Column: The Joey Harrington Quandary

Tickets are in high demand, evidence of the high hopes of your neighbors. If Harrington fails, the numbers will certainly dwindle. If, however, Joey Harrington becomes the first legitimate quarterback of the Detroit Lions since Bobby Layne, an upgrade will be in order to accommodate the onslaught.

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Joey Lafferty -

Sorry, pal. The line starts here... it ends waaaay back there. You got it, about 30 miles up I-75. Don't think about skipping out on confessional though. Until you bear your soul, admit you've flip-flopped and then some, and reveal you still don't quite know what to think, you'll most assuredly not be completely at ease the first time you make your way into Ford Field.

For the time being, you belong back there with history. It'll take a while to make your way from Pontiac to the big city; there are thousands in line, after all. You'll need the time though. Trust me. It's decision time for you and all other fans of the Detroit Lions.

A pivotal moment is upon you, and you need time to sort things out. Now make your way to the back- no cutting in- and do so quickly... there is only a bit more than a month before the new era begins.

Fess up. It's all right. You weren't the only one. Condemnation rained from all directions. When Matt Millen stiffed the D, drafted for luxury rather than need, decided getting better right now was not the greatest priority for a 2-14 team, you declared that THIS was the final straw.

Joey Harrington, after all, was no more a guaranteed commodity than, say, Andre Ware, or Ryan Leaf... that Notre Dame guy, what's his name again? Oh yeah, Rick Mirer. Then there's Cade McNown, Akili Smith, Big Mac's little brother. Argh, there you go again!

The list of first round quarterback flops, culled from just the previous decade alone, is enough to bring that nauseating feeling to the fore. How could Millen, one-time standout madman for a nasty Oakland Raider championship defense, ignore a talent-bereft defensive secondary in favor of a quarterback?

How many times does a draft day loser have to play the role of Super Bowl hero for these geniuses to realize it doesn't take "first round talent" to lead the troops to the Big Show, anyway?

Oh, they say he plays classical piano? Perhaps he could compose a nice little number for the 2002 season team video. In fact, that's a fine way to test young Joey Heisman's versatility. Countless fourth quarter comebacks while at Oregon? Indeed impressive, but try scoring this documentary from hell, rife with moments of comedy, folly, and embarrassment.

Tickle the ivory as the red faced president squirms inside his luxury box, alone, as ever, alone.

Nailing this one just right won't be easy. Dark but playful. Yeah, try that one on for size, rook.

Ready to abandon ship, you declared once and for all (for the forty-third time) you'll never again be duped by the Fords and this bottom-feeding franchise. Never again.

Then you got a glimpse of the new guy.

Did he really just point out that his agent "works for him" when ruling out any possibility of a holdout? Yes, it's only minicamp, void of pads and pressure, but he really does seem to be hitting those receivers in stride. You've heard that talked about a lot since Mornhinweg took over, but actually seeing Batch, Detmer, and McMahon do it consistently never happened.

Where was all of this news coming from anyway? With Barry Sanders' much publicized disappearance, any pipeline for the Lions to the national media was thought to be forever severed. But each time you pick up a magazine, newspaper or visit a mainstream website, there he is.

You admitted, hesitatingly at first, that this is pretty nice. Your once shrinking hopes were inflated with news out of minicamp that the kid is for real. That stuff about inadequate downfield arm strength? Don't believe it. He can move, he can throw, and he's intelligent. The words echoed from coach to player to journalist to print.

Hardwired to expect nothing but the worst, your psyche has been conflicted. It's simply not possible to approach such things halfheartedly. Thrust your faith fully behind this Ford-led franchise once again, and you're asking to get burned.

Begin the weaning process to now-and-forever rid yourself of this leech of a hobby (lifestyle?) that now possesses you like you'd never intended, and maybe you could make it out with an ounce of pride and perhaps some other, more rewarding, way of passing your free time.

So to test the waters, to see if finally, by wisdom or by chance, the Lions have gotten it right, it's time you project yourself into the role of the savior. Now, you can scope out the obstacles and detect what might lie in waiting to trip up the new hero.

Here, along with the others crowding this small stretch of I-75, you envision what adventures are in store for young Joey in his first NFL season, and you get a better feel of what he's all about.

You first explore the ride Mr. Harrington has taken prior to his arrival in the Motor City. He spent his senior season looking over New York City, the Mecca of the east, all the while his Oregon Ducks were falling prey to the east coast bias of the media.

Not bizarre, coincidental, or ironic, but nonetheless interesting. If you're a west coast team and want to make it to the NCAA's biggest game, you'd better run the table, or else have a very long history of success. Otherwise, a team from the east or a perennial power like, say, Nebraska will get the nod every time.

You see that Joey H handled this controversy by proceeding to lead his team to an ass whipping of the "hottest" team in the country, Colorado, in the Fiesta Bowl. Many ways, there are, to handle such a situation. Sulk, complain, or take care of business. Harrington took care of business.

The months that followed were supposed to be the best of Joey's life. The coaches and scouts would rave to the media about how great it would be to have him. Steve Spurrier would perhaps strike a deal to move up from the eighteenth selection and make Harrington his man.

It would be a bidding war, praise would be unanimous, and for those few he hadn't yet won over, he would do so during the post-season All Star games and workouts. Wherever Joey ended up, he would ride into town in a parade named in his honor. The talent, the personality, and the intangibles were all undeniable. What could possibly go wrong?

