Just before 11 p.m. Friday night, it became official. Matthew Stafford will be a Detroit Lion.
It's actually my job to report these things, which means I spent the bulk of the evening online, scanning e-mails, watching NFL Network, and waiting for my phone to vibrate. My eyes burned from what had become an almost intimate staring contest with my monitor. I waited, and waited. I ignored my brother's phone calls and voice mails that invariably ended with " ... they should draft Aaron Curry anyway."
Everyone knew that the deal would get done Friday night, but no one really knew when.
(Note: I had already written the story and was waiting for the confirmation, which these days comes from Jay Glazer, who I'm convinced spies on all of us with a government-issued personal satellite.)
But as my vision blurred and attention waned, I disregarded my e-mail and BlackBerry, entranced by something awful. Something horrific. To any Lions fan, it was akin to driving slowly past a car wreck. It was on the NFL Network. No, it wasn't a Steve Mariucci explanation. It wasn't a Deion Sanders interview. It was worse:
"Top 10 Draft Busts."
And right about the time they were explaining how former top pick Jeff George became a colossal failure, the Stafford headline hit my cell phone.
George's "rocket arm" didn't prevent him from turning into a bust and, adding insult, a jerk as well. Ugh.
I'm not superstitious, but if you follow the Detroit Lions, you can't help but think the only way a franchise could be so awful for so long is due to the metaphysical. I used to blame God, actually. Still, most franchises could try to be terrible yet still stumble on success. Not the Lions.
Matthew Stafford agreed to a six-year deal Friday night, making him the No. 1 pick in Saturday's draft.
So as the NFL Network was humorously portraying the plight of George, Tim Couch, Ryan Leaf and others, I considered the distinct possibility that it could be a sign. Of things to come, maybe? If you think things can't get any worse than 0-16, you haven't lived as a Lions fan.
And then it dawned on me. Maybe it was the microwaved KFC, or the semi-cancerous rays beaming from my PANASONIC, but I came to a realization: Not only can Matthew Stafford succeed in Detroit, but he really can't fail. You can't fall out of the basement. He's another young man with a rocket arm, but the weight of the franchise, regardless of what is said, is most certainly not on his shoulders. Why? Because there is nothing to carry.
The Lions are at rock bottom, with virtually no expectations to do anything. Ever. Sure, the fans still support and want them to win, but there's almost a sense of pity that accompanies the franchise.
Stafford will not be expected to lead this team in 2009, allowing some groundswell to build before his name is relevant with projected success in Detroit.
Beyond that, there are some very legitimate reasons that Stafford will be successful in Detroit. Or more importantly, why he won't fail.
5. Bipartisan Support
Ask Joey Harrington how it feels to enter a city without the support of the coaching staff.
But while that was the case with Harrington, Stafford has the entire support of the organization behind him. Lions GM Martin Mayhew wasn't going pull the trigger on any player at No. 1 until he reached a consensus between the scouting department, front office, and head coach Jim Schwartz and staff.
Stafford was green-lighted by offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, who loves the youngster's ability to gun the ball down the field. Schwartz deferred to Linehan, but in the multiple off-season meetings with Stafford, it was clear that both sides had a unique chemistry.
4. Time To Develop
While it's very possible that Stafford could beat out Daunte Culpepper for the starting job, the common thought in Allen Park is that Stafford will sit back and watch Culpepper perform in Linehan's offense (one that he mastered while with Minnesota).
Unlike Atlanta's Matt Ryan or Baltimore's Joe Flacco (rare, fifth-year seniors before declaring), Stafford won't be seasoned enough to immediately take the reigns in Detroit. Instead, it's more likely that he'll sit behind Culpepper and perhaps see action later in the year (Week 8 or 9) once it's clear that the Lions are not post-season contenders.
Furthermore, the Lions offensive line could change significantly between now and the start of the regular season. Although the team likes some of the talent upfront, they'll need help from the draft, and won't subject their prized rookie to a work-in-progress offensive line.
3. Detroit Did Its Homework
This is somewhat related to No. 5, but the Lions wouldn't have chosen Stafford if they weren't completely overwhelmed by him.
The financial and draft investment in Stafford isn't lost on a franchise that understands the magnitude of any more God awful seasons. In a city that is reeling economically, the Lions are in no position to flirt with disaster. They went over Stafford with a fine-toothed comb before making this decision, and determined that the upside far outweighed any chance of a bust.
Some scouts claimed that Stafford's footwork was sloppy, along with concerns about how he delivered the football. Each is also very correctable. The Lions will work extensively with Stafford to improve any inadequacies, readying him for the NFL instead of thrusting him into the limelight.
The team has many holes, and could have spent the pick on an offensive tackle or a linebacker or even a defensive tackle. While many might be upset with the move, Detroit was actually looking for reasons not to draft Matthew Stafford. They couldn't find any.
How many rookie quarterbacks walk into a situation with a guy like Calvin Johnson to throw the ball to?
Nice Target: Receiving phenom Calvin Johnson should help ease Stafford's transition into the pros.
By comparison, Harrington had Bill Schroeder and Az-Zahir Hakim.
There's a difference.
The potentially dynamic combination of Johnson and Stafford has the most marketing appeal in Detroit since the "Got Mooch?" t-shirts. But this onfield product is likely to be more walk than talk.
Under Linehan's tutelage, Stafford will be taught how to utilize a skilled athlete like Johnson, maximizing a talent that few in the league ever have the opportunity to experience.
1. Because It's Fate
If the reasons behind Detroit's ineptitude are, in fact, paranormal, then there has to be some good to accompany the bad. And the good has the makings of a Hollywood script.
After former great Bobby Layne helped Detroit win a championship in 1957, he was traded away the following year. Miffed, Layne cursed the franchise by allegedly stating that the team wouldn't win for another 50 years.
Fifty years later, a fiery quarterback with strong leadership skills and a cannon for an arm was drafted No. 1 by Detroit. He attended Highland Park High School in Texas, passing the plaque of the school's infamous quarterback, a Bobby Layne, every time he marched onto the field. And in his senior year, he helped guide the school to a state championship.
Its first since 1957.
Welcome to Detroit, Matt.