Sunrise, Sunset: Changes for’s Highlight Reel, John Niyo, Chris McCoskey, & Dave Birkett

>> 7.30.2010

highlight-reel-logo-2 They say you leave bad news for Fridays, and . . . well,  Phil Zaroo, over at, has closed the doors on the Highlight Reel blog.  The Highlight Reel was a great place to find stuff other than “what everyone was talking about,” and home of the farthest-reaching Lions link-dump around.  Phil also let me pen an article or two over there.  His Lions writing, and’s Lions coverage, will of course continue at, but the Highlight Reel is no more.

In happier news, the Detroit News’ John Niyo has gotten a well-deserved bump—he’s now a full-time sports columnist.  Chris McCosky takes over the Lions beat, and Tim Twentyman will continue covering the Leos as well.  The Lions

One-time Lions beat writer for the Oakland Press, and current coverer of U-M football for, Dave Birkett confirmed via Twitter he’ll be replacing Nick Cotsonika on the Lions beat at the Freep.  This is great news.  Birkett’s stuff at the Oakland Press was always fresh; he always seemed to zig when everyone else was zagging, repeatedly coming up with fresh angles.  Dave’s also been extremely cool to me personally, going all the way back to the beginning.  I’m really excited to be able to read his stuff again.

Watching the carousel  spin like this is hauntingly familiar.  If life reflects art, I guess the media reflects its subject, right?


Ndamukong Suh Unsigned? A Plate of Perspective


“You know what I'm craving? A little perspective. That's it. I'd like some fresh, clear, well seasoned perspective. Can you suggest a good wine to go with that?”

Though players are supposed to report this evening, it's still about 24 hours before the 2010 Detroit Lions open training camp for real: on the field.  We should be buzzing about Matthew Stafford’s first camp as the established starter, positional battles on the offensive line, and the new.  Instead most talk is about whether or not the Lions’ two first-round draft picks, Jahvid Best and Ndamkong Suh, will sign their contracts in time.

Let’s take a step back for a second.  We’ve been discussing Ndamukong Suh, what an unstoppable he-beast he is, and how Suh’d be a plug-in dominator since December.  After the Big XII championship game, many people on this site and elsewhere began expressing their undying love for him, crafting treatises on Ndamukong’s glory, and expounding upon how Suh’d immediately make the Lions’ defensive line both powerful and flexible.

There’s a lot of fear, uncertainty, and doubt that comes with a late camp entry.  “He’s way behind,” “We’ve already installed 90% of the system,” and “If he can’t get the starting job in camp, he’ll be a backup all year,” are all phrases you hear at this time of year.  But, I’m going to remind you folks of something: Calvin Johnson missed the first eight days of training camp!

Oh, there was woe.  Oh, there were lamentations.  Oh, there was gnashing of teeth.  Calvin wouldn’t learn the offense in time.  He needed to contribute in 2007, and he couldn’t if he didn’t know the offense.  There wouldn’t be time to build a rapport with Jon Kitna.  If he couldn’t be an effective starter in camp, he wouldn’t get enough reps to play well in the preseason.  If he didn’t play well in the preseason, he wouldn’t have the confidence to excel right away in the regular season.  If he didn’t excel in his rookie season, he’d be a year behind!  Oh no oh no oh no his entire career hangs in the balance!

Believe me, people, I was right there with you all!  But then . . . well, Calvin Johnson signed.  He showed up for work.  And what do you know?  He turned out to be 6’-5”, with 4.35 combine-40-yard-dash speed.  He also turned out to be just as humble, hardworking, and serious about his craft as advertised—and now, you’d never know he missed a few days of practice as July turned in to August.

I wanted the Lions to draft Suh because his body is put together in an extraordinarily rare combination of size, strength, speed and explosion—and inside that body, he’s a humble, generous, intelligent young man who understands his place in the world.  None of that is going to change between now and Saturday or Sunday or Monday.  Ndamukong wanted to get signed and get into camp—and, give or take a few days, he’ll be signed, and he’ll get into camp.  I can’t recommend a good wine for that—but I do suggest you pick up a bottle of Lion Stout, and put a hearty mug in the freezer.


Fireside Chats: The Lions in Winter on Ustream

>> 7.28.2010

Last spring, I experimented with a video-podcasting-like-thing, which I termed a "Fireside Chat." I did a modified version of the same format for my phone interview with Matthew Stafford. And Tuesday, I broadcasted (but didn't record) a technical dry run for my soon-to-be-weekly Ustream show. I'm afraid only those who were paying RAPT attention to my Twitter feed, @lionsinwinter, got to hear it (probably for the best).

Wait, what? Yes, you read right, The Lions in Winter: Fireside Chat will be coming to you on Ustream every week from here through the rest of the season. The current plan is that I'll broadcast every night there's a game, and you folks will be encouraged to jump in on the "social stream" to keep it lively. Thanks to an unfortunate encounter involving my video camera and the laundry, it'll be audio-only at first; with your help it should be no less entertaining.


Dré Bly is Not a Cancer (He’s a Gemini)

>> 7.26.2010

The Lions' Joey Harrington wipes his brow during a loss to the Chicago Bears. One of the interesting things about the blogosphere is the “echo chamber” effect.  In  media, the “echo chamber” is a phenomenon where a rumor makes its way to a media source, who shares it or alludes to it, some media outlets report the rumor, many media outlets report on reports of the rumor, and eventually the sheer volume of reports bouncing off of each other become (presumptive) truth.  An example: the report that  Brian Kelly would be hired at Notre Dame, which got picked up by the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, and then the Detroit News, and then they all reported each other reporting this report that, as far as anyone knew, was only a solid guess by some dude’s alias—Sean O’Shea—at a website about everything Irish.  Not everything Notre Dame Fighting Irish, just . . . Irish.

