(ALLEN PARK) Lions fans and Matt Millen-haters had this Sunday circled on their calendar months ago.
That was after former Lions wide receiver Johnnie Morton was cut by the team so that Lions president and CEO Matt Millen could sign two free agent wide receivers, Az-Zahir Hakim of St. Louis and Bill Schroeder of Green Bay.
Morton, who was coming off a 1,000-yard receiving season in his first year in the West Coast offense and had been the public face of the Lions after squaring off with NBC Late Show host Jay Leno over the Lions misfortunes, was incensed.
Morton vowed that he was going to get Matt Millen fired as Lions president. Of course, despite Millens terrible track record atop the franchise, the chances of that happening were slim and none because William Clay Ford, Sr., the teams owner, never fires anyone.
Morton, though, now in the midst of his second year in Kansas City after signing as a free agent, is on a team that is tied for the best record in the AFC with the New England Patriots at 11-2. He now says his get Millen fired remark was out of frustration and he didnt really mean it.
I kind of let it blow over by now because Im kind of focused on other things now. I was more hurt at the beginning because I felt like I did all I could to have my best year my first year in that system and become like a mainstay and try to build something with a new coach, but I guess he didnt see it the same way. It kind of hurt at first if anything. I was comfortable there. I was there for my whole career and I kind of grew up there, and I wasnt expecting that so I think I was in shock and then I was hurt. Its pretty much over by now.
Morton says he believes that former Lions head coach Marty Mornhinweg was as surprised about the move to release him as he was. It was definitely [a] front office [decision] because I remember at the time Marty (Mornhinweg) kept telling me to tell my agent to get a deal done and I said I am, Im trying to get a deal done so I think he was probably kept in the dark as much as anyone and he was probably shocked when he found out, I think just like everyone.
Morton said he takes no satisfaction in the continued struggles of the Lions. It seems like injuries are playing a huge role again. That was the problem when I was still there. I know they have a lot of guys there that will work hard and give you what you want from a coaching standpoint. I just dont know why it is that they cant get out of that funk. I remember when I was there and we were losing, but it wasnt by a lot every game. We were trying. We kept trying to dig ourselves out of a hole, but it just wasnt happening.
I dont know what it is now. Its kind of hard to put a finger on it because I watch from afar and in my own special way I hoped to get out of it because I thought all of the fans deserved better and they deserve a winning team. I also think they need to give Mooch (Steve Mariucci) some time because it takes time like here its been three years that it took (Dick) Vermeil to build this squad so I think they should allow him the same amount of time.
Far removed from the losing and approaching the end of a stellar career, Morton says now his focus is on getting the Super Bowl ring that has eluded former teammates Barry Sanders, Herman Moore, Robert Porcher, and Chris Spielman.
Its huge because, first of all, this is my 10th year if you guys can believe that because I feel like I just left or I was just there, its huge because I havent been past the first round. I remember back in 95 I thought wed go really far until Lomas (Brown) told the Eagles what he did, Morton said.
In 1995, the Lions (10-6) would face the Eagles (10-6) in a wild-card playoff game. Lions offensive tackle Lomas Brown guaranteed a Lions playoff win over Rodney Peete and the Philadelphia Eagles. But in one of the worst moments in franchise history, the Eagles whipped the Lions 58-37.
Morton is cautious about how far the Chiefs can go this year. The thing is we havent played Indianapolis or Tennessee since Ive been here. We played New England and that was a tight game, so all of the top echelon teams in the AFC we havent faced yet and havent for a couple of years. It will be interesting once the playoffs roll around.
The veteran receiver in his 11th NFL season says he still receives many cards and letters from Lions fans upset about the decision to let him go and wishing him well in the playoffs which, he says, he very much appreciates.
Still, Morton hopes the opportunity to get a Super Bowl ring doesnt pass him by.
You dont get chances like this very often. This will probably be my second real opportunity to go far in the playoffs besides 95.
NOTEBOOK: The Lions have signed two players to the active roster including long snapper Jody Littleton who will take the place of Bradford Banta. Littleton, 6-1, 235-lbs, has played previously for Chicago and Atlanta in the NFL along with a stint in NFL Europe. Detroit also signed safety Julius Curry from the practice squad. The 6-0, 195-lb. former Michigan standout will backup Brian Walker, Bracy Walker and Terrence Holt who will swing between corner and safety. Curry entered the league as an undrafted rookie free agent with the Chicago Bears.