Sunday, November 30, 2008

Curse Of The Eagle? EMU Should Be The Hurons Again

Gretchen Borst and George Hanner meant no harm, I promise you.

They were the two students who, way back in 1929, entered a contest to determine the nickname of Michigan State Normal College. Today you may know that school as Eastern Michigan University – that is, if you can see it through the shadow of that other institution seven miles west on Washtenaw Avenue: something called the University of Michigan.

So Gretchen and George enter this contest, see, and the contest is run by a three-man panel, and on October 31, 1929, the panel announced its winner: Michigan State Normal College would forever have as its school nickname (drum roll please), the Hurons.

This selection drips with irony upon closer inspection, because Hanner worked at the Huron Hotel at the time. No doubt that had as much influence over his suggestion, if not more, than the fact that the school lie on the banks of the Huron River, or that the Huron Indian tribe once roamed southeastern Michigan.

Forever lasted approximately 62 years, turns out.

First, you should know that the author is a proud alumnus of EMU, having graduated in the latter part of that 62-year Huron reign. And you should also know that he is still ticked off about the absconding of the nickname “Hurons” in exchange for the decidedly more mundane, lame “Eagles”, which occurred in 1991.

I’ll stop referring to myself in the second person. It’s me who’s the proud alumnus. Me who is still ticked. I’m a Huron, always will be, and I’m not alone.

EMU has had it rough over the past year or so. There was the infamous Laura Dickinson controversy of 2007, which led to the ziggy for the school president due to some less than forthright ways information was disseminated in the tragic death of Dickinson, an EMU student who was found dead in her dorm room in December 2006. No foul play, school administrators, led by president John Fallon, declared. Uh-uh. No way, no how.

Months later, it was revealed: the play was the foulest – rape and murder had gone on in Laura’s room. And you know when her parents and family found out the truth? About the same time the rest of the public did. Fallon and his minions knew that there was strong evidence that suggested Laura was murdered, yet chose to keep it to themselves, like some nasty family secret.

I would have liked my size 10s to be among those kicking Fallon in the ass on his way out the door.

On the far less important side of things, the sports in Ypsilanti have been foul, too.

The mens basketball program still can’t find its footing. And the football team? Only Pepe LePew could love them.

EMU just canned another football coach. Jeff Genyk got the ziggy on Monday after five miserable seasons. Genyk was yet another who could do absolutely nothing with Eastern’s football program. His was a tenure filled with the typical records at EMU: 2-9, 3-8, an occasional 1-10.

Funny, but ever since EMU’s Board of Regents foolishly voted to change the nickname to the Eagles, the football team, especially, has been grounded. One (1) winning season since ’91 – and that was just 6-5, in 1995. Eagles with clipped wings, apparently.

As I said, I’m not alone in my outrage. It’s been over 17 years, and I still can’t get past it. Other alumni, many others, feel the same way. Some of the more belligerent (and wealthy) ones have told the school that there will be no more donations forthcoming until EMU is once again known as the Hurons.

The Regents caved to pressure and ordered Hurons dropped as part of an NCAA-wide push to eliminate as many nicknames as possible that supposedly fueled racial stereotypes. It was a broad-stroked brush that the NCAA, as usual, used. They failed to take into consideration the dignity with which some of those “offensive” nicknames carried.

The Huron logo was anything but cartoonish or offensive. It was the profile of a very proud-looking Native American. Even the word “Huron” couldn’t be considered offensive, because it was simply the name of the tribe. We’re not talking Redskins here.

Yet the Regents caved anyway, and if it wasn’t bad enough that Hurons had to go, the choice of Eagles to replace it was a double whammy.

Eagles? You mean the nickname used by countless high schools across the country, and dozens of other colleges?

Not only that, but Eagles was chosen as the result of another one of those contests, like the one Gretchen Borst and George Hanner entered in 1929. So they have a contest, get hundreds of entries, and choose … Eagles? If there’s a punch line here, I’m still waiting for it.

There’s politically correct, and there’s being stupid.

I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts that EMU alienated way more people than they satisfied when they switched from Hurons to Eagles. Lord knows how much money they’ve lost out on, to boot.

There are precious few supporters of the decision, but the ones who are point out that the diploma says Eastern Michigan University. The logic says that it shouldn’t matter what comes after that – it’s still the same school, whether that school goes by Hurons or Eagles.

Nice try, but I’m not buying it. Nicknames are part of school pride. And EMU, I thought, had one of the more unique ones in the country. And the facts back that up.

But there’s hope. A group called Huron Restoration continues to try to bring back the name, and claims to have the support of Chief Leaford Bearskin of the Wyandot Tribe of Oklahoma and former Grand Chief Max Gros-Louis of the Huron-Wendat Nation of Quebec.

It’s not too late to get this right, after all. Hurons, unite!

Friday, November 28, 2008

If Only Ford Would Stop Being Absentee In His Ownership

There are the buffoon owners of sports teams. The Mark Cubans and Jerry Joneses of the world. Those bozos who make a spectacle of themselves, whether at courtside or on the sidelines. Jawing with officials, stomping their feet when things don't go their team's way. There are the bellicose owners, those insufferable boobs who whine and publicly castigate their players, their coaches. The George Steinbrenners and the Al Davises of the world. You just have to know that if Donald Trump were to own a team, he would be in one of these categories.

This morning, I must say that I'm rather jealous of fans whose teams are owned by the misfits, the jerks, the bozos.

For at least with the Cubans and Joneses, you know that, if nothing else, they care.

It's getting tiresome to hear, through the grapevine, of how much Bill Ford Sr. cares about winning. It's old to rehash how nice he is, how terrific of an owner he is to work for. Irksome to wring your hands about his being loyal to a fault, wondering how much damage that's doing in the long-term.

If only he would talk to us.

Ford may be the most frustrating and maddening of all the sports owners. This is because he is, for all intents and purposes, an absentee owner. Some absentees own from afar. The Red Wings were owned before Mike Ilitch by Bruce Norris, who toward the end of his reign was holed up in Florida, rarely showing his drunken face while his team burned. Even the Pistons, before the frequently-seen Bill Davidson, were owned by Fred Zollner, The Z. Zollner was another absentee, who had attended one or two games, total, over the last couple years of his ownership.

You never heard a peep from Norris or Zollner. It was creepy, in a way.

Ford is creepy.

There were reports that Ford was at the field named after his family yesterday as his team vomited and defecated all over the gridiron in a shameful effort in the annual Thanksgiving Day game. A 47-10 game that, when you think about it, wasn't even as close as the score indicated. No telling what the Tennessee Titans would have done to the Lions if they put forth a maximum effort in the second half, after a 35-10 halftime lead satiated them, like men content after gorging themselves on turkey and all the fixings. Still, the Titans, in their feast-induced stupor, managed to hold the Lions scoreless while tacking on four field goals.

But Ford, as usual, wasn't available to the media -- before or after the game. Some owners make the media available to them, whether the media likes it or not. They seek out the nearest tape recorder, the nearest TV camera they can find, and go off. Can you imagine Jones, the Cowboys owner, if his team had laid such an egg on the national stage? You'd have to have a straitjacket at the ready. And a tranquilizer gun.

Ford has never, that I can recall from 38 years of following and covering the team, displayed any passion, publicly, about his football team. The only confirmation we get of his supposed disdain for losing comes from those close to him. If it weren't from these reports, which are like those you got from the front during pre-television wars, we wouldn't have a clue as to what Ford thinks. We wouldn't know if a display such as the one perpetrated against Lions fans and indeed, the nation, yesterday bothered Ford in the least bit. Actually, when it comes to yesterday, we don't know. The reports from the front haven't come in yet.

If I owned a football team, and if my product was so awful that the fans were so lethargic as to not even boo the carnage, and if I saw my stadium empty out shortly after halftime like sand draining from the top half of an hourglass, I'd walk out to the 50-yard line, demand a microphone, and issue a public apology -- making sure the cameras were rolling so it could be preserved for posterity.

