Column: Cut It Out, Lions!

"The Extraction of the Stone of Madness" depicts the ancient medical practice of trepanning — drilling or cutting holes in a patient's head to release the demons causing an illness of the mind. This procedure was state of the medical art in medieval Europe around 1498, when the painting was made. Trepanning doesn't sound like too bad a therapy for the modern Lions Fan.

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Cut It Out, Lions!

Frank J. Bunker -

Like the Detroit Lions, I may be stuck in a rut. So please bear, er, stick with me when I say Sunday’s crazy game reminded me of yet another Hieronymous Bosch painting.

"The Extraction of the Stone of Madness" depicts the ancient medical practice of trepanning — drilling or cutting holes in a patient’s head to release the demons causing an illness of the mind.

This procedure was state of the medical art in medieval Europe around 1498, when the painting was made. Trepanning doesn’t sound like too bad a therapy for the modern Lions Fan.

What drives Lions Fans crazy? What’s gotten inside their heads? What HASN’T?

For 44 years it seems every vile form of football demon has plagued this team. The injury hobgoblin strikes with fury and impunity. Devilish twins Dumb Penalty and Phantom Penalty peek over the shoulder pads of players on the offense, defense, and special teams. The monster called stupid play is another species haunting the huddle.

On Sunday, it was Tennessee’s turn to start Lions Fans’ heads spinning like tops with bags on. A missed field goal from the red zone and another just farther out blocked and returned for a TD. Two defensive players ejected for retaliation. Two major penalties for unnecessary roughness and an unsportsmanlike conduct for "taunting." Grrrrr.

"Maddeningly," things in the ’dome got worse. The team led at one point, 7–6, the first time it’s led a game all season. They then lost the lead on the missed FG and TD return. Yet, the team did not falter and tied the score with about a minute left on a fourth-and-desperation TD pass to Desmond Howard.

Great! But, hold on to that minute! After a decent run-back off the kick, the speedy footwork and arm of the Tennessee QB quickly moved his team into position for the go-ahead field goal. Running back the ensuing kickoff, the Lions attempted a few laterals in a desperate attempt to score.

This is stuff I don’t want to remember. I need this madness excised. And it’s not new. It’s been happening my entire sports lifetime.

It’s Personal

Bringing up this stuff is pretty scary. It goes back decades, personally. I remember one Thanksgiving around 1981 when the Lions dominated the Bears all game long. Joy turned to sorrow in the fourth quarter, however, when Chicago drove and tied the game at 17 on the last play in regulation. Before I could get a refill of cider, the Bears won the coin toss. Immediately thereafter, each and every Lion froze in fright as some Bear blew past and returned the kick for a touchdown. So, maybe 14 seconds elapsed in the shortest overtime game in NFL history.

The family at dinner wondered why I was in such a bad mood all of a sudden. When it comes to Lions football, they’ve been wondering why I’ve stayed that way ever since.

The reason, actually, is I’m crazy for football and still crazy about the Detroit Lions. Demons or no demons. Curse or no curse.

I go to the games. I support the team in public and private. I criticize here and there, but, for the most part I try to keep it constructive. But it’s hard to stay positive when every cursed, weird, and monstrous thing possible happens to the Lions.

Now if these things get to me, I can only imagine what it’s like for the players and coaches. This angst must get into the Silver helmet of many a Lions player and head-set of many a Lions coach. Even the good ones. The question is how to cut it out?

Monster thoughts at the ‘dome

Some observers say this gloomy Detroit mindset has driven players to under-perform over the years and coaching regimes. That may be, but I don’t think so, especially for this year’s team.

The demons of underachievement may drive them to go the opposite direction, in fact. You see players trying to win games by themselves, like in the Minnesota game where Germane Crowell went for the end zone instead of the sideline with five seconds remaining.

It’s not so much a sign of stupid play as it is an act of desperation. I saw on the TV a highly skilled player pressing, and trying to do it all himself, rather than relying on the team, going out of bounds, relying on his teammates, and making one last desperate try at the end zone.

It wasn’t the right thing to do, but, at least he tried. Now, what can the team do to get better?

There is no magic wand that will make the scary devils disappear. No fairy NFL godmother will sprinkle magic dust in the Lions locker room. The Lombardi Trophy will not self-materialize in the team’s cobweb-covered trophy case.

There’s only one thing the Lions players must do to protect themselves and the team. It’s called changing their belief system. A new attitude is just what the doctor’s ordered for some time and it’s what’s needed to instill the confidence needed to win.

Nothing new there. Coaches Rogers, Fontes, Ross, and Moeller have each told their teams they need to believe they can do it. Self-confidence is the essence of willpower. The stuff of victory.

Unfortunately, hearing and doing, like saying and writing, are two different activities. And each differs from striving and accomplishing.

Too bad the sideline medical staff doesn’t include a trepanner. He may be what’s needed to drive out what’s been ailing the Lions for decades — an imagined curse that seems to have taken on a reality of its own. And when things go bad, it doesn’t take 20–20 hindsight to assign blame. Just imagine a curse and the facts will take care of themselves.

A Painful Prognosis?

Curse or not, the Lions players had better give Coach Marty Mornhinweg something to smile about soon. Otherwise, he might need trepanning, too. With people named Henry Ford running blocked field goals attempts back 69 yards for a back-breaking TD, the sad thing is it wouldn’t be his fault if he went crazy.

The reality, however, is that it’s Mornhinweg’s job to do something about the situation. And that’s where Hope lies. You see, while the Lions are winless, the team has played better under the new head coach. Particularly in the areas of most concern, both this season and traditionally.

Think how the offense and then the defense became suspect early this year. Both units are showing signs of improvement. OK, the special teams got weird on us Sunday against Tennessee. But hey, what area has most concerned the Lions since the last championship season? Quarterback play. Even when Barry Sanders was racking up 1,500 yards per year every year, the Lions did not have effective QB play.

Remember Scott Mitchell's great year? It didn’t matter one bit in the playoffs.

This year, Charlie Batch has had back-to-back 300-yard plus games. His QB rating is in the top third of the LEAGUE. Three touchdowns in each of the last two games. One interception on a tipped ball. Hey, that’s not too shabby for a guy playing his first three complete starts in the WCO.

Hole New Reality

So, what? We’re 0–5? True, but there’s hope. C’mon Lions! Open up your heads and think! You guys are the most powerful forces in your own destiny. Not the refs. Not the funny bounces the ball takes. Not the depth of bench.

All players need to do is cut out that negative stone of self-doubt from the brain. It takes belief, Lions Fans. We need it in the locker room. We need it in the stands. We need it on the field.

If we really believe — we’ll find the team playing even better — good enough to win.

The coach looks and acts like he believes. Charlie Batch is starting to play like he believes. In fact, most of the team seems to believe they can get the job done. They just need to know that they can and spend the rest of their time on the field doing what they need to get done.

Once they get the belief thing down right for every man on the roster, the Lions will win. That’ll make believers out of the fan base, as well as drive off the haunting from the national cynics. Then they’ll make believers out of everybody.

OK, my cynical and realistic friends. Still want to grind your teeth? How’s this? With flashes of effectiveness from the entire Lions team, just think where we’d be this year if the offense, defense, and special teams were hitting on all cylinders at the same time, from the get-go in Green Bay. So, it may take Mornhinweg longer than this season, and perhaps next, to turn things around.

See! Now that I remember what was driving me nuts, cutting holes in my head doesn’t sound like a bad idea at that!

Hey, Doc, don’t stop there — take the whole thing. I’ve got season tickets! Just leave my eyes attached. I don’t want to miss a thing.

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