Sunday, September 16, 2007

Answering the Detroit Lions "Burning questions" - Weekend edition

Theres a new fishwrap columnist joining us for our Detroit Lions burning questions exercise this weekend, the Detroit News' Terry Foster. I guess Mike O'Hara had better things to do, like actually cover the team.

Nevertheless, Foster brings the fiery third degree, covering such issues as Bill Belichick, the Lions struggling to sell out, why the Vikings have dominated the Lions over the years, Kevin Jones and his gimpy foot.

Let's copy and paste, then answer some red hot questions!

Burning questions as the Lions prepare to open the home season Sunday against the Vikings Q: What did you think of the NFL punishment levied toward the New England Patriots for spying and video taping the New York Jets coaching staff?

Foster: Let me first say that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is carrying an iron stick and busting everybody upside the head. However, this time he looks more like the keystone cops than using sound judgment.

The Patriots should be punished for breaking rules. However, Goodell went overboard. He fined the team $250,000 and coach Bill Belichick the maximum $500,000. I don't have much problem with the monetary fines, but the NFL went over the top by taking away a first-round pick if the Patriots make the playoffs and a second- or third-round pick if they don't.

The Patriots were wrong but everything and everybody in the NFL is videotaped. There are no secrets in this league and if you want you could catch something on videotape legally. The NFL buckled under the pressure of the national media and Belichick is not the most likeable person in the world. He's also been accused of this before by about a half dozen NFL teams.

My punishment would be $250,000 to the Patriots, $250,000 for the coach and the team keeps all of their draft picks.

Big Al: "Belichick is not the most likable person in the world." That's a bit of an understatement, you think? Christ almighty, I can't think of an easier person to despise!

My first thought when I heard that Bill Belichick and the Patriots were busted for cheating was, "It couldn't have happened to a bigger douchebag, and a more obnoxious city and fanbase! Wonderful!"

If there was one man, and one team, that needed to be knocked down a few pegs, it was Bill Bellichick, and the New England Patriots. It was refreshing to see the MSM take the Patriots to task for their misdeeds, a total 180 from the "Pats can do no wrong, a team all should emulate, let's get down on our knees and slurp happily away" type of coverage we usually see.

A Bill Belichick is what you get with a win-at-all-costs mentality. He'd do anything to win a game, morality, common sense, or rules be damned. Bellichick is an awful human being, a homewrecking slimeball of an adulterer, a cheater both in marriages and now on the gridiron. But it all gets overlooked, because he wins championships.

He's not the kind of guy I'd want to be friends with, to say the very least. Belichick would bed your wife/girlfriend, deny anything happened, then cheat you out of your cash on poker night.

I'm thrilled that the NFL all but threw the book at him. Yet Foster thinks Goodell went overboard? Please. Belichick intentionally broke the rules in order to gain a competitive advantage. He did the crime, and he has to do the time, so to speak. Personally, I would have suspended the douchenozzle for a game or two just for being an all around asswipe.

A $500K fine is a painful hit to the wallet, even to a rich man, and Belichick is in the highest tax bracket. It'll make other head coaches think twice about playing fast and loose with the rules of competition.

Q: The Lions are 1-0 heading into their home opener against the Vikings. But the NFL needed to extend the 72-hour sellout period by 24 hours to get the blackout lifted in the Detroit market. What gives?

Foster: There are a couple factors at play. The Lions withheld 5,000 tickets and put them on public sale about a week ago to make sure all fans had a shot at them. They meant well because this took some of the tickets out of brokers' hands and gave common folks a shot at them.

The Lions figured the public would snap them up just as quickly as people bought those $9 Red Wings tickets.
They miscalculated two things. The economy is still rough around here and that is one of the reasons you have $9 Red Wings tickets and reduced prices at The Palace for the Pistons.

The other factor is people are beginning to withdraw a bit because of the Lions' 25-72 record the past six years.
People are tired of the losing and it did not help matters when owner William Clay Ford threw his support behind Matt Millen. He admitted his fondness for Millen plays in his decision to keep him around.