Ray Kroc did something similar once. Kroc, the McDonald's hamburger magnate, once owned the San Diego Padres. And after another horrible performance by his team, Kroc angrily commandeered the public address microphone and told the few fans remaining that he was sorry. They laughed at Ray Kroc a lot, but nobody could accuse him of not caring.

The biggest indictment of any team owner in pro sports isn't that he's incompetent. Isn't that he's a stooge. Isn't that he is an embarrassment to his constituency. Isn't that he meddles and micro-manages.

The biggest indictment is that he doesn't care.

True or not, that's the impression most Lions fans have of Bill Ford. Actually, they've had that impression for years now, maybe even decades. He doesn't care. He doesn't truly care if his team wins two games or ten. Doesn't really make a difference to him if the Lions make the playoffs or not. Those close to him will scoff at this notion. No, no, they say -- Ford cares. Boy, does he care. Losing grinds him. He wants a Super Bowl in the worst way. Well, they got the "worst way" part right.

OK, so if Ford cares, why doesn't he talk to us?

If he only knew how much it would mean to the fan base if Ford simply spoke to them. Just went on record, telling of his feelings and his vision and what all this losing does to him. Oh, how they would appreciate it if he would acknowledge that the product is unacceptable, and even though he hasn't been able to get it right in 44 years of ownership, by God he's going to keep trying until he does.

Sources close to Ford say this is an actual photo taken of him

It wouldn't, at all, make up for all the years of lousy football in this town, but I guarantee you it would soothe some feelings.

It would be even better if such public words were accompanied by a ziggying given to coach Rod Marinelli. A combo platter: canning the coach and declaring outrage of the situation at the same time.

When Matt Millen was finally relieved of his duties, Ford again was holed up. Nothing came from him beyond a written statement. Another opportunity wasted to show the fans this alleged care and passion we keep hearing about from those ever-reliable "sources close to Ford."

The Lions fans clearly are not all that hard to please. That's made evident every year, when Ford Field is routinely sold out despite the won/loss record. Recently, a sellout streak was ended that is normally reserved for the truly successful franchises. Not for those who are in the throes of a 31-93 mind boggler. That's a .250 winning percentage, folks. Three losses for every win. For nearly eight years. Truly mind boggling.

So these not-too-hard to please fans would absolutely eat it up if Ford would go public, even in the form of an impromptu presser, and muse about his football team. They may not be totally satisfied with his words, but just the fact that he even uttered some would be enough for a lot of the base. But he would need to do it more than just once a year. And, of course, it would still need to be accompanied by sound football decisions.

I'm not asking Bill Ford to stand on the sidelines and react like a normal fan to the ups and downs of a typical football Sunday. I'm not asking him to berate officials and humiliate anyone. I'm just asking, begging, for one thing, and one thing only.

Talk to us, Mr. Ford. That's all.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Yes, "The Knee Jerks" Are Open On Thanksgiving! Come On In....

HAPPY THANKSGIVING! And welcome to Webisode #9 of "The Knee Jerks: WTF? With Eno and Al," my weekly gab fest with that MVP of the MVN, Big Al of The Wayne Fontes Experience.

In this installment, we look back at the Michigan-Ohio State debacle and MSU's failure last Saturday; laud the Red Wings; slam those who would take away our Turkey Day game; talk a little U-M hoops; and of course, there are the regulars: Word Association and Jerk of the Week.



Eno: Thanks for taking the time on this holiday to join us at "The Knee Jerks: WTF? With Eno and Al." I'm Eno, aka The Journalist, and he's Big Al, aka Mr. Big Shot. See, Al? Told you I'd remember to call you that every week now, going forward!

Big Al: Damn straight. I would have been sure to correct you otherwise, Mr. Journalist! So what's on your overflowing-with-Detroit-sports-information-and-trivia mind?

Eno: Well, this is an unusual time at TKJ, because we're doing this BEFORE the Lions game, and folks will likely be reading it AFTER the game. So right off the bat, our readers know more than we do this webisode!

Big Al: Don't they always? I'm so full of BS, Rod Marinelli has nothing on me. Smoke and mirrors, sir, smoke and mirrors. You, on the other hand, pull facts out of nowhere, such as your post recapping previous Lions Turkey Days. Hell, I can't even remember what happened last year on Thanksgiving, let alone in 1987.

Eno: What can I say? It's both a gift and a curse! OK, let's start with Michigan football. I guess you were right and I was wrong. Who was that idiot who predicted a close U-M/OSU game? He should have his Knee Jerk stripes revoked!

Big Al: Dean Wormer has you on double secret probation, so watch what you predict. Hey, you were right for a half of football, anyway. But I have to say I saw this one coming, as Michigan QB Nick Sheridan, who I'm sure is a nice kid, just isn't a Big Ten QB. His having to start had the Wolverines behind the proverbial buckeye before the game even began.

Eno: Well, is this getting to the point where U-M bores OSU now? I mean, when Michigan was kicking John Cooper's tail, it almost became not fun anymore. Look at the Red Wings and Avalanche. The Avs bore me now. When was the last time Colorado beat the Red Wings? When Patrick Roy was in net? So is this rivalry in danger of turning into a joke?

Big Al: Not yet, as even though the University of Columbus is currently holding the upper hand, almost all previous Wolverine-Bucknuts games had something on the line, and were, for the most part, tight ballgames. I think this loss is the exception, rather than the rule, Rich Rodriguez needed to experience the rivalry before he could truly grasp its meaning. The Wolverines may not beat CheatyPants McSweaterVest and his band of ill-tempered, ill-educated louts, but it won't be a blowout in 2009.

Eno: Well, regardless, I'd say that Meeechigan (RIP, Bob Ufer!) better damn well beat these Buckeyes pretty freaking soon. Or maybe U-M better figure out how to beat Toledo first? Baby steps, right?

Big Al: Need to crawl before you can walk, walk before you can run, and a quarterback before you can beat tOSU.

Eno: Indeed. And what about Sparty? Again they prove they're Not Ready For Prime Time (RIP, Gilda Radner!) They finished 9-3, but is it a Fool's Gold 9-3 or a we-can-win-a-Bowl-game 9-3?

Big Al: As always, it depends upon the match-up, but MSU is not yet an upper tier team. I don't see them beating a comparable SEC team. I do think that with six weeks to prepare, the ever cranky Mark Dantonio will make Sparty a handful for whomever they play. What do you think of Dantonio's stunt of calling time outs in the final seconds of the Penn State game? Was he being an ass, or trying to make a point?

Eno: With Dantonio, you never know. He's a rather irascible fellow, which isn't necessarily a bad thing in a football coach. But methinks he tends to sweat the small stuff too much. Maybe he tries too hard at times. Of course, his predecessor, John L. (for Loser) Smith never could be accused of trying too hard, so there you go.

Big Al: I'll say this for Mr. Little Brother, he's making the MSU/Penn State and MSU/U-M rivalries much more interesting. Which I think is the motivation to his madness. No one cared about MSU playing Methusela at the end of the season before. Dantonio is making the Big Ten-manufactured series relevant. And anytime he can annoy the living Hell out of Wolverines, the folks in East Lansing eat it up. If I'm MSU, I’m worried when one of the elite programs that has an opening (Tennessee?) will come calling. Dantonio could be another Nick Saban, if the Spartans aren't careful.

Eno: Wow – some elite company there! He came from little Cincinnati with a mediocre 18-17 record, and now you're putting him up there with Duffy Daugherty! What's gotten into you?

Big Al: Drugs? I'm not going that far yet, but Dantonio has been a great fit at MSU. I'll say this, though. He'll be better for the program than George "Motor City Bowl should be in the BCS" Perles, the last coach to have a lengthy tenure in East Lansing.

