I’ve rarely called out the leaders of the Detroit Lions. Neither the coaches nor executives receive much criticism on this blog. For starters, The Lions in Winter exists partly as a haven from brain-dead “fire the lousy bums” talk. For seconds, the Lions’ leadership hasn’t done much to deserve criticism. When they have, I’ve been quick to say so—publicly and privately.
The other reason is, the closer I get to the business of football and football media, the more I realize just how far removed fans are from the reality of the game. I have to be awfully sure that I, professional IT nerd, armed with nothing but my HDTV and DVR and iPhone and Mac Pro, know better than the men paid millions of dollars to run this team with every conceivable resource at their fingertips for me to speak out. Every once in a while, though, I’m convinced I’m right—and I do something silly like write an open letter to the Lions’ brass, demanding that they draft Aaron Curry:
Not long ago, the Lions' players were well known for being great leaders in the community, providers who put down roots in Detroit, and gave back to the city as much as the city had given them. As you know,
Robert Porcher won the NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year award multiple times;[Ed.- Actually, he didn't.] Aaron Curry will surely follow in his footsteps. Look out the window, gentlemen; read the papers on days when they can afford to be printed. On the heels of the news that Michigan again leads the nation in joblessness, it would speak volumes about the class, the character, and the priorities of the Detroit Lions organization to ignore the hype. To ignore the pundits and the shellacked talking heads. To ignore the common wisdom and the conventional thinking. To forget value charts and stopwatches, "big boards" and salary slots. To yoke your franchise to the shoulders of a bold young man who will help Lions fans to their feet, on the field and off, again and again and again. To restore pride to the Lions.
To draft Aaron Curry.
Aaron Curry has just restructured his contract, lopping the last two years and five million guaranteed dollars off of it. Suddenly, this year becomes a make-or-break; if he doesn’t perform up to his incredible potential the ‘Hawks may trade or release him without a cap hit. Even if they don’t deal him in this next offseason, he’ll likely be playing in Seattle to audition for a contract elsewhere.
This doesn’t mean fans are always wrong and the professionals are always right; otherwise Rod Marinelli would still be using his bully pulpit to harangue Detroit media for their ignorance of the invisible. No, the lesson here is to use the past to gain perspective on the present. Not for the first time, we see that a combination of height, weight, and speed doesn’t necessarily translate into an impact player. Not for the first time, we see that 4-3 outside linebackers have to be truly incredible to have a significant impact. Not for the first time, we see that a player’s off-field personality doesn’t necessarily translate to on-field anything.
One of the hardest things to do is temper expectations for this weekend’s game. After a glorious trouncing of the Bengals, and an unpalatably sloppy win over the Browns, facing the Patriots on national TV with both coaching staffs gameplanning and all available starters going at least a half? It’s a legitimate, and very scary, measuring stick. It seems the Lions always a tough out for this matchup, and it almost never goes well.
In 2007, the Colts, fresh off a Super Bowl win, dismantled the Lions 37-10. In 2006 Rod Marinelli flew the Lions into Oakland the day they were supposed to play, to prove they could show up and beat anyone, anywhere, anytime. The about-to-go-2-14 Raiders beat the Lions 21-3. In 2005, the Rams came to town—with the Monday Night Football crew—and punked the Lions 37-13 (after a last-minute garbage time Lions TD). In 2004, the Lions played the Ravens in Baltimore and, predictably, lost.
In 2009, though, the Lions again took on a lesser Colts team and—with some late-game Drew Stanton heroics—won 18-17. Last season, the third game was the Great Lakes Classic, and Matthew Stafford’s excellent performance kickstarted a 35-27 win over the unimpressive Browns. Now, for the first time, Jim Schwartz has followed Mariucci and Marinelli’s precedent and set the preseason bar as high as it will go.
History tells us that preseason wins and losses are meaningless; we need look no further than the 2008 Lions for the most definitive possible proof. However, history also tells us that in the third preseason game, the “eye test” of starters versus starters, starters versus backups, and overall quality is perfectly valid.
Let’s take the lesson history gives us, then. Let’s wipe the slate of the first two games clean. Let’s see what the Lions can bring to bear, and how they handle the onslaught from Boston. Let’s see Matthew Stafford face the blitz, and Ndamukong Suh chase Tom Brady. I’m ready to see just what these Lions are made of. Are you?