Brian at MGoBlog completely blew up everyone involved in the O’Shea/Kelly echo chamber incident at the time, and deservedly so.  This, though, is an example of the blogging version of an “echo chamber”: since many blogs analyze news rather than report news, one blog will react to another, yet another will react to the other’s reaction, and pretty soon you have analysis of analysis of analysis of analysis . . . whether that’s better or worse than Sean O’Shea taking a well-informed shot in the dark that ricochets all over the media is debatable.

On Sunday, Tom Kowalski at broke down Dré Bly, as he’s done for many key/interesting Lions this offseason.  Besides some cogent, rational analysis of his skills and how they’ve aged, Killer addressed Bly’s character:

There is a notion that Bly might be something of a lockerroom cancer, but just the opposite is true. More than 90 percent of the people in the organization believed the same thing Bly did. Harrington was far from the only reason the Lions were having their issues but, because of his position, Harrington was at the center of it.

Michael David Smith over at ProFootballTalk read Killer’s Bly piece, and posted his reaction take within a few hours:

“For starters, if 90 percent of the people in the Lions' organization really agreed with Bly that ‘Millen did a great job drafting the guys,’ well, then I don't even know what to say . . .”

“None of this is to say that Harrington was a good quarterback in Detroit. He wasn't. But he was far from the only problem. And if 90 percent of the Lions' locker room in 2005 thought Harrington was the "whole problem," that just shows what a clueless group of players the Lions had. Now they've brought one of those clueless players back.”

Well, let’s hope analysis is more like parfaits, and less like onions . . . or ogres.

Let’s re-read that last sentence of Killer’s: “Harrington was far from the only reason the Lions were having their issues but, because of his position, Harrington was at the center of it.”  Yes, because of his position.  Because of his salary.  Because of his repeated failure to progress within the offense.  Because his head coach wanted nothing to do with him, and never did.  Because the front office ceded to the coach’s demands to bring in Jeff Garcia.  Because Jeff Garcia got hurt and blew chunks.  Because Matt Millen refused to admit his mistake.  Because Millen compounded his mistake over and over and over again by refusing to admit it.

Quarterbacks the lynchpin of a football team.  They touch the ball on every offensive play.  Great quarterbacking can elevate mediocre teams to the very summit of the NFL, and bad quarterback play makes everything else irrelevant.  Consequently, quarterbacks are lightning rods for public praise and criticism.  No NFL player will ever be as worshipfully adored as Brett Favre was by Green Bay—and perhaps none will be as viciously despised as Favre now is by Green Bay.

Joey Harrington wasn’t just a quarterback, he was a number three overall draft pick quarterback.  He was a franchise savior, a harbinger and herald of bright futures and blue skies.  He was paid lavishly, he was handed the the keys to the franchise—and he was absolutely unwanted.  The fans didn’t want him.  His teammates didn’t want him.  His coach didn’t want him, either (Marty Mornhinweg, on that fateful draft day, told Kowalski he was behind Harrington’s selection--but later admitted he was flim-flamming).

Not only did Harrington’s failure to click get earn Mornhinweg an awkward dismissal, Matt Millen’s pet project got Steve Mariucci run as well.  With all the drafts from 2003-2005 focusing on “giving Harrington weapons,” and not, for example, restocking the defense, a team that was finally starting to move in a positive direction got dragged back down to the bottom.

"WHAT?" you say. "Positive direction?  During the Millen Era?" Mr. David Smith’s skepticism above not withstanding . . . yeah, positive direction.  In 2004, the Lions had the 18th-best scoring defense in the NFL—which is only mediocre, but it was the last time the Lions’ defense looked nearly so good.  It was also the second-closest thing to a winning season the Lions got in the Aughts.  The 2004 season included a 4-2 start, two road wins, and a season sweep of the Chicago Bears.  Six of the ten losses were by a touchdown or less!  Yes, there was definitely positive momentum heading into 2005.

So what happened?  First, a nice opening win against the Packers—then a horrific 5-INT Harrington implosion against the Bears.  There was an only-the-Lions-get-screwed-like-this Week 3 bye to marinate on it . . . and then, a robbery.  Man, oh man, if I’d been blogging back then, you folks would have needed eye bleach to wash out the vicious, nasty things I’d have written about the Buccaneers’ 17-13 “defeat” of the Lions.

It was Harrington’s first signature comeback drive, an efficient 81-yard march ending with a well-placed 12-yard touchdown pass—that got taken away by review.  Despite the play being ruled a touchdown on the field, and the ball being in Pollard’s hands while he was in bounds, the ref overturned the call, and the Lions’ season momentum evaporated. 

Obviously, Joey Harrington was not then, never became, and likely never would have become a great NFL quarterback.  But flip that one bit from “0” to “1”, and instead of the Thanksgiving Day loss to the Falcons sealing Mariucci’s fate, it’d have been the first time the Lions dipped below .500.  Yes, that’s right: if that touchdown doesn’t get called back, the Lions carry a .500 or better record into Thanksgiving.

Instead, it all fell apart.  With fans publicly, and teammates privately, incensed with Harrington’s subpar play, Mariucci didn’t support his quarterback.  Instead, he made plain his frustration with Harrington, and propped up Jeff Garcia at every opportunity.  Mariucci’s failure to groom Harrington into a winner—and by extension, failure to make Millen look good—cost Mooch his job.  Dré Bly speaking this fact aloud didn’t make him a cancer—it made him honest.


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