Eno: And now George might run for Governor, so go figure. Your turn: what's on Mr. Big Shot's mind?

Big Al: Turkey legs. Oh, you mean in sports? Well then...we have to mention the Lions, and the ongoing cry from the MSM about taking away our Super Bowl – the Thanksgiving Day Game. The show I like to call "Douchebags in the Morning," ESPN's Mike and Mike, Mike Ditka, and numerous columnists around the nation who’re looking to get some cheap heat, all call for the NFL to take the game away [from the Lions]. Personally, I think they can go to Hell. What are your thoughts on the matter? Should the 12:30 Turkey Day game remain ours and ours alone?

Eno: YES!!! Of course!! Are there REALLY a bunch of teams clamoring to play on Thanksgiving? I was talking to Keith Bulluck of the Titans a few weeks ago and he didn't seem to be so jazzed to play the game that he would like to play it every year. Look, it's easy to say this now with the Lions down. Funny, but I didn't hear this in the 1990s, when the Lions were competitive. The only whiner was the late Lamar Hunt of the Chiefs. What is the motive to take it away? What does it matter to those folks? The Lions are rarely on national TV, so chill. Deal with it, I say.

Big Al: They can all pound sand. I'm just getting sick and tired of all the Detroit bashing. From the politicians in Washington more concerned with Wall Street than saving Detroit's auto industry, to the sports media slagging away on the Thanksgiving Day game, it's giving us in the Detroit area a MASSIVE chip on our shoulders. I, for one, am ready to go nuclear on the next politician or columnist who takes unwarranted cheap shots at Detroit, the State of Michigan, and the residents and fans of all things Detroit!

Eno: You know, I agree. The Detroit bashing seems to be at an apex right now. It truly does give us that chip on our shoulder you were referring to. I just think that it's hilarious how this happens when the Lions are crappy. So, should we stop playing the MLB All-Star Game because the AL always wins? Should the Red Wings stop playing the Avalanche? Sorry – I already talked about that!

Big Al: Lets not forget the over done and totally untrue Red Wings = Yankees or Detroit = Beirut comparisons. Enough is enough, and I've had enough. Enough already! Seriously, I'm going to get out the big guns and go off on the next Detroit basher. The morons on CBS best watch what they say during the game. I'll be watching them...

Eno: Whoa....let's call a 20-second timeout!

Big Al: NO! NO! NO! I'M OUT OF ORDER? YOU'RE OUT OF ORDER!!! OK, I'm done. I feel better. What's next?

Eno: Well, Al Pacino....I have Red Wings on the brain. I don't write about them too much because, well, they're just so good; what else can be said? I just hope folks around here appreciate what they have. This team is truly dynasty-ish. They're never out of a game. Do you truly see anyone knocking them off four times in a playoff series?

Big Al: No. NO! NO! N...Sorry, I had a flashback! My only concern is Chris Osgood, as he has yet to play up to the level of last season. I realize it's early, but I think the Red Wings have the same concern, which is why we are seeing more and more of Ty Conklin between the pipes. Other than possibly in net, I don't think the Wings have a weakness. At least not a weakness that is easily exploited. The Red Wings’ worst enemy will not be the Sharks or the Ducks, it will be complacency.

Eno: But even that, I don’t see happening. It's almost silly to nitpick them. Do you realize they've been Cup contenders since 1993? That's amazing. No other pro sports team can say that. Makes you wonder if they'll EVER be down – or how we'll react to it when it happens.

Big Al: Probably the same way Wolverines fans reacted: with much anguish and finger pointing. But the Wings are in fine hands, so I doubt it's something we'll be have to worry about anytime soon – knock on wood.


Eno: Hey, how about some Word Association?

Big Al: NO! NO! NO! Oh, word association? Cool by me. I'll start...

Big Al: Let's begin with a local columnist, Mitch Albom.

Eno: Overexposed.

Big Al: No doubt. Tennessee Titans head coach Jeff Fisher.

Eno: Available?

Big Al: I wish. Lord, how I wish. Lions backup QB who just signed a two-year contract, Drew Henson.

Eno: Two words...three, really. No, four: Why the hell not?

Big Al: Hey, he was thought to be a franchise QB not all that long ago. How about the other backup Drew, Drew Stanton.

Eno: The future of the Lions. No joke. OK, my turn.

Big Al: Go ahead, oh journalistic one.

Eno: LeBron James.

Big Al: Two words. Big Apple.

Eno: Hmmm....or Motor City....OK, Joe Paterno


Big Al: Sorry, had to go for the zombie joke. Retire!

Eno: Wow...OK. Jim Price

Big Al: Is there one word I can use for "heavy breathing into an open mike?" No? OK, loyal.

Eno: Wow – THAT'S diplomatic! OK, one more: Thanksgiving.

Big Al: BRAIIINS! Seriously, Detroit.

Eno: Nice....alright, before Jerk of the Week, I'm gonna volley it back to you for the next topic.

Big Al: Volley? We playing tennis? You making a joke? You think I'm funny? I'm funny to you?!

Eno: You back in Pacino Mode? Or is that DeNiro?

Big Al: Sorry, for some reason I need to channel Joe Pesci in Goodfellas. How about something good about the Wolverines? The basketball boys beat a Top Ten team for the first time in, well, forever, when John Beilein's team beat UCLA [last week]. I couldn't remember the last time I so enjoyed watching a Michigan basketball game. Is Michigan hoops back?

Eno: Oh, that was terrific. Didn't see the game but good for Beilein's kids. That was great. It didn't even matter that they lost to Duke after that. It would be wonderful to see that program back on the map. Do you see it happening soon?

Big Al: It was a great game to watch, and it was Beilein ball at its best. Treys, back door plays and his funky 1-3-1 defense. They aren't back yet, but are on the way. I think Michigan could be an NCAA bubble team this season, and is maybe a year or two away from contending for the Big Ten title. Beilein knows what he is doing, and what sort of players he needs to run his system. Give him time, and he'll win.

Eno: Yeah, he's a keeper. You need stability. My alma mater, EMU, just fired another football coach. And they're gonna bring Lloyd Carr in as an adviser to select the next coach. That kinda makes this old Huron (NOT an Eagle) a little....excited?

Big Al: It should. I like it that EMU asked Lloyd to help. Say what you will about his coaching abilities. Lloyd’s a good egg and well connected. He'll go a long way in helping the Hurons (Eagles my ass!) find the right coach to right the ship.

Eno: Hey, maybe Lloyd himself will come out of retirement, a la Sam Rutigliano at Liberty U! A Huron can dream, can't he?

Big Al: Or like Kansas State's Bill Snyder. EMU could do a lot worse than Lloyd. A LOT worse. Ready to give your Jerk of the Week?


Eno: You know, I hate to make him a JOTW three times in a row, but I gotta go with your man Drew Sharp of the Freep.

Big Al: Really. What did the dull one say now?

Eno: Well, it's this annoying insistence of his that the Lions absolutely, positively, can NOT go 0-16 because it's "impossible." Other than Minnesota at home, I don't know where he's seeing a win. At Indy? At Green Bay? Against the Titans? The Saints? Good grief! He was at it again last Sunday, predicting the Lions to beat the Bucs because of the aforementioned "impossibility" of going 0-16. It's very annoying!

Big Al: I thought you were going to name Sharp because of his "column" about the Lions’ Turkey Day tradition, where he just came off as hateful towards those who really do root for the Lions. I honestly believe Sharp has five different boiler plate columns, and just changes the names and teams as needed. His shtick is getting old. Ready for my jerk?

Eno: Ready, willing, AND able!

Big Al: Sure you don't mean, Abel?

