Paperless Lion - Two Arms are Better than One

As we witnessed from the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, two quality QBs on the Detroit Lions roster may be a luxury of which they can't afford to "pass," ahum. Fielding two signal callers provides a fail-safe for those seasons interrupted by those unexpectedly long hospital stays.

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Frank J. Bunker Columnist

Like heads, two arms are better than one. This holds especially true in today's NFL, where teams need two quarterbacks who can play at the highest level to win.

Don't believe it? Think of the great teams of the past. No, not the San Francisco 49ers of Montana and Young. Remember back to February 2002 and the Patriots of Brady and Bledsoe, where the latter won an away playoff game in relief of the former. It wasn't the defense that won the chance to get to the next round — it was the QB.

Similarly, for the Detroit Lions, two quality QBs on the roster may be a luxury of which they can't afford to "pass," ahum. Fielding two signal callers provides a fail-safe for those seasons interrupted by those unexpectedly long hospital stays.

It's more than just insurance for those unblocked playmaker sacks, too. Having someone of value to trade, ahem, just when the need arises, helps land top, not compensatory, draft picks.

Most importantly, a team, like the best corporations, can never have enough talent on board. Improving the quality of players is how teams improve from one year to the next. Two can only improve the team, as well as breed competition and elevate play.

Lions Head Coach Marty Mornhinweg is known to ask, "What is the most important position of the team?" His usual answer: "Quarterback." Mornhinweg's rationale, as divulged in various interviews, centers on the effectiveness of the QB in terms that can be measured:

• Touchdowns

• Field Goals

• Red-zone TDs to FG percentage

• Total Yardage

• Average gain per completion

• First Downs

• Scoring Drive percentage

• Interception percentages.

There must be many more. Knowing Mornhinweg for a year, there could be an infinite number more. That's a sign of genius, it's said.

What Mornhinweg really leaves unsaid are the psychological aspects of the position. Their absence from mention cannot be overstressed, as the team's offensive leader MUST possess a winner's personality. It's what his teammates sense. It's what the team becomes.

That's why two quality QBs are needed, meaning the odds of landing a winner would be doubled with two quality QBs on the same roster.

Thus, 2002 presents a once-in-a-coaching-lifetime opportunity to fix the most important position on the team for the next decade.

Draft the Duck, if he's still around

From what he's done in college, John Joseph Harrington, quarterback from Oregon, has got "winner" written all over him. Teammates say he's cool, calm, and collected under pressure. In the huddle, they say he's in command.

The guy may've been born for the job: Harrington's grandfather started at QB for Oregon. His father started at QB for Oregon.

Now you don't have to be named Tuna to know that a sterling family alone does not necessarily create great quarterbacks in the pro ranks. What has the young Harrington done to demonstrate he's got it?

Harrington's Won-Loss record, for starters. He is 25-3 as a starter since taking over as a sophomore, a job he earned in relief of A.J. Feeley, halfway through the 1999 Pac 10 campaign.

Feeley is no slouch. He was picked in the fifth round by the Eagles in the 2001 NFL draft.

The Oregon record book, next, shows Harrington has sustained excellence. In two and a half seasons, Harrington rewrote the Oregon record book. It wasn't just the name Akili Smith getting eclipsed, either.

The guy erased the marks made by ex-MNF announcer and forever-NFL Hall of Famer Dan Fouts. Remember Dan? He's the Duck great who sat next to the incomparably smug Al Michaels and the irreparably smug Dennis Miller.

So, Harrington has the "pedigree." And, as those unaware of eugenics might admit, "Yes, Harrington's got the record. But, What about the "intangibles?"

Well, Harrington says in interviews he wants to be the guy who gets ten sets of eyeballs trained on, in the huddle. He wants to be the go-to guy when the game is on the line.

One scout reporting from the combine indicated he saw something different about Harrington. While one or two players would talk to David Carr, the Fresno State QB with a rocket arm, the college players crowded around Harrington. This anecdote, the scout said, demonstrates charisma and leadership qualities that cannot be quantified in a stat.

Like Adrian the Lion, Harrington says he doesn't tolerate losing at anything — at any level. Backgammon, golf or football. And he shows why by backing up what he says by winning.

That attitude alone sets Harrington apart from a lot of the other guys who've led the Lions for decades. And that's the attitude we're all talkin' about, as Lions Fans. Getting the job done. Let's just hope he's still there at #3.

Takes Two to Tangle

As examples from military history demonstrated in World War II, it is best to have both quantity and quality when it comes to personnel and materiel. And that brings the discussion to Mike McMahon.

Entering his second season, the pride of Rutgers is a smart, loyal, and athletic QB. Who still left in the Silverdome can forget how he came off the bench and sparked the rally on Thanksgiving Day against the Packers?

With eight minutes left, McMahon led two scoring drives, threw three TDs (one score involving a flattened goal-line pylon was disallowed without further review and now is known as The Warren Rule). The rally fell one 2-point conversion short and the first victory had to await another three weeks. My hand still stings from all the high-fives with my friends in Section 321 after that second touchdown.

With or without Harrington, there is no guarantee McMahon will or will not start. Competition in camp and the pre-season should drive the best to the top. Judging from what he's shown on the field and off, McMahon wants to be the Lions #1 QB. His shot is as good as any player we've had on the roster in some time.

Think back to another era to see how important two QBs are to our own beloved Detroit Lions. Guessing demographically, odds are most Lions Fans weren't even born the last time the Lions had a pair of winning QBs. Lions Fans have to go back before Munson and Danielson or Kramer and Peete or Mitchell and Batch to the last Lions dynasty, the Lions of the 1950s.

This is the real Lions curse. At any one time over the past 45 years, as if struck by a wild lightning bolt out of the Honolulu blue, one or the other or both starting QBs would be injured at the worst possible time.

Those Who Do Not Remember the Past are Doomed Never to Repeat It

The Lions were humming along one year trying to make the playoffs with a great QB at the helm. The guy went down for the count with a broken leg in one critical late-season game.

What would have been a disaster most years was avoided. The back-up came in and the team didn't miss a beat. His name, Tobin Rote.

Like his fallen teammate Bobby Layne became legendary for, the late Rote rallied the team from behind to win the game and continue on to the playoffs. As all Lions Fans know, the Lions won that year's NFL championship.

Unbelievably, Lions Fans have waited ever since 1957 for a repeat. No matter the great individual players and great statistics amassed since 1957, top QB play has been missing. Specifically when the quarterback goes out. Recent names of infirmary infamy: Peete, Mitchell, and Batch come to mind. The man who ended The Streak of 2001, McMahon, also comes to mind.

"Proof is in the pudding," Mr. William Clay Ford Jr. said. One metric that won't hide from Lions Fans: the record. The W column, history shows, will reflect it. With both Mike McMahon and Joey Harrington on the roster, the Lions will surely pull ahead of the crowded, mediocre NFL.

The fact most teams can only afford to carry one top QB speaks volumes of today's football. It's what most teams deserve, to be honest. Perpetual mediocrity. If you're a Lions Fans, that sounds pretty darn familiar.

What the Detroit Lions have needed and can use is a pair of top-flight right arms. At the least, one of them will prove better than the other. At best, we'll have a pair of aces on the roster. That may prove to be the best hand the Lions have been dealt in 45 years.

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"Paperless Lion" was coined with appreciation to the real Paper Lion George Plimpton.

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