When it comes to sports fans, there is a fine line between being loyal and being stupid. A large number of Detroit Lions' fans are now in danger once again of crossing that line.
Their beloved Lions have once again managed to pull a rabbit out of their collective rear-ends by defeating the playoff-bound St. Louis Rams, 30-20, Sunday at Ford Field. With that win, against an uninspired and poorly coached Rams squad, the familiar cries of "Bahh! Bahh!" can be heard all over the state of Michigan as the sheep, err . . . I mean, Lion loyalists, scurry back to the trough to scarf down another generous helping of William Clay Ford Senior's famous "Wait ‘til Next Year" mystery slop.
As the sheep fight for position around the familiar silver trough, in their familiar Honolulu Blue woolen coats, Lions' Head Chef Matt Millen serves up the slop. The noise of the sheep is almost loud enough to drown out Millen's hysterical laughter, as he thanks his lucky stars once again that their is still one NFL owner dumb enough to believe that his unique Foot-in-Mouth, Head-up-Ass approach to management will succeed.
Never mind that Millen's current 10-39 record, and .208 winning percentage, over the last three seasons is the worst stretch of its kind in franchise history. Forget about the fact that he has managed to embarrass himself and the organization during his tenure with two separate, highly publicized, off-color comments involving current and former Lion players. Suppress the memories of how Millen botched the hiring of current head-coach Steve Mariucci last January by mentioning Mariucci's name only when asked about a list of candidates after the firing of former-coach, and Millen hire, Marty Mornhinweg. Because of Millen's procedural gaff, the Lions' organization was painted as racist in the eyes of many, and caused the NFL to levy a fine of $200,000 dollars on Millen for violating the league's well-intended, but faulty, minority-hiring guidelines.
None of the above mentioned mishaps matter because William Clay Ford Sr., the only guy with the power to make change in the Detroit Lions' organization, knows that no matter how bad things get on the field, no matter how many times his employees make a mistake, he can always count on his trusty flock of sheep to come running back whenever his sad-sack team shows any signs of life.
It is important to note that the last time Ford Sr. made a coaching, or organizational, change mid-season was back on November 13, 1988. That season he fired then-head coach Darryl Rogers after a 23-20 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Silverdome. Rogers, who had led the team since 1985, had a combined record of 18-40 in his three-plus seasons, including a 1988 mark of 2-9 at the time of his release. The average-home attendance during Rogers' last season with the Lions was 37,088, including a season-low 25,956 for the Bucs' loss. For those of you who have been inside a sold-out Tiger Stadium, Silverdome, or Ford Field, that number of empty seats for any Lions' home game seems almost unimaginable.
According to the Lions' current media guide, since 1998, which was the last year of the Barry Sanders era, the Detroit Lions regular-season record has been a combined 32-64. Despite their less than stellar record during that 96-game stretch, they have still managed to sell out 38 of their last 48 home games. That includes the current streak of 17 consecutive dating back to the last game at the Silverdome versus Dallas in 2001. Couple those brisk ticket sales with the new and improved revenue streams coming from Ford Field's concession and parking fees, and you have what could be described as a giant cash cow with a extreme case of dysentery, that is excreting money at a record rate.
What these recent attendance figures show is that as long as William Clay Ford Sr. can count on 65,000 suckers to pony up the dough to sit through another season of Lion futility at Ford Field, there will be little urgency on his part to make changes that will cost him additional dollars. Therefore, Millen remains at his current post, with his $3 million-a-year price tag.
If you still have trouble believing that Ford Sr. doesn't give a damn' about the feelings of his loyal flock, below are five recent quotes from the fearless owner himself regarding the fans and Millen. Each quote will be followed by a translation from yours' truly to show what I believe he is really saying. The first is from an article written by Detroit News columnist Jerry Green, which appeared in the News on October 26. The second, third, and fourth quotes come from another article by Mr. Green, which appeared in the Detroit News on December 29.
Quote 1: "They are very passionate fans. If you win a game, they're on the top of the world. Some of the towns, they're apathetic -- 'It's too bad we lost.' Here it's a roller coaster. That's part of the fun of it. It's a very emotional game."
Translation: I love to hear ‘em cry one week, and then turn around and cheer the next. These people are so hooked. Win or lose, they are always going to be there to fill my seats.
Quote 2: "The fans, I don't blame them. They're interested in the won-lost record, and I guess that's the barometer they used to judge success or failure if you're a fan."
Translation: All these idiots care about is wins and losses. They're too dumb to realize that the bottom line in big business is not winning and losing, but how much money you can make. In the NFL, it doesn't matter if you win or lose, because everyone makes money. Just ask Bill Bidwell. Hell, his damn' Cardinals haven't won a championship since 1947. And these dopes around here think they got it bad. Heh! Heh! Heh!
Quote 3: "But if you're looking at the inner workings of the organization, if you look at who he's drafted, as I say, if you could cancel out those 15 guys on IR (injured reserve), we'd have a darn good draft. I think it was very skillful."
Translation: A youth movement and injuries are always good excuses to get the little people off our backs. I couldn't even name half of the players we've placed on IR, let alone tell you how many of them were brought in by Matt.
Before we move on to the last quote, I feel a need to jump in to address the injury issue. It's been blown way out of proportion in my opinion. First, take a close look at the fifteen names, in alphabetical order, below that make up the list:
Scotty Anderson, Rod Babers, Bradford Banta, Eric Beverly, Chris Cash, Kalimba Edwards, Andre' Goodman, Corey Harris, Shawn Jefferson, John Jett, Victor Rogers, Charles Rogers, James Stewart, Chris Watson, and Brian Williams
Now that you have scanned the above list, ask your self the following question: How many of those players would start on any other NFL team outside of Detroit? Okay, Charles Rogers is a given, and lets give the benefit of the doubt to James Stewart, Chris Cash, and maybe Corey Harris. With all due respect to the rest of the IR-15, to say anyone else would make another team's starting-22 would be a stretch. Everyone has injuries in this league, and the talent drop-off from the Lions' IR guys when compared to their replacements has been minimal at best.
We have one more translation, and this one really says all we need to know about the 40-year regime of William Clay Ford Sr.
Quote 4: "He'll be back because I want him. I don't need any more reasons than that."
Translation: He'll be back because I want him. I don't need any more reasons than that.
Moses and the Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years before they found the Promised Land. Forty years after William Clay Ford gained sole-control of the Detroit Lions, he and his loyal sheep are still wandering around looking for the Interstate.