Eno: *laughs*

Big Al: I'm going to give a co-Jerk of the Week award. My jerks are Lions head coach Rod Marinelli and Detroit News columnist Rob Parker for the unintentional comedy that ensues when Parker asks Marinelli if he's going to quit/fire his son-in-law/quit over and over and over, while Marinelli talks in circles, never answering anything. I swear the two could join a touring company of "The Odd Couple." Post-game pressers will never be the same once Marinelli gets the ziggy

Eno: That's actually very funny, and very creative! I never thought of them that way! Parker has fired more coaches than George Steinbrenner.

Big Al: And written more bad columns than Drew Sharp!

Eno: Now THAT'S saying something! OK, my friend, enjoy your Turkey Day. Sorry the Lions are gonna be on local TV, though. Don't let them ruin the turkey and stuffing!

Big Al: Lions ruin turkey? That's un-possible! Have a great Turkey Day yourself, Mr. Journalist!

Eno: See ya next Thoisday.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

38 Years Of Thanksgiving Day With The Lions; Oy Vay!

Tomorrow will be the 39th Thanksgiving Day game that I can remember the Lions playing. I thought it might be fun -- for me, not necessarily for you -- to go through them, one by one, and see what I can recall about each game. It's like a live blog: I'll just type what comes to mind. Nothing prepared, no cutesy prose. Keep in mind that many of these games weren't on local TV -- either because they were played before the NFL allowed home games that were sold out 72 hours in advance to be televised, or they weren't sold out. So a lot of the memories either come from listening to the game on the radio, or reading about it the next day. I only attended two Thanksgiving Day games in person: 1983 and 1988.

Here goes (most final scores culled from, or my memory) ....

1970: The Lions beat the Raiders, 28-14, after falling behind 14-0. But this was notable because it was the only time, that I know of, the Lions wore white uniforms at home. NBC was afraid that the Raiders' road white uniforms, with their silver numbers at the time, wouldn't show up well on national TV. So the network asked the Lions to wear white (with blue numbers) instead. Charlie Sanders made two fantastic TD catches.

1971: The Chiefs were in town, and I remember being at my relatives' house and hearing that the Lions were winning. That's about all I recall about this one. The Lions won, 32-21.

1972: The Lions spanked Joe Namath and the Jets, 37-20. What I remember about this one is a photo you still see from time to time -- probably can find it on the Lions website -- of MLB Mike Lucci staring down Namath at the line of scrimmage before the snap. The photo was taken from behind Namath, with Lucci lurking in the background.

1973: The Redskins came in and drubbed the Lions, 20-0. Again, not on TV. Nothing much to report about this one.

1974: The Lions' last home game ever at Tiger Stadium. I had to double check this, as it's highly unusual to play no more home games after Thanksgiving, but this was when the NFL schedule was 14 games. The Broncos came calling and beat the Lions, 31-27. Also notable because it was the last game for FB Steve Owens, who tore up a knee and never played again.

1975: Another 20-0 drubbing, this time from the LA Rams. I remember being at my grandmother's house and my uncle joining us for dinner after having attended the game. I remember he said it was cold and the roof of the Silverdome leaked.

1976: Not on TV, but this was the game where Buffalo's O.J. Simpson ran wild, to the tune of 273 (I think) rushing yards. Still, the Lions won, 27-14.

1977: The Bears were here, and I barely remember it. Just as well; the Lions lost 31-14.

1978: The defending AFC champs, the Denver Broncos, were in town. This was one of those games where the Lions rose to the occasion and pulled the upset. They sacked Denver's Craig Morton several times on their way to a rousing 17-14 win.

1979: I remember listening to most of this one on the radio. The Lions came into the game at 1-11, but shutout the Bears by that ubiquitous 20-0 score. I remember how loud the crowd was at the final gun. The Lions finished 2-14.

1980: This was the famous overtime kickoff return game. The Bears were here again, and they scored 14 points in the fourth quarter, including a scramble for a TD by Vince Evans as time expired. Then Dave Williams took the overtime kickoff to the house, some 98 yards. This loss mortally wounded the Lions' playoff hopes.

1981: OK, what was notable here, for me, wasn't the game itself (the Lions beat KC, 27-10), but what happened the Sunday after the game. We were dropping my uncle off at the airport, and all of a sudden I see a figure out of my peripheral vision as I sat in the backseat of the car. The figure is running between the cars parked near the terminal. The figure was Lions running back Billy Sims. Truth.

1982: The Giants beat the Lions, thanks to Lawrence Taylor returning an interception nearly 100 yards for a touchdown. This was on TV, and I remember TE David Hill smugly dangling a penalty flag after Taylor scored. Hill and everyone at the Silverdome, and me at home, thought the flag was on the Giants, and the score would be nullified. It was against the Lions. The touchdown stood, and the Lions fell.

1983: Ahh, NOW we're talking memories! I was there when the Lions pummeled the Steelers, 45-3. Unbelievable. Total destruction of the Steelers. I remember someone had hung a banner with an image of Mr. T on it that said, "I PITY PITT!" I thought that was cute, but that the Lions would lose the game. Instead it was a slaughter meted out by the boys in Honolulu Blue.

1984: The Lions only won four games in '84, but one of them was over the Packers on Turkey Day. This one is hopelessly lost in a black hole somewhere; I have absolutely no recollection of this game!

1985: The Lions, under first-year head coach Darryl Rogers, won their first six home games. The last of these was a 31-20 win over the 9-3 Jets. But this is memorable because at halftime, NBC's Ahmad Rashad, from Pontiac, proposed marriage to Phylicia Ayers-Allen, who was in New York, on live TV. She said yes. (They're divorced now, but don't tell anyone)

1986: The Packers came in and beat the Lions in a shootout, 44-40. I remember someone for the Packers running a punt back for a touchdown (Phillip Epps, perhaps?)

1987: This was around the time the Lions got insufferably boring under Rogers. They fell to 2-9 after a 27-20 loss to the previously 1-9 Chiefs. What a marquee match-up, eh? Two teams with a combined record of 3-17.

1988: I was there when Wayne Fontes, new on the job after Rogers got the ziggy, watched his team be simply awful offensively in a 23-0 loss to the Vikings. This game was so bad, I barely remember it -- and I was in attendance!

1989: The 2-9 Lions beat the Browns, 13-10, in a major upset. And I ran out of gas driving to my dad's house in Clarkston. He had to pick me up at the County Sheriff post in Pontiac, near which I conveniently stalled, gas can in tow.

1990: Again the Broncos came in as defending AFC champs, and again the Lions upset them, 40-27. Not many memories from this one, personally.

1991: On TV, and the Lions paid tribute to fallen teammate Mike Utley by beating the Bears, 16-6, on their way to a 12-4 record and a trip to the NFC Championship Game. Not much of a game, really, but the Lions won so all was well.

1992: The last Thanksgiving game to be blacked out saw Warren Moon and the Houston Oilers make a rare Detroit appearance. They beat the Lions, 24-21.

1993. The Lions lost to the Bears, and I think this was the game in which Barry Sanders hurt his knee and was lost until the playoffs. I remember the Lions stunk up the joint offensively -- even before Sanders got hurt.

1994. Dave Krieg (remember him?) Mania was at its apex when the Lions beat the Bills, 35-21. Krieg, taking over after Scott Mitchell got hurt on October 30, was in the middle of a brilliant run in which he threw a ton of TDs and hardly any interceptions. I remember the Lions doing a flea flicker early in the game -- maybe even the very first play from scrimmage -- and it was a huge gainer.

1995. A wild one. The Vikings were here, and got off to a great start. But the Lions came back and beat them, 44-38. It was a shootout between Warren Moon and Mitchell. And Mitchell won -- how 'bout that?

1996. Marcus Allen and the Chiefs won, 28-24. This was a hugely disappointing year, coming after three straight playoff seasons. Fontes got the ziggy at the end of the year.

1997. The Lions blew out the Bears, 55-20. I watched this one from my uncle's house, and it was a real laugher. A rare time when you didn't have to worry about whether the Lions would somehow blow it; you could just eat, talk, and have a good time while the game played on the TV, in the background.

