DETROIT - The Lions fans are now being painted as extremists; uncontrolled zealouts, ready to turn to mayhem in reaction to losing football games.
That what is being portrayed in some corners in reaction to a few fans carrying signs into Ford Field on Sunday bearing the slogan "Fire Millen". One fan was chased across serveral sections before being tackled and expelled from Ford Field for bearing such a sign. He was said to be creating a security risk according to Ford Field officials.
Even during a recent Redwings hockey game at the Joe Louis Arena, a noticeable 'FI-RE MIL-LEN' chant began.
It's not hard to sell the idea of Detroit fans as extreme to the naive in the wake of the disturbing incident at the Palace of Auburn Hills involving Ron Artest and several 'fans' who were in attendance that fateful night.
But to paint Lions fans with that broad brush is self-serving, disingenious and just flat out wrong. Detroit's long-suffering Lions fans are among the most loyal in all of football. In almost any other city, a team with the same five-year record the Lions have compiled (26-50) would have been deserted by its fans. Their stadium would be empty (see Arizona) and the ownership would be talking about moving.
Not so with Lions fans.
Ford Field is sold out every week. Eastern Market is packed with tailgaters enjoy the cameraderie and rooting for their team. Sales at the Roar and More gift shop inside Ford Field are going at a brisk pace judging from the crowds packing it on game days. Maybe there are a few that take things to the extreme.
But mostly all they want is a win.
Lions fans also know the history of their franchise.
They know that Lions owner William Clay Ford, Sr. is one of the most patient owners in all of football. They know that he supports the team with deep pockets and deep loyalty and has trouble firing anyone.
They remember Darryl Rogers legendary remark ``What does a guy have to do to get fired around here?"
They remember Wayne Fontes long run even when it was apparent he had run out of gas in Motown. They remember Russ Thomas stranglehold on the front office and the reluctance with which Chuck Schmidt was finally showed the door after years of wheels spinning.
But there has never been anything like this.
The Matt Millen era has been an unmitigated disaster. Lions fans understand the situation and they know what they need to do to effect change. The "Fire Millen" t-shirts, the signs and the paper bags over the head are all an embarassment to ownership. The fans believe - and I think rightly so - that as this thing grows to a national level it will have an effect on ownership.
Unfortunately, those who are new to the situation don't understand it and think the fans are being outrageous. Jeff Garcia's girlfriend, Carmella DeCaesare called into a local talk show to express her outrage over the fans behavior. DeCaesare did not state that she personally had been abused in anyway or mistreated by fans, only that the fans were vocal in their displeasure over the team and some of the players.
A look back at this period reveals that Detroit is one of the worst - if not THE worst franchise in NFL history on the field over the last five-year period.
Drastic situations call for drastic actions. The fans are simply acting out to get a reaction from ownership - a change of leadership at the top. There are competent people out there who can get this turned around.
As long as fans behave in a civil manner in verbalizing their disappointment, they have the right to do so as paying customers. They should be mistreated by stadium officials for wearing t-shirts or paper bags over their heads to express their frustration.
Lions fans are pretty smart, they recognize that ownership would most likely go with the status quo unless they are somehow prodded to understand that Matt Millen isn't very good at what he is doing and there are competent people who can turn the Lions franchise around. They understand ownership needs to be pushed to stop sitting on their hands and actually try to find one of those persons.
I contend there is someone already in place that if given power and authority would conduct an efficent search and find the right people to turn this franchise's sagging fortunes on the football field around.
His name is Tom Lewand.