Big Al: Yes, the economy is in the tank. For that matter, the Tigers are much better, and in the middle of a pennant race, so fans are more willing to spend their hard earned cash on a winner. But those aren't the only reasons the Lions had trouble selling tickets.

It's simple, really. Fans are sick and tired of the losing, fed up with the Matt Millen bullshit, and had their fill of the grief that comes with being a fan of such a dysfunctional organization. Enough is enough.

In fact, I think it's a great sign that the Vikings game had trouble selling out. Because William Clay Ford only notices one thing, that being if the seats are full. Fans can march, protest, and scream "Fire Millen" till their faces turn Honolulu blue, but they were still buying tickets, and selling out Ford Field.

Nothing embarrasses the Fords. Well, nothing other than an empty stadium. That's the only thing that will force change. It's happened in the past, during the Darryl Rogers years. The Silverdome was only half full, at best, and the vast expanses of empty seats forced Ford into making a coaching change.

That the head coach job was given to the patron saint of this blog just goes to show you that even if the change is made, as long as the same old shit is going on in the front office, it doesn't make any difference who ends up as the coach. The Lions will blow, regardless. But that's another post...

Q: So the Lions are sliding in the pubic eye?

Foster: Yes and no. My emails are split. A bunch of folks are on the Jon Kitna bandwagon and believe they will win 10 or more games. A bunch of others scream same old Lions and do no not believe. And there are other contradictions.

The television ratings for the first week were 21 percent better than opening week a year ago against Seattle. But at the same time the Lions could not sell out Ford Field by the Thursday deadline.
Fans still care about this team. But they might not be willing to pay to see them until they are convinced improvement has arrived.

Big Al: The Lions will always have more than their share of Kool-Aid drinkers. They are also the fans who think Rod Marinelli is a good coach, just because he sounds how a football coach is supposed to sound. They are the fans who believe the Lions are only a couple of players away from winning 10 games. That if they get a couple of breaks, here or there, that the playoffs are more than a remote possibility.

But those fans are becoming fewer and farther between. We've been burned so often, for so long, that when it comes to anything involving the Detroit Lions, we need to actually see it, to believe it. In my mind, they lost any chance of getting the benefit of the doubt decades ago.

I want the Lions to win just as much as those harder to find "True believers." I just refuse to continue to throw good money after bad.

When it comes down to it, people do love the Lions, even though doing so just mean more pain. They wouldn't protest if they didn't care. But the Lions are on the verge of having their fans cross a line, from being pissed, to becoming apathetic. That Sunday's game didn't sell out (Meijer's bought the remaining tickets) is a sign that more and more fans couldn't give a shit about the Lions, at least until long overdue changes are made.

50 years of suck does that to a fanbase.

Q: The Lions have lost their last 10 games to the Minnesota Vikings. There was a stretch from 1948-1974 when the Vikings won 13 games in a row against the Lions. What gives?

Foster: The bottom line is the Vikings have been tougher. They've always believed in building through their offensive and defensive lines. I grew up watching The Purple People Eaters -- Carl Eller, Jim Marshall, Alan Page and Gary Larsen -- dominate the Lions with scrambler Fran Tarkington making plays with his legs.

This season the Vikings are going to try to win with a superior and tougher defense and a solid running game the Lions cannot match. The Lions might win this game, but once again the Vikings appear to be tougher in the trenches. The law of averages swing with the muscle teams.

Big Al: I grew up during the "Purple People Eaters" era too. They beat up on the Lions for years. I despised that team with a passion. I still have an intense dislike for the Vikings thanks to their dominance of the Lions.

But why did the Vikings beat the Lions so often? Because they were a much better run team! They had a Hall of Fame coach in Bud Grant. A defense full of Hall of Famers, such as the aforementioned Eller, Marshall, Page, and Paul Krause. And most importantly, they had a great QB. A Hall of Fame QB, Fran Tarkenton.

As for the Lions? They were run by a GM, Russ Thomas, who would rather save a couple of bucks for his billionaire owner, than sign a player to a market value contract. Draft pick holdouts were standard operating procedure during the Thomas era, as the Lions dragged their heels when it came to paying their picks.

