SECRET LIONS AGENT DOUBLE-M-1: FOOTBALL MASTERMIND
Matt Millen spoke with ex-footballer James Brown the other day on Sporting News Radio Network. The Detroit Lions president didn't quite sound like his normal rib-busting robustness.
Oh, he hit all the right bromides: "Yes, Mike McMahon is further along" and "Mike's got a nice, strong arm. Joey's got a nice, strong arm." Etc, etc. The voice didn't match the character, however. Millen sounded detached, reserved.
The overall impression was the voice of a tired man, not that of someone looking forward to opening day kick-off less than a week away. Perhaps it was the acoustic equivalent of when he came out and announced they selected Joey Harrington with the third pick. Remember how reporters said he looked like "he had just swallowed a bug?"
No, it wasn't the tones of resignation that hit hard. It was the lingering impression of a man under the gun — an imposing and sad anger.
The question every fan might ask is: "After a year at the helm of the Detroit Lions, is football still fun for Matt Millen?"
Aside from the enormity of the task he faces, it is a fair question. Besides, it could be a ruse.
YOU THINK YOU GOT PROBLEMS?
So, maybe the pressure is getting to Millen. One radio reporter said he's heard it's "Win now, or ELSE," meaning the Fords have said the team makes some serious and dramatic improvement or it'll be time for a regime change in Allen Park at the end of the season.
Another rumor making the rounds goes Millen approached the Fords and tried to get a pay raise for Head Coach Marty Mornhinweg. No dice, the Fords said. "We'll see after the evaluation at the end of the season. And, while we're at it, we'll evaluate you, as well."
Gee. Depending on exactly how "who's team it really is" got made clear, strong sentiments like that might push even a reasonable man the wrong way. For Millen, it might push him to work even harder on finding the right formula.
It's ironic. The problems M&M inherited are huge compared to the problems they created. Still, all many Lions Fans and reporters can compl—, er, talk about are Jeff Hartings, Johnnie Morton and Jason Glenn.
Anyway, Millen on the radio didn't address these questions. Still, the flat-lined monotone was downright scary. If it was tactically deceptive, it worked to create a certain impression. That of a guy who's run out of steam.
Fear not, Lions Fans. Look on the bright side, if you still can. It may be Millen is thinking like the serious tactician I believe he is. Maybe he's suckering in the Dolphins to create the impression, by extension, the team also is out of steam. All's fair in love, war, and football, eh?
Here's a way-out scenario brought about by an interesting observation put forward by Lions Agent IrishAlum, "Something bigger is at play in Allen Park." IA reports either the Millen Administration is acting in abject terror and thrashing about, or exhibits the competitiveness of the winner.
Having mulled the very question habitually for 17 months, I vote the latter. The evidence shows the goings-on are less the result of incompetence and more the result of a sinister grand scheme. When it comes to NFL football, the more sinister, the better, I say.
In virtual fact, the kind of Machiavellian deviousness the job requires calls to mind Ian Fleming's arch-criminal, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Hey — it's not a stretch to find James Bonds' enemy an indispensable role model if you've followed the Lions longer than a couple of coaches or administrations.
Those who enjoy the 007 films are asked to remember the scene from "Thunderball" where Blofeld listens to his board members report their ill-gotten gains. His face hidden behind a screen, Blofeld, er, Millen, sits in an executive chair and strokes his favorite cat.
Seated in two rows along the length of a long, brushed aluminum conference table are the men of S.P.E.C.T.A.C.L.E., the Special Promotions Executive for Countering Totally Asinine and Costly Lions Excuses. All the members are numbered for simplicity in identification.
"We are meeting today to hear the briefing by S.P.E.C.T.A.C.L.E. Number 2," intones Number 1 in a calculatingly arctic monotone. "First, we will hear reports from the individual players. Number 92, your report."
A giant DT at one end of the long table speaks, his voice that of an attentive student. "I've been getting up every day at 7 a.m. to get in peak condition. My goal is to crunch a quarterback or two every game and pick his bones clean, Number 1."
"Very well. Number 3?" continued Number 1, a Super Bowl ring-encrusted hand stroking his tawny cat.
A rookie QB leans forward and speaks into his microphone. "Sir, I've been getting up every day at 6 a.m. to practice throwing to the second- and third-receivers and spending every non-organized team activity moment in the film room studying the other teams, sir."
"Very well. Number 8?"
A second-year QB wearing mirrored sunglasses and a low-rider baseball cap says: "Sir, I've been getting up every day at 5 a.m. to practice throwing on the run and spending every non-practice moment in the gym to build up my physique so I can withstand the punishment of a 16-game regular season."
"Understood. Number 23?"
An athletic CB leans back in his stainless steel and leather chair and sighs. "Yeah, I've been getting up at noon or so and seeing how my foot feels. Some days it's better. Others it doesn't feel so good. It should be OK by the time the regular season comes around."
Number 1 cuts him off. "Why didn't you undergo surgery as we suggested?"
"Well, that would've meant I miss the season. I got a re-negotiation coming up soon and —"
Abruptly the player shoots up in his chair and arches his back as 10,000 volts of electricity run through him. He sparks and sputters a bit as the chair is lowered into a space below. When the charred chair returns, it is empty except for the burnt receipt for a Greyhound Bus Ticket smoking in its middle.
"I am very disappointed in Number 23. We invested heavily in his selection and training. Number 34."
A large RB, his eyes wide as he tries to look away from the smoldering seat nearby, slowly and painfully leans forward and reports. "Well, I was going to tell you about how my knee feels a little stiff after I've slept on my side, but what I really wanted to say was that it's feeling a whole lot better."
"Excellent, Number 34. Now Number 2 will brief us on our latest plan, the 2002 Detroit Lions."
A smaller man, wearing a loose shirt with blue and white parallel stripes, reminiscent of the garb worn by prisoners on Devil's Island, turns toward the screen and bows. He looks more like a young Mitch Miller with an attitude than Emilio Largo with an eye patch and a spear gun.
"Thank you, Number 1," begins Number 2. "Our game plan is to take the NFC North by grabbing opposing teams by the nose and kicking them in the pants. We need professional execution on the parts of all those present to win at least half of the road games. All we ask is the support of 65,000 fans at home. We need them to run the table there. If we do this, we've got a shot at the Big Dance. Are there any questions?"
No one blinked. No one raised a hand.
THE MORAL OF THE STORY
If you're still reading this, thank you for indulging my inner paperback plagiarist. You may also see what I'm driving at in my typical circuitous way.