The Future Is (Not) Now, Lions Fans

Maybe this all shouldn't come as such a revelation, but given the anti-depressant salt lick residing directly in front of the Lions faithful these days, it needs to be said. These Lions aren't there -- yet.

Last weekend's loss at Buffalo served as more than just a reminder of the team's road ineptitude since 2007. It was also a startling notice to everyone -- the team, organization, the media, et cetera -- that overnight success will never happen in Detroit. It just isn't an option.

This issue surfaced the other night during casual conversation with my sports-inclined friend, Jeff. As with most of our dialogue, it quickly turned exaggerated, sarcastic and cynical.

Jeff: "Easily the most disappointed I've ever been as a Lions fan, maybe since the 1995 playoff loss to Philadelphia."

It's amazing what two home wins over mediocre ball clubs can do to perceptions.

"You know, the game where Scott Mitchell couldn't throw across the street, and Rodney Peete chose to be a Hall of Famer."

Me: (Cringe) "I remember it well."

(Note: I was 14 and can still painfully recall the last play of the first half: Peete heaved a Hail Mary as time expired that fatefully landed in the hands of Rob Carpenter. It gave Philly a 38-7 halftime lead. God hated us. Detroit had won seven straight to save the season and Wayne-O's job. Mitchell went Tecmo Bowl on everyone; fantasy football players everywhere burned through their CASIO handhelds tallying the points, trading the farm for Herman Moore and settling for Brett Perriman. Barry Sanders was Barry Sanders, and his Lions were the original Greatest Show on Turf. Cloud Nine wasn't big enough to carry everyone on the bandwagon. And then Rodney "Smiles" Peete, in maybe the best Monte Cristo moment in NFL lore, unmasked them. It was devastation of epic proportions. Andy got caught leaving Shawshank. Red wasn't paroled. Philly won 58-37, but it wasn't that close).

Me: "They need more time, I think the damage done by Millen was close to irreparable. He broadcasts Big Ten games to remind us of his lingering presence. Forget Bobby Layne; he's the new Ghost of Lions past."

Jeff: "Most NFL teams are the smart kids with the Legos who keep rebuilding something bigger and better. The Lions are the slow kid that chews on the pieces."

But the flaw in Jeff's theory is assuming the Lions ever had any blueprint or even a box of like colors to begin with.

The rules of parity don't apply to a franchise that whiffed on nearly all of its draft picks over a five-year span. Nope. The Lions are cataloged to the confines of rebuilding hell, a grueling process traditionally reserved for expansion teams, HGTV and, recently, Tiger Woods.

Detroit is climbing the rope of futility, demonstrating signs of progress, while getting pelted from above for not doing it fast enough.

Start With The Draft

It's difficult to assess what the organization's epic draft-time ineptitude means for the Lions. There aren't many, if any, parallels in professional sports to the near-diabolical mismanagement of Millen.

If there were a sports prison, they would name it after him.

What we do know is that it has had a profound, unfortunate impact on the current State of the Franchise. And one that cannot be overlooked or even overestimated. And one that, as recently as Sunday's loss, rears its repulsive head -- especially when hopes are high.

The draft is the groundwork for all franchises, but foremost in the National Football League, where players are scouted, drafted and groomed to perform in a specific system.

It's difficult for any franchise to concede just one misstep in a draft.

The Lions, under Millen, managed more than 30.

The Past Affecting The Future

In the waning moments against the NFC's top-tier New York Giants, Detroit's third-string quarterback nearly led a game-winning drive. It culminated in a game-ending interception.

Pelt.

Against the Jets, everyone forgot the Lions were the underdog, and they responded by repeatedly punching New York's bullies in the mouth until the final round. Then Detroit lost its quarterback. And then it lost the lead.

Pelt, pelt. Pelt.

On The Road, a post-apocalyptic journey for Detroit-turned-Hollywood motion picture, the game-tying throw against Buffalo in the final seconds slipped from the hands of a backup quarterback and sailed incomplete.

Pelt, pelt, pelt. Pelt.

The sky always appears to be falling in Detroit. But each of those instances, including the foundation for the team's struggles, can be tied to the past -- a past that cannot be cloaked with free agency and first- and second-year players.

You and I might not like it, but it doesn't obscure the fact that the Lions will have to do things the hard way.

Silver and Honolulu Blue Lining

Detroit's roster is a compilation of scattered talent, including a handful of draft choices that are still too green to be considered successful. This applies to Calvin Johnson, who, in spite of his almost other-worldly genetics, still doesn't dominate games. The Matthew Stafford era has yet to begin for the same reason he was drafted: his right arm. There's a smattering of talented players acquired by various means who looks imposing aesthetically but are still new to the culture, to the playbook and, most important, to their teammates.

They're talented musicians in an inexperienced orchestra that's playing before a hall of excited patrons.

The only reason 2010 has been a letdown is because of unrealistic expectations (don't feel bad, I don't). But even with a healthy Stafford, the Lions weren't pegged as a postseason contender in 2010, probably because they weren't supposed to be.

A 2-7 record sounds about right.

However, they have many of the pieces in place; they also have the coach with youth and moxie, and a front office leading man with gumption, savvy and a brain.

With practice, with health and with time, the Lions will gradually make the curve, catching up with the rest of the smart kids.

Football in Detroit has a future, certainly. It just isn't right now. That's more than can be said for the past 10 years.

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