The Lions of the past were rightfully known as a cheap, penny pinching, miserly organization. All of that was due to Russ Thomas, and his slavish dedication to the bottom line. The Lions may not have won much, but they sure as Hell were profitable.

During the era Foster talks about, the Lions also had a series of run of the mill, lackluster head coaches. On the other hand, the Vikings had Bud Grant. Who would you rather have, Grant or Tommy Hudspeth? Grant of Rick Forzano? 'Nuff said.

Amazingly, the Lions may have had a good head coach on their hands during the 70's, in Don McCafferty, a Super Bowl winner with the 1971 Colts. Unfortunately, he only coached the Lions for the 1973 season, as he had the gall to have a heart attack, and pass away, in 1974. I guess running the Lions truly is a fate worse than death...

Maybe the biggest reason, outside of Russ Thomas, the Lions couldn't compete with the Vikings was their advantage at 1 key position. Quarterback.

Lions could never seriously compete with the string of journeymen QB's they've used through the years. The Vikings had an All-Pro in Tarkenton, while the Lions of that era couldn't decide between Greg Landry and Bill Munson. You know the old adage, if you can't decide between 2 QB's, you don't have a QB, period. For the most part, both of the Lions QB's were ineffective. Unlike Tarkenton, and thus, the Vikings...

This season, the historic storylines have turned. The Lions have a big edge at QB, with Jon Kitna, while the Vikes are stumbling around with a bunch of nobodies who are better at handing the ball off, than passing it. Both teams have an inexperienced head coach, but Rod Marinelli does have a full season under his belt, and has super genius former head man Mike Martz on his staff, compared to Brad Childress, who has 1 game of NFL head coaching experience.

But as Foster says, the Vikes are good on the lines, and when you have good offensive and defensive line, you always have a solid chance to win.

Q: So you are saying the Lions will lose?

Foster: No. I actually believe they will win. But don't listen to me. I never get the Lions right. They confuse me and I never know what direction they are headed. There is a different vibe in the dressing room because of coach Rod Marinelli. His message is sinking in with most players.

A lot of guys who thought he was full of it are no longer here.
Kitna admits a few non-believers remain. However, the coach is trying to reach them. If he doesn't, they will be gone.

Big Al: Will the Lions lose? Probably. They're the Lions! That's what they do best, lose. A lot!

Foster's not alone in his confusion, no one can figure the Lions out, Marinelli included. I have no idea what Lions will show up against the Vikings. We saw 2 different Lions teams against the Raiders. One that dominated in building a 17-0 lead, and one that went and blew that 17-0 lead. Then the former showed up in the nick of time, allowing the Lions to win in comeback fashion. I get whiplash just writing about it...

The Lions are the "Sybil" of the NFL. Their personality changes from week to week, so why expect anything different against the Vikings?

Q: There are reports running back Kevin Jones will be active for the Vikings game. Are they true?

Foster: It is possible, but my guess is he returns for week 3 at Philadelphia. It appears as if T.J. Duckett won't play this week and perhaps people are reading too much into this and believe Jones will return.

Jones did miss parts of a practice this week because of soreness. He is close, but I do not believe he is quite ready to make an impact on the field. He needs more conditioning.

Big Al: Tatum Bell proved he could handle the rushing load against the Raiders, so why risk further injury to Jones? If he plays, the Lions are insanely stupid.

Jones has all of about 2 weeks of practice time, and has not taken a hit in anger in close to a year. You have a 3rd round draft pick in Brian Calhoun buried on the depth chart, with Duckett (A certainty) and Jones (Hopefully) out, play Calhoun and see what the kid has! He was a 3rd round pick for a reason, and it wasn't because the Lions thought he sucked. Maybe he does, but the only way the Lions will find out for sure is to give him playing time.

No matter who lines up in the backfield, the Lions will only move the ball with any consistency through the air. Hell, for all I care, they could put Big Baby in the backfield. Put anyone other than Kevin Jones behind Kitna. Let Jones get fully healthy and pain free, then we can talk about playing time.

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