1998. This was the infamous coin toss game against Pittsburgh. The Lions were awarded the ball at the beginning of overtime because the referee thought Jerome Bettis called the coin wrong, even though TV microphones sided with Bettis. I remember how incredulous Bettis looked when the toss was given to the Lions.

1999. A 21-17 win over Chicago, but damned if I can remember one thing about it.

2000. The Lions demolished the Patriots, 34-9. Charlie Batch played hurt and and gutsy. I remember him sacrificing his body on a touchdown run that electrified the Silverdome.

2001. The 0-9 Lions fell to the Packers, 29-27. This was Marty Mornhinweg's first (of two) Thanksgiving games. Also Matt Millen's first (of too many).

2002. Just two years later, the Pats were back, but this time as defending Super Bowl champs. The Lions were chumps. Pats won, 20-12.

2003. Steve Mariucci was now the coach, and the Lions managed to beat the Packers, 22-14, to "raise" their record to 4-8. Totally devoid of memory of this one, too.

2004. I remember this one, though. Peyton Manning threw five TD passes, and had he not been pulled so early, he could have had ten. The Lions were completely helpless. Colts won, 41-9.

2005. Another stinker, and it cost Mooch his job. The Falcons dominated from the start and won, 27-7 as the Ford Field crowd booed mercilessly. Mariucci was fired by the end of the weekend.

2006. The return of Joey Harrington, with the Dolphins. And Pal Joey torched the Lions, 27-10. Again the crowd booed. We were in Year One of the Rod Marinelli Era, which hopefully comes to an end five games from now.

The Lions were 6-4, but it was a Fool's Gold kind of 6-4. The Packers came in, and Brett Favre had one more feast at the expense of the Lions, 37-26. Between then and now, the Lions have won one -- ONE -- football game.

2008. The Tennessee Titans, 10-1, make mincemeat of the Lions, trampling them 34-13. Ford Field is again filled with boo birds. "Fire Marinelli" signs are seen throughout the stadium. I know it hasn't happened yet, but why wait for the news when you know it beforehand?

Happy Thanksgiving!

P.S. Yes, "The Knee Jerks" WILL be seen tomorrow at their regularly scheduled time. You think Big Al and I are gonna let a little turkey stand between us and our weekly chat? Last I checked, you can type if you jam the turkey leg into your mouth, between your teeth.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Lions Are Not Only Winless On The Field, But Losers In Their Minds

Shortly after becoming the general manager of the Pistons in December 1979, Jack McCloskey realized the enormity of his task. The team was awful. Its two stars -- Bob Lanier and Bob McAdoo -- didn't want to be there. Lanier's trade request was the most public, and the most poignant, for Big Bob had been a Piston his whole career, which was in its tenth year.

Knowing he had to trade Lanier, McCloskey then got an idea. A BIG idea.

"I looked at the team as an expansion team," McCloskey told me in an interview many years ago. "We were really an expansion team."

Ex-coach Dick Vitale stripped the Pistons bare of draft picks, thanks to bad trades -- one of which was McAdoo. The team was lucky to win one of every four games. So McCloskey picked up the phone and called his old friend and boss, Lakers GM Jerry West.

"I thought that if we could get Magic, that would have been great," Trader Jack said about Lakers rookie Magic Johnson.

So McCloskey asked West if he was sitting down.

"Then I told him that he could have every player on my roster for Magic," McCloskey said, chuckling.

EVERY player?

"Every player. We would have taken Magic, signed a bunch of free agents and CBA players, and built from there," McCloskey said.

West ran the outrageous offer past Lakers ownership, but it was rejected.

"But they were thinking about it," McCloskey said with a grin.

It's tempting to say that the Lions, today, might want to take a look at Project Magic that Jack McCloskey put forth in early 1980.

Tempting to want to walk into the locker room and rip every single name plate off the stalls, save perhaps Calvin Johnson's. And Jason Hanson's.

Keep Calvin and Hanson, and find 51 other players, and go from there.

You think I'm joking?

What's happening with the Lions now isn't just a talent chasm between them and the rest of the NFL. That's well known and hard enough to overcome. What's also going down is a mentality, deep and ingrained. The thought, indeed even the belief, that it's never going to happen here -- from among the players themselves.

The Lions monkeyed around and found themselves with a nifty little 17-0 lead after the first quarter yesterday against Tampa Bay. They were making plays, on both sides of the ball. The Bucs, no doubt, were a little nauseous, wondering if they'd be the first team to lose to the Lions this season.

No worries. There were still 45 minutes left to play, after all!

The Lions imploded, and lost, 38-20. If this was basketball, we'd say that the Bucs closed the game with a 38-3 run.

But beyond that, some of the Lions players started using words like "here we go again" and "we don't know how to win." Doesn't matter who said it; but it was said, and more than once.

It's clear: the Lions players may talk about being embarrassed and being angry and determined, but not only are they outclassed, talent-wise, they are beaten mentally before the ball is even kicked off.

So it's not enough, anymore, to bring a player in, here and there, to address needs. The Brian Kellys and Leigh Boddens aren't enough.

There's been a lot of talk about "blowing it up", and starting over. Much of that talk has come here, in the form of the Eno Plan. But the talk has primarily revolved around the front office and coaching situation. The personnel part of it has been brushed aside, probably because it seems too daunting right now. It's a lot easier to change a few heads than 53.

But we gotta keep thinking big here. What would be wrong, really, with a super duper serious turnover in personnel? Something huge, like 60 percent or more?

Think of it: 30+ players wearing Lions uniforms in 2009 that aren't doing so right now. More, if you can do it. The more new faces you get in here, the more players you have that look at you cross-eyed when you start talking about recent history of Detroit football, the better. The more who will pin a pencil-necked sportswriter against the wall and sneer, "I don't know what you're talking about when you say 'losing mentality.' I'm a winner and I don't think like that," the better.

The Lions need a mental enema.

You can't do it with this current bunch, because these guys have no idea what it's like to handle any degree of success -- not even a good first quarter, for cripes sakes. Even a new GM, a new coach, isn't going to be enough with the current roster. Because a lot of these Lions have been through that before, too -- at least the new coach part. They've seen and heard the brave words of the new man at the helm. They've been told that the bar is high and the West Coast offense is the way to the Promised Land and to pound the rock and dig for the light. And still they know, deep down, that they will come out at the wrong end of the score at the final gun every Sunday.

The 2009 Lions must be drastically different from the 2008 version -- and not just with the guys who wear suits and ties and whistles around their necks. The dudes in pads have to be broomed, too. McCloskey only had to try to unload 12 players with the Pistons; the Lions must somehow jettison 30 or 40. But they simply have to try. This is one case where change for change's sake is warranted. You know how many men are out there dying for a chance to play pro football? Guys who were maybe the last cuts in other training camps, or those looking for that "big break"? Guys with a pristine, blank memory when it comes to Lions football.

Think of it as throwing away your virus-infested computer with a fresh new one.

The Lions are not only beaten on the football field, they are beaten between the ears. The latter must be corrected before you can see any improvement on the former.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Hate? It Was All In Spirit Of Competition, Roy Says Now

It all started on December 2, 1995. That’s when the Detroit Red Wings, unbeknownst to them, created a monster.

That night, the Wings went into the famed Montreal Forum and put a good old-fashioned pasting on the Canadiens. They beat them, annihilated them, 11-1. Never before had a Red Wings team beaten a Canadiens squad so badly. And it happened on Montreal ice, no less.

In the process, the Red Wings helped set off a flurry of events that, ultimately, would lead to a key figure in a near-future rivalry tormenting them for years. Until he, finally, got his comeuppance.

