Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Players' Support For Marinelli Rare In Detroit

Sometimes you don't realize how much something was missing until you realize its presence.

It's easy to scoff when Lions players wax optimistic about their 2-6 record. The receiver Roy Williams hasn't been derisively tagged as "Roy Blue Skies", like a certain quarterback was, yet all he does is say things like, "Nobody can stop us when the offense is going," and "Jon Kitna is the best quarterback in the league." And, of course, the horrific "We're the best 2-6 team in the league."

Others are joining the bandwagon. Dominic Raiola, the compact center, says, "You can see us building a foundation. There's hope." Tackle Jeff Backus, who after last season wasn't sure he wanted to sign a longterm contract to stay in Detroit, did so after the team hired Rod Marinelli as coach. And Backus is among those who rave about the team's direction, personified, in his mind, by Kitna's very physical response to Falcons CB D'Angelo Hall's cheap shot Sunday. The underlying feeling of the players is this: We finally have a coach and a staff that knows what it's doing, and we don't care about our record now. The wins will come.

Defensive lineman Cory Redding says of Marinelli, "I want to be like him when I grow up, man. He's an old guy who doesn't give a dang about what you think. He's tough."

Yes, so easy to scoff at that. The Lions are on a pace to win four games. Another lost season. Once again, no meaningful games to play in November, let alone December. Same old, same old.

But is it, really?

Thinking back, I can't recall this much optimism among the men who wear the Honolulu Blue and Silver since, well, maybe ever. Certainly not during another losing season. There's been false bravado, even when the record was north of .500. But it's easy to crow when you win nine or ten games. Not so easy when you're on a pace to win four. And even harder to get the denizens who follow pro football around here to buy it.

But count me among the buyers.

The unbridled optimism and belief the Lions players have in their coach and his system, perhaps fueled by the team's offense, which is flourishing under coordinator Mike Martz, is something that hasn't been present. And when you're looking for reasons to be convinced why the Lions might, MIGHT, be on the right path, you need look no further than that.

Public support for a Lions coach by his players such as what we're seeing for Rod Marinelli, has been virtually nonexistent. In fact, the last time I can recall players throwing their weight behind a coach was when Gary Moeller took over at the end of the 2000 season. And before that? How many occasions do you recall Bobby Ross being festooned with bouquets from his players? Wayne Fontes? The players loved Wayne-o, mainly because he was a "player's coach," which is code for he's easy on the players. And you can count how many "player's coaches" have won a Super Bowl on one hand, and still have fingers left over.

A journey of a thousand miles, the proverb goes, begins with a single step. The Lions would certainly appear to be about a thousand miles away from a Super Bowl title. But with their unification behind Rod Marinelli, I believe they've taken that single step.

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