"Who are a little wise, the best fools be." — John Donne
Wagging the dog isn't just for presidents anymore. Like when the lesser tail causes the big dog to move, the phrase refers to a hypothetical or opportune military action that serves to draw the attention of the press long enough for a chief executive to weather a political crisis or economic scandal.
When true, the tactic is Machiavellian in the extreme. And, like all "win at all cost" situations, very useful in war, politics, and football.
Sportswriters like to use a "tale" to wag the dog, as well. And for a while, it seemed several Detroit journalists and broadcasters tried their best to wag the Lions.
The team was at 0-2 and the airwaves and newspapers filled with demands for the immediate firing of head coach Mary Mornhinweg and/or general manager Matt Millen. "Why not fire two? They're small," was the general gist.
And so, several individuals representing the beloved Detroit news media, some of whom are personal and professional acquaintances of mine, blew gallons of spittle into microphones and ground smooth the keys to dozens of laptops in their mighty effort to rid Motown of M&M. All their effort appears to be in vain.
The Alpha Lion, William Clay Ford Sr., made a positive move for his professional football franchise. By letting the team know who's who, Ford told the squad in no uncertain terms who was the Boss — Head Coach Marty Mornhinweg.
The owner also let his players know the team is on the right path, no matter what the record of late. It can only help focus the team to concentrate on what they need to do, not fear what may or may not happen.
FORD HAS A BETTER IDEA
From the strategic perspective, the public endorsement of the head coach means the team wants to continue developing the modern passing game in Motown. No matter the current record, developing the offense under the direction of the QB Guru means the team will get John J. Harrington up-and-throwing effectively ASAP. And, judging by his success in getting the most out of Brett Favre, Steve Young, and Jeff Garcia, the guy may be ideally suited for the job.
Furthermore, coaches who understand how to build a modern scoring machine are few and far between. For all his faults as a method actor and as a PR hack, Mornhinweg does know the modern NFL offense -- not just the WCO, but the passing game, the running game, and how to use their proper mix game day.
The ability to put points on the board when needed under pressure is what the Lions have lacked since the days of George Wilson. Sure, there have been great weapons -- Milt Plum could move the team in the 60s, Gary Danielson in the 70s, Billy Sims in the 80s, and Barry Sanders in the 90s -- but in all that time, one playoff win.
In Detroit, like many of the NFC teams, the offense is different in that it has been firmly grounded in the running game for decades, no matter the changes in the NFL after the AFL merger, the development of the aerial attack, and the re-emergence of the short passing game.
The importance of the passing game also is why the Lions need a head coach who understands how the game evolves year-by-year, and even game-by-game. It's clear to Ford, and clear to many Lions Fans, once Mornhinweg gets the players he needs, the Lions will be a scoring machine.
Want proof? The team's sorry playoff history stands as a record of unparalleled mediocrity. It also indicates a systemic problem. Finding the fix starts with the selecting, and then backing, the right head coach.
If a lowly scribe knows this, you can bet your bottom hubcap Ford knows it. Yet, fixing the offense and making the team jump to the next level requires more than offensive firepower. The team also needs a superior defense. And that is a problem that can be solved by the right talent on the field and on the sideline. Once they get the right people, they'll be able to wreak havoc and stop the opposition when needed, at least more often than not.
Mr. Ford has publicly stated that person to get the team going in the right direction is Marty Mornhinweg. He's not alone. Ask Bill Walsh, Mike Holmgren, Matt Millen, and even ex-Lions like old-timer Gary Danielson and recent retiree Chris Spielman. You can also ask about 30,000 Lions Fans remaining in the stands for the fourth quarter Sunday.
PACKERS TRY TO GET OUT, LIONS PULL THEM BACK IN (ALMOST)
Think back to the Ford Field and the Green Bay game Sunday. Detroit was home to a crazed crowd of (mostly) strangers hugging and high-fiveing one another when Az-Zahir Hakim took the reverse and was off to the races after the Packers' first punt. Claiborne played his best game as a Lion, including his interception of a Brett Favre pass that got the ball into field goal range.
People in my corner of the end zone nose-bleeds were anticipated the coming celebration. As they squinted to make out the Lions' pass play, the rookie QB's pass got tipped, intercepted and returned for six. What a downer. But, for the most part, the Lions Fans did not boo the team. When the Lions got back on the field, they cheered.
And you know what? While the tides changed, the Lions did not sink. Lamont Warren discovered he doesn't have to run the ball into the end zone, he can catch it and have it count as a score. The Depends-packing defensive secondary did their best to contain the game's best quarterback. They got burned by Favre on third down, as the Lions elected to keep blitzing, but they still tried their best to keep in the game and did a bit less than half the time.
Then came the fourth quarter: With about 10 minutes left, and the score 34-17, maybe 35,000 Lions Fans left the building. Too bad for them. They missed out.
On the offensive play of the (still!) young season, a screen pass up the middle, Stewart bounced, rambled, and spun away from tacklers like a steaming 220-pound pinball, refusing to be tackled for 52 yards and a touchdown. The remaining Lions Fans went wild like they just won a Free Game in Wild West Shoot-Out.
Then things got really interesting: The team was within striking range. An offside penalty nullified a successful onsides kick. The team tried again and failed to recover the ball. Favre moved the Pack a bit and got a field goal out of the deal. The Lions had to use three time-outs to preserve the clock for a last effort.
That was the Big Thing! Harrington never quit and he told the team in no uncertain terms they could still win! His teammates agreed. Rookie or veteran, they all refused to quit and got the ball to about the Packers' 40. Then, on second down, a perfect pass to Mikhael Ricks going up the middle and into the end zone bounced off the tips of his fingers. The next pass was intercepted. "Game Over, Man."
Still, the fourth quarter touchdowns were quite stirring to see. And, for the first time since Barry Sanders was on the field, it looked like the team had a chance to come back quickly. In fact, according to coyote12 and spike804, a couple of LionsFans.com message board posters who would know, the team resembled – just a bit -- the Lions of Old. Those teams, under the leadership of Bobby Layne, never lost a game. They just ran out of time.
Lions Fans like knowing the team can fight back. Even more, does William Clay Ford Sr.
Sometimes, wagging the tail does awaken a sleeping Lion. Wonder what would happen if someone were to step on a few Lions tails? Oh, yeah. That's Millen's job.