I was watching the tube that night. The Red Wings were merciless, pelting Canadiens goalie Patrick Roy. As puck after puck poured past him, through him, behind him, the Forum crowd got nastier and nastier. Now, when a hockey team loses 11-1, it’s not because of one man, not even the netminder. It’s a total breakdown. Yet the Canadiens fans made it clear that the object of their derision was the arrogant and defiant Roy, a two-time Stanley Cup winner in Montreal. It mattered not that had it not been for Roy, there wouldn’t, most likely, be those two Cups, won in 1986 and 1993. Sports is a “what have you done for me lately?” business. So the Forum crowd let their frustration and embarrassment get the best of them.

Roy’s coach, Mario Tremblay, a former Canadiens player, didn’t do his goalie any favors, either. In retrospect, perhaps it’s Tremblay that the Red Wings should blame for toppling the first domino. For Tremblay didn’t do the honorable thing and pull Roy from the goal when the score was getting out of hand. He left his goalie on the ice, in the net, as if being punished. The inference was painfully evident: Tremblay had it out for Roy, for whatever reason, and thus was making a spectacle of him. Earlier, Roy had looked to the bench, after maybe the eighth or ninth goal. Patrick’s inference was evident, too: Get me out of here!! It’s not my night, coach!

Tremblay, staring hard at Roy from behind the bench, sneered and left his goalie in the net. Humiliating him. Cutting off his nose to spite his face.

Then it all came to a head. Roy made a routine save, and the Forum crowd cheered, oozing sarcasm. Roy heard it – who couldn’t have? – and raised his arms in mock triumph. Now Roy was showing up the fans.

At the next whistle, Tremblay finally, but still without mercy, called Roy to the bench. The humiliation was over, and so was Roy’s night in net.

The Forum had this odd set-up whereby the fans sitting directly behind the bench weren’t separated by glass from the players and coaches. If you weren’t careful, you’d spill your beer on Toe Blake or Scotty Bowman or Claude Ruel or Jacques Demers. On this night, sitting behind the Canadiens bench was Ronald Corey, president of the team. As Roy skated off the ice, he stopped at Corey’s seat. He whispered something into his ear as Tremblay looked on, burning up. What Roy said was basically this, confirmed by the principles: “Get me out of here. I just played my last game for the Canadiens.” Of course, that’s the version that I’m allowed to write in this family column.

Roy, indeed, played his last game for the Canadiens that night. A few days later, Corey obliged Patty, and shipped him to the Colorado Avalanche.

A rivalry was born!

The Red Wings and the Avalanche – shortened to Avs by those impatient and spelling-challenged sports writers – were about to engage in one of sports’ all-time greatest rivalries. From 1996-2002, the teams met in the playoffs five times. Three times the Avalanche, er, Avs, won. The two times the Red Wings triumphed, they went on to win the Stanley Cup.

And all the while, Red Wings fans had to deal with that cocky, disrespectful punk in net. Patrick Roy.

Initially, the object of the fans’ scorn in Detroit was the pugnacious, though cowardly forward, Claude Lemieux, who became Public Enemy #1 after rearranging Kris Draper’s face in the 1996 Western Conference Finals with a vicious hit from behind into the boards. But then Patty Roy opened his mouth one game later, and it was REALLY on.

The Avs won the first two games of that series in Detroit. Finally, in Game 5, the Red Wings won a game on home ice, moving them to within 3-2 in the series. Afterward, Roy refused to give props to the victorious Red Wings. Instead, he said…

“Well, you had to figure that they’d manage to win a home game sooner or later, wouldn’t you?”

Not only did he say it, he smirked about it smugly.

The Avs won that series, and the Cup one round later. The next year, it was the Red Wings’ turn. They beat the Avs in the Conference Finals, and won the Cup one round later.

The Avs beat the Red Wings in the second round in 1999 and 2000. Patty Roy’s team was now 3-1 in playoff series against Detroit. By now, Red Wings fans would have killed for another chance at Patty and the Avs.

Two years later, they got that chance.

Roy (right, battling Chris Osgood at the height of the Red Wings-Avs rivalry)

It was another conference final, another classic series. The Wings won Game 1 in Detroit. The Avs won Game 2. The Wings won Game 3 in Denver, in overtime. The Avs squared the series, then went ahead, 3-2, with an overtime win in Detroit. It looked like another Avs-over-Detroit series in the playoffs.

Then Patty Roy’s arrogance and flair for the dramatic jumped up and bit him, right through his hockey pants.

In a scoreless Game 6 in Denver, after a scramble in the Avs’ goal crease, Roy raised his gloved hand in triumph, certain the puck was in it. It wasn’t. It had fluttered out of his mitt and onto the ice, where Brendan Shanahan saw it and dutifully slapped it into the back of the net. The Red Wings added an insurance goal and won the game, 2-0. There would be a Game 7 in Detroit.

That’s when Roy got his comeuppance. Just like they had in Montreal six-and-a-half years earlier, the Red Wings pelted Roy with pucks. And just like in Montreal, those pucks were going into the net at a dizzying rate. The Red Wings chased Roy to the bench, a defeated rival. The final score was 7-0. The Red Wings won the Stanley Cup in the next round, right on cue.

This past week, as we media types talked to Roy on a conference call about his upcoming jersey retirement in Montreal, I made mention of those great Red Wings-Avs games. And I asked Patty if he was aware of how hated he was in Detroit. Yes, I used the word “hated.”

“It’s funny. I never really felt hated. The fans in Detroit love their team. I was playing golf with some Detroit people down in Myrtle Beach and they said, ‘Oh we hated you in Detroit’, but they were laughing about it. It was a great rivalry and those games were always a big deal. It was great competition.”

And what of that night in December, 1995, when the Red Wings unwittingly changed the course of hockey history?

“They say that one game doesn’t make a career,” Roy said, chuckling. “But I’m still remembered for that one game on December 2, 1995. People are still asking me about it.”

Hated or not, it’s nice to see Roy’s dramatic exodus from Montreal be overshadowed by his no. 33 jersey being hoisted to the rafters. It deserves to be up there, even if some folks would have liked to have seen Patty himself hanging instead of just his sweater. Perhaps you’re one of them. It’s likely that you are.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Comedian John McKay Moonlighted As A Football Coach For Bucs, Or Vice Versa

(every Friday during the NFL season, OOB will run a nostalgic feature about the Lions' upcoming opponents)

The NFL had a much different way of supplying expansion teams with players in 1976 than they have nowadays. It was much crueler, for one.

Established teams could protect just about anyone they wanted, and the league didn't provide much help in terms of extra draft picks or a more generous stable from which to choose players already playing pro football.

When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Seattle Seahawks entered the NFL in '76, they were left with slim pickings. The dregs of the league was what they had to choose from. Pretty much nothing more than that.

So maybe ownership in Tampa knew that their first head coach had better have a sterling sense of humor, considering the daunting task before him.

Enter John McKay.

They don't make 'em like McKay anymore. Not even close. McKay, from USC, was a stand-up comedian playing a football coach. To be fair, it was more like the other way around, because McKay had some definite success on the campus of Troy before jumping, feet first, into the NFL. Regardless, he was funny. We knew he had a twinkle in his eye and sarcasm and humor in his tone when he was at Southern Cal, but we didn't know the extent of his one-liners until he arrived in Tampa.

It started in his very first team meeting.

"Everyone is picking us to be the worst team in the league," McKay told his players, caught by the NFL Films cameras and microphones. "That means that they're challenging my ability to coach. Now this hurts me. Second worst team, I can take. But not the worst team," he said as his motley crew of unwanteds and vagabonds laughed.

McKay had plenty of comedy material to work with in Tampa. The team was awful, even by expansion standards. They famously lost their first 26 games before winning the final two games of their second season. Not only did they lose, they lost badly. The Bucs couldn't score. Seven points per game was about their quota. Their offense was, by far, the worst in the league and among the very worst in modern NFL history.

So it enabled McKay to get off a bunch of zingers about his team during post-game addresses to the media.

