"The way a man wins shows most of his character, The way he loses shows all of it." — Kevin M. Clear
Man's Character Is His Fate
Perhaps more than most who follow the NFL, Lions Fans appreciate an ancient Chinese cliché. Lions fans know exactly what it means when someone says, "May you live in interesting times." Unfortunately, to many Lions backers, interesting times like these are a curse.
Others — especially those new to the Honolulu Blue & Silver tradition or, um, somewhat removed from the situation — may regard "interesting times" as an opportunity. Ask Rodney Peete. He's likely to say it all depends on what fork in the road you take.
John J. Harrington must have been raised to look at life's more "interesting" challenges as golden opportunities. Judging by the public record, he's taking the high road. It gets things done the best way. And, in the long run, it's the only route worth taking.
Don't believe me? Never looked at this guy's college record? No problem-o. No hard feelings.
There are plenty of examples of Harrington's positive perspective to draw on from recent popular American culture. Of course, I refer to the most powerful force in society — television.
Rewind the mental VCR back to April. Most of the NCAA's elite has flocked to Madison Square Garden for the NFL college draft. All hope to hear their names mentioned by the royal figure of Paul Tagliabue and discover which of 32 teams would soon, contract talks permitting, be graced by their presence and talents.
It's a Tough Job, but Somebody's Got to Do It
Cut and fade to black. The scene now is the Harrington family living room. Remember Joey's not-so-lonely draft day vigil? The video camera zooms in on a young man, who chews his knuckles as he stares at the TV screen. He is surrounded by what look like 100 members of his family and friends.
Harrington, unlike many of the top football talents coming out of college, elected to stay home in Oregon. He was unwilling to be the center of a global media circus, should his stock plummet on draft day. Sure, Harrington himself said, but he most of all wanted to be with those close to him.
The cameras were rolling when the #3 pick came around. Who can forget how he jumped when he heard that he had been selected by the Detroit Lions? He was so genuinely happy, he hugged his mom and he had the presence of mind to shake hands with his dad.
He was surprised? Imagine MY happy surprise!
"Wow! He wants to come to Detroit?!!" I thought. "He's jumping at the opportunity to be starting quarterback for the Detroit Lions? This kid is really something! He WANTS to play for the Lions!"
Oh, most interesting days! Think! When was the last time a top player wanted to come to Motown to begin and probably devote his CAREER? 1958? 1962? Certainly wasn't 1989.
Later he said he would be signed and in camp before practices began. And he was.
Fast-forward through the pre-season, where on one play Harrington would shine and another he would fail. A bomb to Scotty Anderson is followed by an interception in the end zone. No problem. The guy bounces back and says he'll do better next time. More often than not, he did. Cut. Fade in to present…
Why Can't We All Get Along?
Allow me ask: Besides Chris Spielman, who else do Lions Fans remember as so self-confident upon coming to Detroit? Who thought they were capable of meeting the challenge that is Detroit Lions football on the playing field? Who previously has wanted to call the shots on the field in that manner? OK besides Matt Millen and Marty Mornhinweg? Certainly few, if any, quarterbacks in memory.
Perhaps many felt inside they were the man, but never wanted to say so out loud, preferring to demonstrate what they could do on the field. Only God knows. The record shows who delivered on the promise.
There've been a few who've come close since 1957.
No, there has been no championship QB play since Bobby Layne teamed with Tobin Rote. So, maybe when battling those kinds of facts, and that kind of history, there shouldn't be room for any negative additions in a quarterback's head. The reality that is Lions football is baggage enough.
So, Harrington knows, as does Millen and Mornhinweg, that the only way to change Lions luck is to create a new story line, and thus, begin a new, more positive chapter in team history. And that, despite their apparent lukewarm reception to their first-round protagonist, is where M&M come in. Ironic, isn't it? Now they need Harrington more than the other way around. So Hollywood, it's scary.
One of the more interesting Lions Legends involves the traditional schism between offense and defense. Only fans of Da Bears might rival what Lions Fans painfully know too well.
Modern case in point: Spielman, the report goes, drew a white circle around his locker area and declared, "No quarterbacks or kickers are allowed to cross this line." A short while later, Jason Hanson did, and he was promptly removed. No quarterbacks named Scott ever did, the story goes. This QB also exhibited a similar problem when trying to get across the white line at the opponent's end of the field.
Historical case in point: The tradition of this schism in the locker-room, this Motor City history of "messing" up the QB position, is documented by author George Plimpton in his outstanding book, "Paper Lion." Interestingly, linebacker Joe Schmidt recently referred to the incident in a radio interview.
Schmidt said he became very frustrated after a particularly bad interception by talented quarterback Milt Plum. It seems all the Lions needed to do to make the playoff was to protect a slim lead and run out the clock against Green Bay in 1962.
After stopping Green Bay with a couple of minutes remaining, Schmidt trotted off the field and told Plum to run the ball and run out the clock. Instead, the QB put the ball in the air a couple of times to move the chains. He then threw an interception, which was returned for a touchdown. The Lions lost the game and failed to make the playoffs.
When Plum approached the sideline, Schmidt almost made Plum eat football. Worse yet, in the coming years, Schmidt, Alex Karras, and a bunch of Lions defenders never forgave Plum, or any other QB who failed to lift the offense to championship caliber play.
In the decades since, Karras ('The Den' user spike804 reported), has been quoted as saying, if not for that interception, "you would never heard about a Packer dynasty in the ‘60's." Ouch.
Worst of all, the resulting schism that formed between the Lions O and D was never fully healed, even after the arrival of other quality QBs like Bill Munson, Gary Danielson and Chuck Long, and other skills players like Charlie Sanders, Billy Sims and Barry Sanders decades later.
No Time to Consider Negative Vibes
Therefore, even more than the 2002 team's 0–2 start, Harrington faces a far more imposing opponent: The specter of a team history that would give Sisyphus a hernia.
So, what's a smart fellah to do? He comes up with his own plan. And he sticks with it, even when under duress. Most of all, he calls the shots.
After the loss