Monday, May 15, 2006

Harrington, Like Lanier, Wished It Would Have Happened In Detroit

The voice over the telephone was, by all accounts, a combination of wistful, happy, and melancholy. The now ex-Detroit athlete spoke in even, chosen tones. The words were an Epilogue on his career in the Motor City.

"I don't think the chemistry was there in Detroit...sometimes chemistry is more important than names..."

He talked about the winning never happening in Detroit, his first professional city.

"There's one thing that makes me sad. I wanted it to happen in Detroit."

"If I'm happy in Milwaukee, there's no telling how happy I would have been if it had happened when I was in Detroit."

The athlete speaking into a telephone that February day in 1980 to Jerry Green of the Detroit News was Bob Lanier, shipped away to the Milwaukee Bucks, adorned with a bow and ribbon -- gone after nearly ten seasons of performing in mostly mediocrity for the Pistons. He would lead the Bucks to a divisional title that season, and in subsequent seasons would help Milwaukee do some damage in the playoffs. The damage didn't consist of any championships, however.

I thought of Lanier's words, lifted from Green's book, The Detroit Pistons: Capturing A Remarkable Era, as I read Joey Harrington's own Epilogue of his time as a Lion. The trade, sending Harrington to the Miami Dolphins for a conditional 2007 draft pick, was completed the other day. And in the Free Press, his postscript was splashed in india ink as part of a two-part series.

Bob Lanier, circa 1976-77

Harrington, like Lanier 26 years earlier, had pushed for his exodus from Detroit. And, like Lanier, who'd only known Detroit as a professional home, Harrington has a large part of him that wishes any success he may eventually have would have occurred in Motown.

"I wanted to bring Detroit a winner," Harrington says. "I wanted the fans of Detroit to experience something they had not experienced in 50 years. My whole life, working hard had made it happen... But for some reason, in Detroit, for the first time, that didn't work."

Harrington's departure was similar to Lanier's in another way: Its occurrence was heavily anticipated, practically a given for weeks prior to it actually happening. In 1980, Pistons GM Jack McCloskey wasn't shy to tell the beat writers what he was asking for, and from whom, for Lanier. A #1 draft choice was his top priority, since Dickie Vitale had left the team stripped naked in that department, along with others. So McCloskey let it leak, and for weeks Bob Lanier's trading was treated like a vigil.

Harrington forced the Lions' hand when he publicly declared he would play only for the Miami Dolphins. For that and other reasons, President Matt Millen was only able to get a sixth-round choice (it could go up to fifth) for Harrington, the third player taken overall in the 2002 draft. And the Joey Watch began in earnest sometime in March, when the Lions signed first Jon Kitna, then Josh McCown to fill the vacancy left by one failed draft pick -- Joey Harrington. Two men to replace one. Joey should be flattered.

Finally, the Harrington era has an Epilogue

In his ramblings to the Free Press, Harrington called Dre Bly's public tossing of him beneath the proverbial bus after the Thanksgiving Day game a "betrayal." He said former coach Steve Mariucci "made it OK to be mediocre." He said he knew Mariucci stopped believing in him sometime around midway in Harrington's third year here -- 2004. He didn't think Jeff Garcia should have been playing when he was.

But, what was funny to me was this comment when asked about his first impressions of Mariucci, the supposed West Coast Offense guru:

"I especially remember when he first addressed the team. I thought to myself, 'My God, this guy sounds just like Marty Mornhinweg.' His mannerisms, his phrases. I think a lot of the West Coast offense guys who worked together sound that way."

I always had a feeling Mornhinweg and Mariucci were two peas in a failed football pod.

There was, frankly, nothing all that earth-shattering in Harrington's exit interview with the Freep. It mainly cemented what we already surmised, although I suppose it was nice to finally get the Epilogue from one of the horse's mouths.

Then there was this:

"It [Detroit] was my first opportunity in the NFL. There were people who taught me a lot of very important lessons here. But it was the most frustrating football experience I've ever had."

Substitute NBA for NFL, and basketball for football, and that quote could pretty much sum up Bob Lanier's career in Detroit.

Only, Lanier has his number retired by the Pistons. Jon Kitna wears #3. He'll probably wear it as a Lion. So our football team can't recycle it soon enough, it appears.

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