To wit:

"What we needed was Knute Rockne but he's not here."

"We'll come back next week and attempt to get a win in front of our home crowd. We've now proven we can't win on the road OR in front of our home crowd. So what we would like is a neutral site."

"Well, we didn't block. But we made up for it by not tackling."

When asked about his team's execution: "I'm all for it."

On the sidelines: "Half of these guys are brainless. And the other half are gutless."

McKay bounced into Tampa talking about having a five year plan. It sounded good, and the reporters ate it up. But years later, he explained the method behind his madness.

"I had a five year contract," McKay said. "If I had a three-year contract I would have had a three-year plan. So that's how smart I was."

Turns out, that three-year plan would have sufficed, almost. McKay got the Bucs into the NFC Championship game in Year Four, in 1979. They lost to the Los Angeles Rams, 9-0.

Two years later, the Bucs stole the NFC Central from the Lions on the final Sunday of the season, handing them their only home loss of the year.

Yes, that's Wayne Fontes at the edge of this photo!

McKay retired after the 1984 season, and died in June 2001 from diabetes at age 77. His son Rich is currently the president of the Atlanta Falcons.

Oh, and McKay has a Lions connection. One of his loyal assistants at USC came over to the NFL with him and eventually coordinated his defense for the Bucs. That assistant then moved to the Lions in 1985 when Darryl Rogers became head coach.

Yes, John McKay was indirectly responsible for giving us Wayne Fontes.

Wayne wasn't Knute Rockne, either, but his days in Detroit are looking better and better, aren't they?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

If It's Thursday, It's "The Knee Jerks!"

Sorry to break this to you, but this is Thursday at OOB, and that means you've stumbled across "The Knee Jerks: WTF? With Eno and Al", my weekly confab with that MVP of the MVN, Big Al of The Wayne Fontes Experience.

In today's webisode, we tackle U-M football as seen thru the eyes of coach Rich Rodriguez; the untimely (I think) firing of Tampa Bay Lightning coach Barry Melrose; the chances of the Lions pulling that 0-16 thing; and MSU's unhealthy obsession with U-M.

Toss in some Word Association and Jerk of the Week, and you have the recipe for success...right?

Anyhow, carry on!


Eno: Can you believe it's Thursday again, already?? That means you're about to be subjected to "The Knee Jerks: WTF? With Eno and Al." I'm Eno, aka The Journalist, and he's Big Al, aka the NEW Mr. Big Shot, now that Chauncey Billups is gone. How are ya, Al?

Big Al: As good as a middle-aged blogger and sports fan can be! I like that – I’m "Mr. Big Shot" in all conversations from now on, Mr. Journalist!

Eno: OK. I had been changing it every week, but if you like that, we'll keep it like that. Let's dive right in. I wrote about this yesterday: U-M football coach Rich Rodriguez says angry fans should "get a life". Thoughts?

Big Al: He needs to "get a win!" I try not to take the angst of football coaches too seriously, as they always have some perceived slight to bitch about. But methinks RichRod has yet to grasp the importance of Michigan football to the fan base and alumni. This isn’t West Virginia; this is MICHIGAN, and MICHIGAN doesn’t lose nine games in a season. Honestly, I don't believe he knows just how important the tOSU game is, either.

Eno: I think it's kinda cute how naive he still is. I think it's admirable to try to inject perspective, but like you said: THIS IS MICHIGAN. There AIN'T no perspective. RR tried to turn everyone's attention to the economy, a la Barack Obama. It worked for Barack, but it's not going to work in Ann Arbor. Like I wrote: every fan could be homeless and penniless – it doesn't matter when there's a 3-8 white elephant in the room!

Big Al: Exactly. WVU had a statewide fan base. Michigan has a NATIONWIDE fan base. A fan base that, rightly or wrongly, believes ten wins and a New Year’s Day bowl game is a birthright. If RichRod thought WVU was a pressure cooker, he stepped from the pan into a blazing inferno when he took the Wolverines job. I understand some of his frustration, but RichRod has not done a very good job this year. To lose to a two-win Toledo team is a fireable offense in my book. I know it won't and shouldn't happen, but emotions run wide and deep when it comes to Michigan!

Eno: Well, maybe this will be good for EVERYONE – coaches, fans, players, even the media – in the long run. Maybe U-M needed this kind of collapse to gain, ahem, perspective. But really, this kind of year was long overdue and maybe it'll make everyone work harder and the fans will look around and see that just about every big time program has gone thru it. Look at Notre Dame last year. As for Ohio State, I do think he understands how big it is. And I stand by my cockamamie belief that U-M will give those Buckeyes a run for their money. I know it has "blowout" written all over it, but you have a bunch of U-M seniors who've never beaten OSU. Look for a close game, my friend.

Big Al: I do agree the Michigan program and fan base were long overdue for a bit of comeuppance, but come on! THREE lousy wins? This ain't Indiana. As for the Big Game, I hope you're right, but deep down inside I feel a 1968-style blowout coming. "The ghost of Woody Hayes” will be pleased.

Eno: You mean when he was asked why he went for two late in that game? "Because I couldn't go for THREE!" Or how about those bumper stickers: "Oh How I Hate Ohio State", and "Woody Is a Pecker." Gotta love it. It's funny. The game is EITHER going to be a blowout or really close. My gut tells me really close. Speaking of football and guts, what does yours tell you about the Lions? Do you believe, in your gut, heart, spleen, appendix, that the Tabbies will go 0-16?

Big Al: God, the Lions. Between the auto industry collapsing, the Wolverines turning into the Hoosiers on the gridiron, and the Lions with an excellent shot at going 0 for the season, can things get anymore depressing in the D? Don't answer that question! As for the Lions, common wisdom is it's impossible to go winless over a season. The old adage "On any given Sunday..." remains true. But looking at the Lions' schedule, and how they are playing, 0-16 is not a bad bet. But when I think about it, as much as I want 0-16 to happen, I don't think it will. [Quarterback] Daunte Culpepper may step up, and win a game or two on his own.

Eno: TWO??? TWO???? Oh my goodness, do I see a Kool-Aid mustache on your upper lip? Cripes sakes, Al. If they win one it'll be a miracle. They just don't have enough to compete for sixty minutes. I always thought that the Lions would benefit by one NFL rule change: switch the lengths of games to forty minutes. Their record would improve mightily!

Big Al: HEY! I'm no cornbread eater! I'm insulted. You just stepped into "Jerk of the Week" territory! Seriously, a win is possible for a couple of reasons. Kevin Smith is stepping up his game. Calvin Johnson, when the Lions get him the ball, is a game breaker, (7 TD's and 18.6 YPC are impressive stats) and Culpepper is getting better. I can't believe I'm DEFENDING THE LIONS! How did this happen?! I'm so confused...

Eno: CJ's stats have been artificially inflated by, like, four plays this season, including that 90+ yard catch against Houston. But you know my feelings about him. Seriously, man, one win is about it. But regardless, Rod Marinelli must go. Can you imagine the PR nightmare if the Lions bring him back? Do you think he knows he's a goner? His record is going to be either 10-38 or 11-37 after this season.

Big Al: The possibility of The Shoveler returning is why I'm rooting for a winless season. I'm scared to DEATH William Clay Ford will think a late season win or two is a sign of improvement, and keep Mr. Pad-Level for another season. In the eyes of the fans, Mr. Dig Towards The Light has to go. If the Lions even entertain the idea of retaining him, it will be torch and pitchfork time at Allen Park HQ.

Eno: LOL, I know what you mean. But I'm thinking that Junior might be starting to exert more of his will over things now, and that smarter heads will prevail. The ONLY game I see them winning is either Tampa Bay or Minnesota at home. That's it. On the bright side, you mentioned Kevin Smith. I like that kid. A lot.

