for-anything in the playoffs.
The media (and a large contingent of fans) treated Fontes like toe jam for most of the time he was in Detroit, and it surprises me a bit how quickly Lions fans became accustomed to success under his tenure.
After decades of mediocrity, Fontes delivered the Lions' most successful years since the 1950's, and while his teams were inconsistent, they produced results more often than not.
Still, everybody conveniently forgot about Fontes being the most successful Lions coach in 50 years when they were calling for his head. Fontes, despite his despicable treatment in the media, maintained a good-natured attitude, even joking around about his perpetually tenuous job security.
The biggest counter-argument to Fontes being a good coach is that anybody could have done it with Barry Sanders on the team (let's leave aside that Sanders' presence on the team was Fontes' doing in the first place).
I happen to recall Bobby Ross coaching Sanders for two years before driving him out of football, missing the playoffs both years.
The Lions qualified for the playoffs in 1999 with an 8-8 record before being soundly beaten in the Wild Card round. Ross resigned in 2000, dissatisfied with the amount of effort he was getting.
Ross lost the team in less than half the time it took Fontes to build it up from nothing. And Ross had a Super Bowl appearance under his belt, so what does that say about Fontes?
Barry Sanders Quit on His Team
This is a tough one, because it's difficult to swallow the fact that the Detroit Lions drove out one of the greatest football players of all time, and in his prime.
But what Barry Sanders did cannot be classified as quitting so much as ending a toxic relationship. He simply realized that the organization was not as committed to winning as he was, and that's a tough pill to swallow for a guy who gave so much of himself for so long.
The cold fact is, the Lions organization was making a mint off of Sanders' league-wide popularity, and that was good enough for its owner. That wasn't good enough for Sanders.
It would be like if you were in a relationship for 10 years, doing anything and everything for your significant other, putting your whole heart into everything. Then one day you find out that all along, they were only in it for your money.
Ending that relationship is not "quitting" on the relationship. It's realizing that what you thought was a mutual commitment was actually you being used and getting out before you get hurt any further.
Granted, to an extent, every player/team relationship is a "using" relationship. Had Sanders played for another 10 years, the Lions would have eventually "quit" on him instead, once he was too old to be effective. The difference is Sanders could have made millions of dollars in the interim.
Instead, he left football before he ceased to be useful, which is the only real difference between him and any retiring player.
Normally, leaving millions of dollars on the table because of an insatiable desire to win is a celebrated action in sports. Why not here?
Matt Millen Was a Scapegoat
I hear a lot of this, because it's difficult for anyone who didn't experience it to understand just exactly how bad Matt Millen was.
Fans typically throw around the "I could do better than this guy" argument, and it's effectively never true. Football GMs are on their own scale of knowledge. The worst GMs in the NFL know metric tons more than even the most well-informed Fan on the Couch.
Millen just might be the exception. This is a guy who drafted exactly zero meaningful players for five years. From 2002-2006, not a single player has stuck with the Lions, and almost none of them have made any impact whatsoever with other teams.
Most were out of football within a year or two of being drafted. Fan on the Couch could throw a dart at a board and get at least one pick right.
And that's only the most visible aspect of Millen's failure as a football mind. His free-agency pickups, his coaching hires, his handling of the media, all terrible.
You can't blame the owner for anything but hiring him. William Clay Ford is, and has almost always been, a primarily hands-off owner who lets his football guys do their jobs with minimal interference. He's not "helping" make decisions like Jerry Jones or Al Davis.
Which means the high man on the totem pole is Millen. What wasn't directly his fault was the fault of someone he hired, or one of his hires' hires.
And of course the only statistic that really matters is the one that sent Millen off: 0-16.
That is a feat not accomplished by any other GM in the history of the NFL, which means he was bad on an unprecedented level, which is why nobody can quite understand how one man can run a multi-million dollar franchise into the ground.
And yet he did, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
"Same Old Lions"
You hear it every year, and you immediately consider physical violence.
Which is tough, because it's often hard to argue against people who are just saying the Lions are a bad team every year. No playoffs since 1999 and no winning record since 2000 means it's hard to win that argument.
But "Same Old Lions?" No, that's just not right. Even when the Lions have long stretches of mediocrity, they've been distinctively different every year.
"Same Old Lions" just refers to the self-defeating mindset that the Lions will never be a respectable team, perpetuated by those who have given up on hope. And that, mind you, is only until the Lions put together another winning season, at which point they will return to being "lifetime fans."
That's why you most often hear the dreaded three-word phrase by some insufferable bandwagon fan from Troy who probably spent the last decade cheering for the Patriots and Steelers.
You'll notice also that this misnomer is becoming increasingly less frequent among division rivals.
After Green Bay narrowly escaped with a 28-26 win at Lambeau Field last year, Pack fans were eerily quiet about the victory.
After the Lions came back later in the season and beat them 7-3, injuring their starting quarterback in the process, they were an excuse factory (let's take this moment to smile and remember that Drew Stanton won that game).
Vikings fans can't use the phrase, because if the Lions (third place, NFC North) are the "Same Old Lions," what does that make the Vikings (fourth place, NFC North)?
