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Landon Smith - LionsFans.com
There is absolutely no getting around it: this last Detroit Lions season was dismal. However, if there is one thing Lions fans come to learn throughout life, it is to stay optimistic at all times. Otherwise, Dr. Kevorkian would harbor significantly more patients. Therefore, thinking along these lines, I have decided to take on the horrid task of seeking out the positives from the 2001-02 Lions season.
The positives can actually be traced all the way back to the very first week of the pre-season. The Lions played the lowly Cincinnati Bengals, maybe the most frowned upon and unstoried franchises in NFL history. Luckily, the Lions lost this game by the final score of 27-24. This three point nail biter was great "practice", if you will, to the fans and players who during the regular season would have to live with the slightly worse four point defeat. Had the Lions won this preseason game, they and the fans would have had greater difficulty swallowing the regular season loss. Therefore, they did themselves great justice by taking this loss.
It's things like this that can make us all proud to be Lions fans.
The pre-season positives did not stop there. The Lions, knowing they would not have to face the Colts during the regular season, went ahead and won their second exhibition game in Indianapolis. Nobody can know if they were thinking ahead or just got lucky, but it appears that the Lions, who would not win again for a while, decided to get the one point victory against the team who they had no chance of losing to later in the year, therefore securing a win during the year 2001 for the fans to look back upon during the ugly days to come.
Again the pre-season positives didn't cease. Our beloved Lions opted to lose their next game at Pittsburgh in a blowout so as to be more prepared for the blowout Pittsburgh would hand them in week 15. They then took the three point loss to Tennessee, helping to ensure that all who follow them could handle the three point loss the Titans would deliver in week 6.
What would we have done without this year's preseason? The obvious purpose is for the team -- and fans -- to prepare for the season to come. Thus, I for one believe the Lions had the most successful pre-season in the league.
So, after a pre-season that can only be described as a blessing, the season began. It is no secret that not much joy can be found in the next 16 games to follow, but I have looked long and hard and found a few positives.
For instance, Ty Detmer accomplished the unthinkable task of completing seven passes in one game...to the opponent. I, like many, thought this was nothing to thank him for at first, but now I am very grateful for it. It does tie the record placing a Lions quarterback in the record books for the first time since...Huh, I guess it's the first time ever (unless you count Frank Reich, who I assume is the only quarterback to ever spike the ball on fourth down in the playoffs). Not only that, it allows the fans to scoff at a new quarterback. Let's face it, it was kind of old always bashing Scott Mitchell. Especially since he left to join the stellar crew of Bengals quarterbacks. Detmer solved this problem. Mitchell, who never threw more than four picks in one game (albeit a playoff game), does not hold a candle to the amazing Ty Detmer.
And then there's Johnnie Morton. On hindsight, one might feel sorry for the guy as he works extremely hard to get this franchise over the hump and achieves little in the way of doing so. However, this season he and we learned that Morton has abilities other than football to fall back on. On week fourteen against Minnesota, after the last play of the game, Morton showed the world that he has a mean shot-put -- hurling his helmet several yards into the air. Here's to Johnnie being a Lion for life, but if this is not possible, we can rest easy knowing that he can represent our country well in the summer Olympics. Oh, and who could forget soon after that, when the cameras and the pressure were on him, he proudly displayed his knack in public speaking. I'm sure Jay Leno would like to. Not only that: after scoring a touchdown in week 17 against the Dallas Cowboys, Morton proved that his acting career could easily take off if any movie script called for a person having an epileptic seizure. Johnnie, that a boy. We're all proud of you.
Marty Mornhinweg displayed positives as well during his rookie head coaching season. If you don't believe me, you obviously have forgotten one important fact. If you look back upon old NFC central coaches (Wayne Fontes, Mike Holmgren, Denny Green) they all have a certain display of stature if you know what I mean. Bobby Ross didn't have it and eventually walked away. Tony Dungy also carried his own weight a little too well and now he's been asked to leave. Mornhinweg obviously realized this trend during this season, and improved immensely in this area.
By now the obvious stands out. This was a great Detroit Lions season. Mike McMahon, who broke an ankle late in the year, obviously learned much from previous starter Charlie Batch. After winning nine games in 2000, the Lions lost nine straight this year by a margin of eight or less -- putting us in the record books (the nine wins in 2000 did no such thing).
Fans who have not had the pleasure of rooting the Lions on in a tight race for first place in anything were given a treat this year, as the nail biter with the Carolina Panthers for the worst record in the NFL went down to the wire. The list goes on and on.
Some may say the Lions are coming off a sub-par season. I say those people aren't true fans, but are blinded by the material wealth other teams possess. No matter their record and no matter who wins the Super Bowl, the 2001 Detroit Lions had a great season, maybe the best in the history of the league.
I'm proud to be a fan, and for that, I salute them.