Big Al: Which is another reason the coaching staff should be given the ziggy. It took them TEN GAMES to determine Smith was their best running back! Insanity, pure insanity. Amazingly, Smith is a draft choice who is not a bust. Those have been few and far between during the Matt Millen Era. Speaking of which, I think 0-16 would be the perfect reflection of Millen's incompetence. It has to happen to ensure the man goes down in infamy as the worst GM in sports history. He's been gone for a couple of months now, but Millen still looms large over this sad franchise.

Eno: 0-16 would simply be a blemish that would stain the franchise forever. Even if someone does it after them, the Lions would be the first. They're already in the midst of one of the worst eight-year stretches in league history. If they keep Martin Mayhew as GM (a bad idea) then they MUST hire a big-name, high-profile head coach. They can NOT go the "little known assistant" route, unless it's someone from New England, Dallas, etc. The Lions don't have that luxury. Gotta be a big time guy. And this job isn’t as bad as some might think. You get to work for the Fords, which NFL people think is a good thing, and you have the chance to be elected mayor of Detroit, governor of Michigan, and have job security for LIFE if you manage to turn this thing around. You'd be a freaking legend.

Big Al: Why else would have Bill Parcells approached the Lions? He knows running the team is one of the best gigs in the NFL. [You have] hands-off ownership; state of the art facilities; and a fan base desperate for a winner. What's not to like? I'm sure the Lions will have their pick of some of the best and brightest from the front office guys in the league, for the reasons we both mentioned. The only question is, after 50 years of hiring the wrong guys, why should we think the Lions will get it right this time?

Eno: Good point. Thanks – now I'm depressed again. OK, turning to the ice. The Tampa Bay Lightning fire Barry Melrose 16 games into the season. Stupid is as stupid does. Or do you have another opinion?

Big Al: Last week I said Melrose would be back at ESPN sooner than later. I just didn't think it would be this soon! Melrose had been away from coaching for 15 years; it was silly to think he could step right back into coaching at the highest level. Tampa Bay, from the ownership on down, is a mess.

Eno: SIXTEEN GAMES!! That's just plain dumb. Unless something happened behind the scenes that was heinous, this is an inexcusable decision. If you're gonna think outside the box and hire a TV dude, then don't bail on him after 16 games. That's lunacy. Whether you like Melrose or not, this is a dumb decision. Dumb, dumb, dumb. GM Brian Lawton: "We have high standards here." Really, Brian? How about UNREALISTIC standards! When teams do stuff like this, it just makes me crazy. Like the Brewers firing Ned Yost with 12 games to go.

Big Al: The hubris of some owners is amazing. Just because they were successful at business (or in some cases, inherited a Scrooge McDuck level of riches //cough//William Clay Ford//cough//) they think they can be just as successful running a sports franchise. It doesn't work that way. We've seen it time and time again over the decades, with the likes of Daniel Snyder, Ted Turner and Ted Stepien thinking they can make personnel and coaching decisions.

Eno: Literally, in the case of Teddy, who managed the Braves for a day before Bowie Kuhn kicked him out of the dugout. OK, I've been dominating this conversation. Before we move on to Word Association, whatya got?

Big Al: Any thoughts on Spartans' head football coach Mark Dantonio living up to the stereotype of your typical Sparty who is overly obsessed with the Wolverines? It would be in the Spartans’ best interest if Michigan beat tOSU. But he was quoted as saying "Go Bucks!" in front of the media!

Eno: *head in hands* YES, yes, YES! Oh, Mark! It even seems contrived, as if that's what he feels he's SUPPOSED to say. Clearly an OSU loss helps Sparty. I think even Sparty fans know that. Hey, as much as I hate, hate, HATE the Minnesota Vikings, if a Vikings win helps the Lions, then I'm like, GO VIKES! That was pretty weird of Dantonio to say, I admit. But it just goes to show: they're still learning how to handle winning in East Lansing.

Big Al: Dantonio has done a very good job of turning the Spartans program around, but I just don't get what the man is thinking at times. Between his seething over the “little brother” comment and insulting Mike Hart in return, to this latest foot in mouth episode, the Spartans come off as being too worried the Wolverines. They need to be more concerned with East Lansing, and forget about continually comparing themselves to "big brother." OK, ready for some Word Association?




Eno: Yep – you ready to start, or are you going to defer and defend the south goal?

Big Al: I guess I can start this time... Here goes!

Big Al: Rich Rodriguez

Eno: Confused.

Big Al: No doubt. Lions' defensive coordinator Joe Barry.

Eno: Embarrassment.

Big Al: Works for me. Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock

Eno: He deserves two words: consummate professional.

Big Al: He's the best in the NHL, without question. OK, the man who believes Detroit will lose a sports team, Freep columnist Drew Sharp.

Eno: Jackass.

Eno: OK, my turn.

Big Al: Go for it.

Eno: The Oklahoma City Thunder.

Big Al: Seattle Supersonics! They'll always be the Sonics to me!

Eno: Nicely played, and very diplomatic. You see their record? OK, Dave Dombrowski.

Big Al: Pressure.

Eno: Dusty Ryan.

Big Al: Three words: Opening Day starter.

Eno: Three words that ought to scare Tigers fans to death. OK, NASCAR.

Big Al: I'm saying this as someone who grew up as a fan of stock car racing, and thinks Cale Yarborough is the shiznit. "BORING!"

Eno: And finally, Lions head coach Bill Cowher.

Big Al: YES!

Eno: Before Jerk of the Week, I want to get your impressions of all this weeknight college football. My opinion? We don't need football on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday nights. Am I a JOTW candidate for saying so?

Big Al: No, as we are going through a bit of football overload right now. But I can't blame the schools who agree to play on weeknights. It gets (for example) the MAC national exposure, and keeps the 4 Letter (ESPN) from replaying the World Series of Poker for the umpteenth time. I'm more upset by the NFL Thursday night package, which is on the NFL Network – a network NO ONE HAS! There are some very good match-ups no one can watch, save for crappy online look-ins on But I digress...

Eno: You mean I'm the only one who gets the NFL Network? You gotta get the dish, my friend!! You make a good point re: the smaller conferences. I suppose that makes sense for them. OK....drumroll please.....



Eno: JERK OF THE WEEK TIME!!! Who's yours, Big Al?

Big Al: I had to think long and hard, and I almost went with Dantonio. But I have to go with...Drew Sharp. His fear mongering column stating Detroit was bound to lose one of our beloved pro sports teams because of the economy, population shift and whatever BS he pulled out of his you know where, felt like he was just piling on. If there is one thing the Detroit metro area takes pride in is being a four sports town, and for the most part, supporting them quite well attendance wise. I felt like Sharp was, to be quite blunt, pissing all over Detroit fans who are going through some unimaginably tough times in their personal lives. I'm sorry, but the man is a hack. Who's your jerk, Mr. Journalist?

: Sharp is yours two weeks in a row – not that I'm surprised. OK, I must go with Philadelphia Eagles QB Donovan McNabb, for not knowing the rules of the NFL re: overtime games in the regular season. I bet the Eagles wish he had kept that little fact in private. Makes the whole franchise look dumb!

Big Al: I was amazed at McNabb's statement. But it goes to show you that many athletes aren't really fans of their own sport. It's a paycheck, a job, nothing more. I know you have to get going , as you are interviewing one of my all-time most hated players, Patty Waah [Patrick Roy], so I think we need to wrap this up. Any final thoughts?

Eno: Well, next Thursday is Thanksgiving Day so I guess both of our faithful readers are going to be enjoying us with a turkey leg in one hand and their mouse in the other. Or a foam brick, whichever.

Big Al: Well, they may not be watching the Lions game, as it's not yet a sell out. So they may not have anything better to do but read "The Knee Jerks!"

Eno: We're more entertaining, anyway, if you ask me. OK, my friend – see ya next week!

Big Al: As Jim Rome says, "I'm ouuuuuut!"