Attention Lion fans. Your day has finally arrived.
I was pretty sure of it yesterday, but today, the morning after the first day of the 2005 NFL Draft, Im positive. After years of embarrassment and humiliation, football will once again reign supreme in the Motor City, regardless of whether the Red Wings take the ice later this year.
Why? Well, Mike Williams and Shaun Cody certainly will play a part. How big a part could have a lot to do with how soon the Lions make a deep playoff run. You heard me right. Im talking football in January. Late January. Maybe even February if we get lucky.
Before you write me off as some crazy, old, balding, ex-jock has-been who has taken too many shots to the head well, actually, never mind. I suppose thats all true. But hear me out here. You may just want to climb right up on the bandwagon with me.
First of all, I want you to be realistic. Youll notice in all my slobbering that I didnt mention the "S" word. Thats not a cop out. Superbowls are generally won by teams that have everyone in the organization working toward the same goals. The Lions are finally there and are ready to compete with other select teams that enjoy this same harmony. In the new salary-cap free agent era, a team may get lucky and put together a winner for one year, but the consistent teams that are serious contenders year after year (i.e. Patriots and Steelers) have everyone in the organization, from the main man who writes the checks (a.k.a. William Clay Ford) to the guy who does the laundry (a.k.a. Mark Glenn), has to be working toward the same goal year after year after year.
Ill talk about Mr. Ford in a bit, but first lets talk about the jock strap washer. Seriously. Mark Glenn is very important to the Lions. Maybe he wont have as much of an affect as Steve Mariucci, Matt Millen, Mike Williams, or Mr. Ford on the teams outcome this coming year, but hes an important part of the puzzle. If Mark was a real dick to be around and made life difficult for the players, theres a negative ripple effect. By the way, Im happy to report Mark isnt any of those things, is an upstanding individual, and a credit to the organization. And calling him a jock strap washer and the guy that does the laundry is quite an understatement, but I can get away with it. His title is actually facility manager, and he has a lot more responsibilities than the aforementioned.
Great organizations have great people all focused on the same goal. In this case its to win football games. Great individual efforts lead to comradery throughout the ranks, which stirs emotions and passions, which breeds confidence and leadership. All these things lead to a winning attitude, and pretty soon the guy who picks up the trash at Ford Field, who when the Lions start winning later this year will attain minor celebrity status, by the way, starts taking more pride in his job. A winning attitude is contagious. So is a losing attitude, which you know all too well.
As important as the guy picking up the garbage and Mark Glenn are to the organization, I point to three individual men, along with one intangible, who will be responsible for this new era of winning, playoffs, glory, and with any luck a couple of Superbowl appearances. All three have been maligned by the local press at times, and if youre reading this, probably by you, the crazy-ass Lions fan. Suck it up. Youre going to have to eat crow.
William Clay Ford has taken some serious heat, but hes finally got it right. He deserves a lot of credit, first for his tenacity and perseverence, and second for gambling on giving Matt Millen, a retired football player and broadcast analyst with absolutely zero experience running a football team, a shot. This year, dividends will finally start to be paid on his rather substantial investment. He saw in Matt Millen what very few others did; furthermore, he had the wherewithal to stick with him while Matt learned the ropes.
Yes, Matt Millen is the man. Hes made some mistakes over the course of his tenure, but he has put together a great staff of coaches and has shown that he really knows who can play football and who cant. Yesterdays number one pick was a great example. He didnt settle for picking a player to fill a need, he took the best player available, which shows savvy as well as maturity. As far as Shaun Cody is concerned, the guy can flat out play and was a steal at that point in the second round. You have to admit it. Hes turned into a first rate NFL executive.
You also have to give credit to Matt for bringing back my old coach, Monte Clark. Many of you may not even know Monte is with the organization, but he plays an important role from everything to coaching individual offensive linemen to talent evaluation to being a confidant of Matts. Monte was a heck of a coach, and if he didnt have to carry Russ Thomas around on his back during his seven year tenure, he would have had a heck of a lot more success.
That brings us to the last of those we have to thank, the intangible that will help the Lions get over the hump this year and will have a huge impact in years to come. Im talking about you, the Lions fan. Its been so long, you may not remember, but itll come back to you. There were times in the old Silverdome when I wasnt able to communicate with my teammate beside me, even if I screamed as loud as I could in his ear hole. You guys can really crank it up when you have a reason. And thats when we were 9-7! There are no better fans anywhere when things are going right. It may take a few games, but visiting teams with feel your wrath once again, and Ford Field will become something that its never been a venue that is feared by our opponents who have to come and play there.
The pieces are all in place. The last time the Lions were in this situation was around the time I was born, which was a really, really long time ago. I actually cant substantiate whether these same conditions existed back in the fifties, but I imagine they did.
You know you want to believe it. So go on. Try it on for size. It feels good, doesnt it? Start enjoying the new era of quality Detroit Lion football right now. Read the post draft and preseason hype and actually believe it! Start basking in the pride that goes with being a Detroit Lions fan. Why wait till next January when the Lions win their first in what will be a long string of playoff victories?
You deserve it its been way too long.
Keith Dorney is a former Lions' offensive lineman and author of: Honolulu Blue: In the Trenches of the NFL