Bears fans still say it (how much did you hear it after the "Process of the Catch" game?), but nobody cares, because the Chicago Bears are consistently two degrees from implosion, and the Jerry Angelo/Lovie Smith combo inspires more patronizing chuckles than respect.
So maybe you can't find the obnoxious "whoever-won-the-Super-Bowl-last-year" fan backtracking on the phrase, but the people who actually know football are coming around to the idea that the "Same Old Lions" might soon be the "New, Improved Lions."
Eddie Murray Was as Good as Jason Hanson
Look, I have huge respect for Eddie Murray. I mean, any kicker who managed an MVP in the Pro Bowl (of all things) has to have been special.
And yeah, Murray made two Pro Bowls with the Lions.
Know who else did that? Jason Hanson. It should have been three, but Pro Bowl voters couldn't look past the Lions' 0-16 record in 2008 to see the guy who set an NFL record by going 8-8 from 50+ yards, and kicked 100 percent when his kicks weren't blocked.
Okay, so Murray was a first-team All-Pro.
So was Hanson.
All right, Murray played for 20 seasons.
Hanson has played for 19, and has already surpassed Murray on the all-time NFL scoring list by almost 300 points.
Also, Hanson's 19 seasons consist of 19 seasons with the Detroit Lions. Murray's 20 consist of 12 with the Lions, two with Dallas, two with Washington, one with Kansas City, one with Minnesota, one with Philadelphia and one with Tampa Bay.
Look, I'm not denying that Murray is the second-best kicker in Lions history. There should be very little doubt. Murray was very good for a very long time. But the distance between him and Hanson, one of the best of all time, is so vast, it's ridiculous.
It is an insult to Hanson to even compare the two, but I will to make a point.
Want to talk about career field goal percentage? Hanson's is 81.9, 16th highest all-time. And 13 of the 15 players above him are active, and likely to decline at some point.
Murray's is 75.5, good for 60th all time.
Kicking for distance? Not even fair. Hanson has made more 50+ yard field goals (44) than Murray attempted in his career (43), and kicked almost 10 percentage points higher from range.
How about overall scoring? Murray is 14th all-time with 1,594 points. Highly respectable.
Hanson, however, is seventh overall with 1,890. That's with one less year of service, and likely several more ahead of him. Hanson could find himself third on the all-time NFL scoring list within three years if he keeps anything close to his current scoring pace.
The point here is that I have nothing against Eddie Murray, but people need to understand when they're talking about a really good kicker and when they're talking about an all-time great whose career should end in the Hall of Fame.
The Curse of Bobby Layne
If Bobby Layne were around today, he would do three things when asked about the supposed curse bearing his name.
Here they are, in order:
1. Deny that he ever actually said anything of the sort.
2. Call whoever asked the question a moron for suggesting that anything except football wins or loses football games.
3. Get really drunk.
Layne's penchant for a stiff drink or 10 is well-documented. But his supposed curse? Well, read for yourself.
Turns out, the question of whether or not Layne's words held any power over the state of the Lions for 50 years is probably irrelevant. There doesn't appear to be any reason to believe he said them in the first place.
In reality, the only "curse" that started with Layne being traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers is that of bad management and personnel decisions.
The Lions traded away their leader, the core of their team. When is that ever a good idea, especially for a team that was a perennial title contender at the time?
Would the New England Patriots have traded Tom Brady after his season-ending knee injury?
No, of course not. Successful teams that have an established leader need that leader. The Lions bailed on theirs and that was simply a microcosm of the bad decisions they continued to make for the next 50 years.
And you can only blame about 45 of those on William Clay Ford.
The Detroit Lions Have Bad Fans
Here is the crowd that filed into Ford Field on a snowy Sunday afternoon to watch the 2-10 Detroit Lions, who were once again eliminated from the playoffs before December, take on the Green Bay Packers.
The Packers were expected to win in a steamrolling.
The game was a sellout, regardless. And it wasn't because of traveling Packer fans, it was because of loyalty.
Lions fans don't ask much from their team. They know better. Usually, Lions fans just want to see that the team is as passionate about the game as they are.
And that is why Lions fans responded to the team battling every week in 2010 by selling out seven of eight home games.
That's seven sellouts for a team that hasn't made the playoffs in a decade. Seven sellouts for a 6-10 team, with six of those sellouts coming while the Lions were mired in a 2-10 start.
No team's fanbase, with the possible exception of Cleveland (who actually lost their team and were without football entirely at one point), has had to endure as much suffering as the Lions, yet remained so loyal throughout.
Yet Lions fans turn out every week en masse to support (and occasionally protest, as the situation call for it) their team, to the tune of some $60 a ticket, in one of the most economically ravaged areas in the entire country.
Now compare that to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who have won a Super Bowl within the last decade and went 10-6 in 2010, yet failed to sell out a single home game all year.
Maybe Lions fans don't have the notoriety of Packer fans, the craziness of Raider fans (the Raiders, by the way, sold out exactly one game last year and were ranked dead last in home attendance in 2010), or the obnoxious smugness of some of the "dynasty" teams' fans.
But I would put even an average Lions fan's devotion and dedication in hard times up against those of any fan base in professional sports.
If the Lions can sell out games with 55,000 strong even under these circumstances, how strong will the fan base be once all the bandwagon fans start shamelessly crawling back?
And how many other teams can claim the same?