Do you ever wonder what the pressure would be like if you were the guy who was supposed to replace a legend?
Detroit loves their sports teams, and they love the legends that have led them. Those legends that are fortunate enough to lead one of Detroit's teams to a championship . . . they hold a special place in the hearts of the Motor City faithful.
Howe, Kaline, Thomas, Yzerman, Trammell, Lindsay, Dumars, Schmidt and Layne . . . their names are etched in Detroit history forever. Their legends secure and their achievements to be told and retold.
The pressure for those who follow the legends, those who are expected to replace them and duplicate their triumphs, at times must at times be unbearable.
Could you have handled the pressure placed on Grant Hill, who was supposed to be the next Isiah Thomas? Could you have withstood the barbs and boos that every Red Wing goalie not named Terry Sawchuck endured during the Wings' 42 year championship drought?
Sure, today's pro athletes are paid well. Maybe that helps to make the pressure a little more manageable. Nevertheless, it still has to be tough.
Only those that have carried that burden truly know how tough it is. The rest of us can only imagine.
When it comes to Detroit and athletic pressure, the albatross of the Detroit Lions' 47 year championship drought has reached diamond-forging proportions. Since Motown's last NFL championship in 1957, the Detroit Lions have had 30 different quarterbacks that have started at least one regular season game and carried the weight that goes with it.
That's right, 30 different starters over 47 seasons. By comparison, the San Francisco 49ers from their inception in 1946 through the 1998 season, have essentially had just 8 (Frankie Albert, Y.A. Tittle, John Brodie, Steve Spurrier, Jim Plunkett, Steve DeBerg, Joe Montana and Steve Young).
To say that the Lions' quarterback situation has been unsettled would be like saying that Ryan Leaf's NFL career was a disappointment.
Unfortunately for them, fairly or unfairly, each of those 30 Detroit QB's over that 47-year span has stood in the shadow of a blond gridiron gambler from Texas named Robert Lawrence Layne.
Twenty-nine of those 30 Detroit quarterbacks (the exception of course being Tobin Rote the man who replaced the injured Layne during the 1957 Championship run) have tried in vain to lead the Lions back to the NFL promised land.
There have been some talented pitchers among those 29. Milt Plum was an NFL passing leader in Cleveland before coming to the Lions in 1962. Earl Morrall, who was traded for Layne in 1958, struggled in Detroit; but later went on to become an NFL MVP and two-time Super Bowl Champion with the Baltimore Colts and Miami Dolphins. Greg Landry went to a Pro Bowl in 1971 (the only Lion QB since Layne in 1956 to do so) but could never get Detroit over the hump.
Gary Danielson, Eric Hipple, Rodney Peete, Erik Kramer and Scott Mitchell all showed flashes of greatness, and just as many crashes of ineptitude.
Chuck Long and Andre Ware . . . well . . . we won't go there.
However, it appears that the 30th quarterback on that list; a man whom I just a week ago had counted out for 2004 and maybe beyond, has a little more fight left in him.
Sure it was against the putrid Vikings' defense. Yes, it was a long time in coming. Yes, it was only his 4th 200-plus yard passing game of the season. Yes, it was just the second 300-yard passing game of his career. Yes, he threw two interceptions and at times was very inaccurate.
Yes, it was . . . just . . . one . . . game.
It was also the first time Harrington showed the leadership, the guts, the fearlessness, the ‘damn' the torpedoes full speed ahead' ability that separates the Bobby Laynes from the Bob Gaglianos.
In short, Joey Harrington finally showed that he is capable of becoming a franchise quarterback - a franchise quarterback that has the ability to overcome not only his own physical ailments, but the mistakes of his receivers and his defense - a franchise quarterback who has the ability to lift his team on his back and will them to victory.
Joey Harrington not only did those things Sunday, but he also went toe-to-toe with a division rival quarterback. A quarterback who is in the midst of a career season, in the midst of maybe the best season any quarterback has had in the history of the Minnesota Vikings.
Daunte Culpepper is a franchise quarterback; and for one day at least, Joey Harrington was his equal.
I was talking to a media friend last Sunday night who has seen nearly every Lions' game either in person or on television for the last 42 years. He said that a franchise quarterback is a quarterback that "dares to be great."
Harrington did just that Sunday. Arguably, the two best examples of Joey daring to be great resulted in interceptions. On each of those plays he was attacking, throwing the ball down the field, stretching the defense.
He attacked downfield at other times too, and made big plays as a result. However, it was the interceptions that stood out to me. Why? Because he shrugged them off and "dared to be great" with his next pass attempt; he was relentless, and by the midway point in the fourth quarter, he was unstoppable.
In other words . . . he played liked Bobby Layne.
The most famous quote I've ever heard about Layne came from his childhood friend and lifelong teammate Doak Walker who said, "He never lost a game in his life. Once in a while time just ran out on him."
Joey Harrington didn't lose the game Sunday; time just ran out on him.