Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Stafford's High School Irrelevant, But Don't Tell That To Lions Fans

It's come down, now, to a reliance on some sort of spiritual hope of fait accomplit.

That's what Lions' fans are reduced to, when it comes to their team's quarterback situation.

But since they appear to want to believe in curses, then fair is fair: let them believe in a reason why such a curse has a way of being broken, right?

You now have about two months left to keep hearing about the Bobby Layne Curse, and the young man who just might be able to break it -- like some sort of football Messiah.

Matthew Stafford is the kid QB from the University of Georgia who figures to be the likely draft choice of the Lions, No. 1 off the board, in the 2009 NFL Draft this April. Just being a young, talented quarterback with the goods to be a franchise savior isn't enough in Detroit, though. You have to be a curse breaker, too.

The Curse in question is the one that the legendary Bobby Layne supposedly placed on the Lions franchise shortly after being traded in 1958. The trade was, granted, rather odd. The Lions were coming off a championship, and while Layne wasn't the one under center (he was hurt and Tobin Rote took over late in the season), he was back to starting status when the '58 season began.

Shortly after the season began, though, Layne was traded, to the Pittsburgh Steelers, and not only was the move surprising, it was abrupt. Just like that, the greatest QB in Lions history was gone. And there is no shortage of theories as to why.

Layne was involved with gamblers. He owed money. He had crossed the line off the field with his playboy-like behavior. His drinking, also legendary, had finally pushed to envelope too far. Whatever. Bottom line was, he wasn't a Lion anymore. On his way out of town, Layne allegedly uttered these words, or something similar: "The Lions won't win for at least fifty years."

That was 50 years and five months ago.

So now there's this: Stafford, as fate would have it, happened to attend the same Dallas high school that Layne and another Lions legend, Doak Walker, attended.

Cue the proponents of karma.

Bobby Layne, the pride of Highland Park High in Dallas (as if that matters)

The drafting of Stafford will be, to the point of ad nauseam, portrayed as the move to make because, how can you go wrong by drafting a kid who went to the same high school as Layne and Walker?

Forget that the Lions have probably, throughout their history, drafted countless players who attended the same high schools as other, more famous (and better) players.

But this is an understandable crutch the Lions fan is almost sure to use to keep himself propped up, mentally if nothing else, as the Draft approaches.

50 years. A nice, round number. The length of the supposed Curse. And now Stafford happens on the scene, right on cue.

It's all hogwash, of course. But don't tell the Lions fan; let him (and her) play with this bone for a couple months. Or longer, if the Lions actually do draft Stafford.

Fantastic -- as if the kid needs anymore pressure; now they'd heap this Curse Breaker status on him? Just because of the high school he attended?

For now, at least, Stafford sounds confident and eager to take on the challenge. For sure.

"I don't know if it's destiny, but I'd love to have the opportunity to be a Lion, for sure," Stafford said. "I think it's a great opportunity for me. It could work out in the end, for sure."

Sure it could.

You should know, before you give Stafford too many points for being upbeat, that all kids entering the draft utter such confident words. It's cute, really, how naive and non-cynical they are at this age. Give him a few years and check back.

I remember how bright and confident Joey Harrington was when he breezed into town in 2002. His upbeat 'tude even earned him the derisive nickname of "Joey Blue Skies." How DARE he look at the Lions' glass and find it half full!

I remember Andre Ware raising his fists -- both of them -- in triumph as the ESPN cameras caught him at home, moments after being drafted by the Lions in 1990.

"Run-n-shoot, baby!," Ware yelled, referring to coach Wayne Fontes's new offensive scheme, one that Ware himself ran at the University of Houston.

So Stafford is wearing his Honolulu Blue-colored glasses as he talks bravely of wanting to be the one to break whatever it is that has been dogging the Lions.

You want to know what's been cursing the Lions?

Bad drafts. Bad trades. Bad coaches. Bad management decisions. Bad ownership, of course.

Not bad luck. Not some sort of make believe curse, levied on a team by a bitter, emotionally wounded quarterback on his way out of town.

So this talk of Stafford and his connection to Dallas' Highland Park High? Silly, plain and simple.

But it makes for something that weary Lions fans can hang their helmets on. As Stafford would say, for sure.

Whether Matthew Stafford can save the Lions won't have a lick to do with what high school he attended. Won't have anything to do with Bobby Layne or Doak Walker or some make believe curse. If the kid is good enough, and he gets enough good coaching and blocking and support around him, then he has a shot. If not, then he'll be another bust -- another huge disappointment.

For sure.

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