Marinelli, Lions stand tall as losses pile up

The coach talks about dignity and pride as his team prepares for its last chance to win this year. "There's a lot of eyes on us right now. It's amazing. People want to come and see what a loser looks like," he says.

Comparing the Detroit Lions' season to a car wreck is apropos. Because like a highway rollover or multivehicle collision, there's a perverse attraction to wanting to see the carnage.

"There's a lot of eyes on us right now. It's amazing," coach Rod Marinelli said of his winless Lions in a conference call with reporters at Lambeau Field on Wednesday. "People want to come and see what a loser looks like. And they have a preconceived notion. For whatever reason, it seems to attract people."

So, while Sunday's game is one of just six in this final week of the NFL season without playoff ramifications, plenty of eyes will be following the proceeding at Lambeau, where the disappointing Green Bay Packers (5-10) host the history-making Detroit Lions (0-15). No team in NFL history has gone 0-16; the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers went 0-15 in 1976.

Nonetheless, while the fans have given up on the Lions long ago and the team's leadership might be the worst in professional sports, the players and coaches have put forth a good effort. Yes, the Lions were throttled by the New Orleans Saints last week, but they also have given the NFC North-leading Minnesota Vikings and the red-hot Indianapolis Colts a tussle this month.

Some of the credit has to go to Marinelli – a fact he didn't mind pointing out as he prepped for almost certainly his final game as the Lions' coach. The tough times with the team, after all, aren't quite as dire as what's going on in Detroit, where unemployment is high and thousands upon thousands of workers are wondering about their future with the Big Three automakers in peril.

"It starts with me," Marinelli said. "I just believe in our game. I absolutely love and adore this game and have great respect for it, and I try to relate to the players. And we have an obligation not to just play hard, but there are a lot of people that are struggling and would like to quit. People got their eyes on us. It's part of our responsibility to go out and compete and be humble and stay together and work."

Marinelli speaks with pride about how his team hasn't thrown in the towel. His guys might be losers on a weekly basis between the lines but they aren't losers in the real-world sense, he said.

"My thing has been we've got to carry ourself with great dignity and great respect," he said. "Now, if we didn't try our best and we didn't work and we didn't prepare and we weren't hanging together, then there would be no dignity. But when you're trying your best and doing those things correctly, there is great dignity."

Kicker Jason Hanson, who has been with the Lions since being their second-round draft choice in 1992, has played for a lot of bad teams in Detroit, especially since the new millennium. While these Lions are one loss away from making the worst kind of history, Hanson said he's played on worse teams in terms of talent and attitude.

"It's been tough on everybody. The more we've lost, the worse it's been," said Hanson, who set the NFL career record for most 50-plus-yard field goals two weeks ago and has missed just once kick – a block – this season. "But the guys are still working and practicing hard, and that's truly what's happening. I've said this – thinking about this, obviously, with a lot of questions this week – I've seen our locker room a lot worse as far as divisions and the attitude. Surprisingly, this team has held together and is trying during the week, but we're not producing on Sundays."

Even though the Lions are staring down the barrel at the football equivalent of Chernobyl or Three Mile Island, Marinelli said the intensity wasn't going to be ratcheted up this week.

"Any time a competitor gets into an arena, it's all the same," he said. "It's so important to compete and win. When you're in this league, it's about winning. No matter if it's one game or 10 games, it doesn't matter. When you look at that perspective, your preparation should be no different this week than it was for the opening game of the year or the 10th game."

Nor does Marinelli want his team to play loose with a nothing-to-lose attitude. He wants his players dialed in as if they were preparing for a playoff game. It's great preparation for the players, even though Marinelli surely won't be part of the Lions' future postseason runs.

"We don't need to go out there and win ‘loose,'" Marinelli said. "Because someday, if a team is trying to get ready for a playoff or a big game, you're not loose. You're wired in and you're focused and you're detailed. I don't want this team to get away from that.

"I want to keep the pressure on the them."

Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com.


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