First, you recall, was the injury keeping him out of the Senior Bowl activities, which allowed David Carr to distinguish himself as the consensus number one pick for the Houston Texans. Then came the workouts, including the the combine, which left some (but not many) scouts questioning his ability to throw the deep ball.

There were many who still believed Harrington to be the best quarterback available, still some declared he wasn't worthy of a first round pick. Opinions were all over the board, and as a result, where Joey projected on draft day varied everywhere from the third selection down to the mid to late-first round.

This hodgepodge of analysis from the experts sealed the deal for you, did it not? Nobody questioned whether Jammer or Roy Williams was deserving of such a high selection, and lord knows the defense could use a play maker. Oh yes, the decision was made.

How did Mr. Harrington play the mixed signals? For starters, he chose, unlike all other invitees, to skip out on attending the draft day festivities in New York, instead remaining home with family and friends as fate unraveled on the television.

He did so, you were told, to avoid the embarrassment in case he did in fact slide down the draft board. He claimed to simply prefer sharing this personally momentous occasion with his loved ones. Did you believe him? Do you believe him now?

All the fuss, it turned out, was of little consequence. Joey Harrington became the quarterback of the future for your Detroit Lions, selecting third. But young Joey was still not allowed to enjoy his moment in the sun. Not everyone within the Detroit organization wanted him, he was told, and their hand was forced because nobody was willing to trade up to get him.

Insulting, really, but Harrington later told a radio talk show host that he would not be disappointed no matter where he was drafted. Not within the first round, mind you, but anywhere between rounds one through seven. It's a privilege to play a game you love and make ridiculous money in the process. This was his point.

He goes on to ask "What can you do with several million that you can't with one or two?" False modesty? Was he just saying what he's supposed to say, or is he truly humble? Did you believe him then? Do you believe him now?

Fast forward to the present. Again, stepping into Harrington's cleats, you approach the line of scrimmage and glance left, then right. Your soon-to-be million dollar backside will be protected primarily by a couple of "teetering tackles." On the left is second year man, and former first round pick, Jeff Backus. He's packed on the twenty pounds he lost during the 2001 season, and he's done so the "right" way, adding solid muscle by following a strict workout regimen.

To your right is Stockar McDougle, also a former first round pick, now in his third year. McDougle, you see, has trouble keeping off the extra twenty or so. He's struggling again, and if you're going to have any time to grow in this complex offense, you've got to hope he gets it together, and soon.

The offensive line as a whole is at least coming together, it seems. The guys have plenty of field time logged as a unit, so you can at least expect to have a second more to find a receiver than did the quarterbacks last season. Still, there are reasons to be concerned.

What's worse, the running back situation has only just been settled, and you were welcomed to town by two receivers who had just rolled in, themselves. You'll be handing off to a mediocre, injury prone runner, and three-quarters of your primary targets are as new to Detroit as you are.

All of this, of course, assuming you can win the starting job. At present, you're number three on the depth chart, two slots behind a guy who won the hearts of some by playing with Favre-like tenacity in his limited opportunities in 2001. What have you in common with Mike McMahon?

He was a fifth round selection, to your one. He is known for his mobility, his accuracy the biggest knock against him. You're known for your ability to put the ball exactly where it needs to be, though because of your height and build you're considered primarily a pocket passer. Hey, he did once do something a little like you while at Rutgers, posting a won-loss record mirroring that of your senior season (you got it, 1-10).

McMahon has a year of experience under his belt, and is not about to give you any openings. He knows that once you take the field, unless you absolutely flop in every regard, the job is yours for good. He's scrappy, he has a cannon, and he's hungry. Come and get it.

Do you deserve the allegiance of this mass of fans, lining the highway from Detroit to Pontiac? Why shouldn't they expect you, like every other savior over the years, to come drastically short of expectations?

Back to you, lifelong Lions fan. The line is moving, slowly but surely. As you peer over the shoulder of the guy in front of you, you notice that nobody's choosing to bail out just yet. The line holds steady. Still, it's composed primarily of local folks. Out-of-towners still snicker at your franchise. So do the experts.

Feel free to break from the pack, leaving the years of frustrations behind. Remember, before going, that the bandwagon will never again look the same. As it stands, the bandwagon is packed full, but it's only large enough for faithful Detroiters.

Tickets are in high demand, evidence of the high hopes of your neighbors. If Harrington fails, the numbers will certainly dwindle. If, however, Joey Harrington becomes the first legitimate quarterback of the Detroit Lions since Bobby Layne, an upgrade will be in order to accommodate the onslaught.

Perhaps a cruise liner will be necessary. A successful Joey Harrington will be "America's" Joey Harrington. He has that appeal. That much you know.

Sure, you could always leave now and simply jump back on with all the others... but you're fully aware that in such circumstances, the honey never tastes quite as sweet.

Sometimes a hero comes along at just the right time. After the worst season in franchise history, the time is undoubtedly right. Then again, sometimes the fairy tale ending is too good to be true.

Just a few days ago, again questioned on the possibility of a holdout, Harrington reiterated "there won't be any problems." He'll be there. He's ready for the ride, and he seems confident he can be the quarterback you've been waiting for ever since your first day as a Lions fan. Now ask yourself: Are you on board? Do you believe him?

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