Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Break Out The Kool-Aid: Lions Training Camp Almost Upon Us

This is the time for the Kool-Aid sippers.

Not only because it's July, and the weather outside is hot and muggy, begging for a cool beverage. This is a different type of Kool-Aid, after all.

This Kool-Aid consists of the libation that instills never-ending hope for a football team that hasn't won the Big One in nearly 50 years. Forget the Big One; the Lions have only won "one" since 1957 -- one playoff game, that is. And that was 15 years ago, believe it or not.

The Kool-Aid sippers will be out in force this weekend, as Lions training camp gets into full swing. You can tell them, not by their colorful mustaches, but by the things they say.

"New coach: Rod Marinelli. New offensive coordinator: Mike Martz. These guys have what it takes. The Lions' skill players are terrific; they just need the right staff, the right system."

"This is the year they can make a move!"

The words of the Kool-Aid sippers.

But guess what? This year, the sippers might be finally telling us the truth.

Marinelli, if you ask me, is exactly the type of coach the Lions need, with their dysfunctional family of on-field personnel. He's the no-nonsense, you'll practice-in-pads-and-like-it kind of guy that should shake the rabble rousers out of the trees and leave only the leaves of fine football players. Martz can be a flake, but there's no doubting his knack for getting the most out of his players' offensive abilities.

There's a new quarterback -- whether it's Jon Kitna or Josh McCown. There's a retooled offensive line. There's a hotshot rookie linebacker, Ernie Sims. There's some talent in the trenches.

But there are still, in my mind, too many weak spots to declare the Lions anything more than a .500 team, the portrait of glorified mediocrity. But a .500 team will keep folks interested well into December, when the final playoff spots are determined. And that's much better than the 5-11 rubbish that we've been subject to in the 21st century.

Your football team always looks better in the mugginess of July and August than it typically ends up being in the cold of November and December. It's not just a Detroit phenomenon, the Kool-Aid sippers. They exist in every NFL city, although is some towns they're more prevalent than others.

Detroit's Kool-Aid sippers are vast in their number. And now they have something else added to their beverage: "Well, we have three teams who each have/had the best records in their respective leagues," they'll tell you between sips. It's true; the Red Wings, Pistons, and Tigers make Detroit First Place City. "So why not the Lions?"

Hmmm...because none of the other three are battling demons that go back almost half a century?

But there's also the philosophy of my pal Bob Zahari, freelance TV cameraman who's shot and seen his share of sports. Z would tell you that if a team is working on a streak of either greatness or failure, it can only mean one thing: they're due -- either for a fall, or for a boost. The Lions are plenty overdue, of course.

The winning isn't going to start this season. Guess that eliminates me as a Kool-Aid sipper. But it'll start soon -- maybe in 2007. Rod Marinelli is the right man for the job, at the right time. And no Kool-Aid sipper, he.

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