During my lifetime, there have been plenty of moments when I’ve been proud to be a Lions fan. Rare, yes, and fleeting—but there have been times when I’ve been proud of the boys in Honolulu Blue, and their accomplishments. I can’t think of a time, before this administration, when I’ve been proud of the organization. The Lions have never been a team that “does things the right way,” that sets a standard for other teams. In fact, for most of my young life, the Lions were notorious penny-pinchers and hapless decision-makers. Whatever success they experienced on the field was in spite of ownership, in spite of the front office, and sometimes in spite of the coaching.
From 1967 until 1989, Russ Thomas was the GM, and his primary strength was negotiating great contracts (from the team’s perspective). His replacement, COO Chuck Schmidt, had trouble keeping great players around in the newfangled salary cap era. The Lions always seemed to be profitable first, and competitive when convenient. Barry Sanders retired because he couldn’t bring himself to again battle in the livery of a franchise that couldn’t win if it tried, and wasn’t trying. The Fords’ answer to that bitter rejection was to hire Matt Millen, and long let him reign.
But, for the first time in my memory, the Lions are at the head of the class when it comes to class. First, the Lions players are handling their business like true pros. Kevin Seifert wrote about former union rep Kyle Vanden Bosch, his value to the Lions, and his plans to keep his teammates primed for an awesome 2011. Dave Birkett’s story today has an awesome quote from KVB:
"There's the talk, 'Well, why are you doing something to help owners and stuff while you're locked out?' " Vanden Bosch said. "But at the same time selfishly, I want to have my best season next year. I want to make sure the guys on my d-line, we have the best unit in the league next year. And just, hypothetically, if we can't get together until the end of July or in August, I don't know that we can do that."
For the ownership’s part, they’re being open and honest with the fans—and not blaming the players one bit. The Lions sent a letter to season-ticket holders offering refunds, plus interest, if any games are missed. The official website posted a transcript of a con call of Lions President Tom Lewand; it contained zero percent kvetching about the union, and 100% focus on playing football—well—in 2011. Awesomely, Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio gave the Lions some rare dap for handling the situation with class:
That said, the fans have every right to be upset at one or both parties for failing to get a deal done, instead of trying to apply leverage in order to secure slightly “better” terms. Along they way, they’ve compromised their relationship to the point where some major feather unruffling needs to happen before the parties will agree on anything.
We credit the Lions for doing their part toward mending fences, by not further inflaming the situation with rhetoric aimed at getting the fans riled up against the players.
Best of all, Tom Lewand says he “gets it,” and unlike certain Commissioners I know, he really does:
"The bottom line is that they want us to play football and they're not interested in hearing about which side is posturing at the negotiating table or the court room, they're interested in watching Lions football. We understand that, we get it. And that's what we're focused on as well,'' Lewand said. "We want to play football. We want to build on the last four games of last year and build on the things we've been doing as an organization over the last two years. That's where the focus needs to be.''
There was a lot of hubbub last season about “proof” the Lions were on the right track. People wanted to see the Lions rack up a lot of Ws, to “prove” that Mayhew isn’t another Millen, and Lewand isn’t another Thomas, and Schwartz isn’t another Marinelli. The four-game win streak at the end of the year satisfied those folks, but not me. The Lions have put a few wins together several times in the last ten years.
To me, this is the proof. When the rest of the owners and players can’t agree on what they disagree on, Lions are jetting in from around the country to work out in Wixom together. While the rest of the teams are griping about the players not capitulating to the owners’ demands, the Lions’ brass sounds frustrated that they have to bother locking their guys out. Clearly, the Lions are a true team, from top to bottom, from GM to special teamers. They’re all completely focused on playing this year—because they believe in themselves, they believe in each other, and they know they’re going to be good.