Saturday, April 25, 2009

Lions Right To Not Let Past Paralyze Them

If you had a couple pieces of bad fish—once in 1990 and again in 2002—would that make you swear off fish forever? Even if those pieces of fish were purported to be some of the finest fish in the land?

The Lions will make Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. Another piece of fish that’s supposed to be delectable.

Well, dig in, I say!

My colleague and sometimes mentor Jerry Green, semi-retired from the Detroit News, likes to call the draft the NFL version of pin the tail on the donkey. I’ve always liked that analogy.

It’s also appropriate, because the folks who blab into microphones and type furiously onto keyboards about which team should pick which player at what time, often become the donkey personified. Or, to be more accurate, the rear end of said donkey.

Some of these donkey posteriors showed up in Madison Heights on Monday as the Lions unveiled their new logo and uniforms.

As team president Tom Lewand began to address the throng, chants of “Curry! Curry!” filled Dunham’s sporting goods store, where we all had gathered. It didn’t sound spontaneous.

The chant was for Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry, the fierce defender who’ll certainly be a pro football star.

A few moments later, Lewand made mention of the draft, foolishly—opening himself up to another verbal assault.

The “Curry! Curry!” chants started up again. Sounded like they came from the same group of donkey posteriors.

Lewand made a joke, laughing off the anti-Stafford sentiment that filled the building.
They kept at it, throughout the unveiling.

This is as good as time as any to play some truth or dare.

Truth? I was a supporter of Curry. Still am, in a way. The Lions had one of the worst defenses in the history of the NFL last season. If you’re drafting for need, you could do a whole lot worse than Curry, who’s going to have some NFL city in the palm of his hand, someday.

Go with defense, I wrote. You can pick up a quarterback later on. Some of the greatest of them were drafted in rounds that would make your head spin. I like to use Tom Brady as an example. Brady was so disregarded by everyone, including the Lions—who should have known better because Brady played in their backyard at Michigan—that he slipped all the way to the sixth round in 2000.

Joe Montana was snubbed for 81 picks before the San Francisco 49ers took a flyer on him in the third round in 1979.

Johnny Unitas, no less, was waived out of the league and was playing semi-pro ball when the Baltimore Colts found him and suited him up.

I could go on and on. But I won’t.

I was one of those who wanted to play it “safe” and draft Curry, rather than roll the dice on a quote-unquote franchise quarterback.

True confession time, like I said.

I wanted the Lions to roll over—all because they had a couple pieces of bad fish. I wanted them to swear off fish, until they could find some cheaper catches in the later rounds.

I’m changing my tune.

The Lions are drafting Stafford, and good for them. They’re doing so in the face of an inglorious history of drafting quarterbacks. Especially in the first round.

But the Lions, for a change, aren’t letting history paralyze them. They’re not playing this draft “not to lose.” They’re playing to win it.

They see a potential great one in Stafford. And they’re going to draft him.

Stafford's No. 1 in the Lions' eyes; then they ought to draft him

By the size of the reported contract, looks like they’re going to spring for some malt vinegar and extra tartar sauce for their new prized fish.

The bad pieces of fish were Andre Ware, the gunslinger from the University of Houston (1990), and Joey Harrington, the piano-playing, optimistic kid from Oregon (2002).

Ware looked like a great fit for the Lions. He operated the frenetic run-and-shoot offense in Houston, racking up touchdown passes and yards like a video game QB.

The Lions had just switched to the NFL version of the run-and-shoot. They had Barry Sanders to run the ball. They had a cache of receivers; some of them were even mediocre. The others were ... well, let’s just say that their hearts were beating.

So why not draft Ware to be the gunslinger?

But Ware held out of training camp, dickering over the dollars and cents required to be the team’s new gunslinger.

He missed precious, invaluable training camp time as his agents and the Lions played chicken with each other.

By the time Ware finally signed a contract and reported to the team, his rookie year was shot, for all intents and purposes. He’d end up spending the rest of it trying to catch up.

Remember the scene from The Shining when Shelly Duvall realizes that Jack Nicholson has been typing “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” over and over again?

One of the most frightening moments in film history, says me.

Well, Duvall’s horror is what the Lions felt when they learned that Ware lacked a key component to being a legitimate NFL quarterback: the ability to throw a ball anywhere near an intended receiver.

All that typing Nicholson was doing, and he wasn’t writing a book, as promised.

All that book learning Ware was doing, and when it was his turn to whip the football around on the field ... the Lions became Shelly Duvall.

The other piece of bad fish, Harrington, lacked the mental toughness to even live in Detroit, much less be its quarterback.

You could add Chuck Long, from the 1986 draft, as another bad piece of fish.

OK, so three pieces of bad fish.

But the Lions aren’t swearing off fish. They’re gonna reel Stafford in with the No. 1 pick Saturday afternoon in New York.

It’s not a “safe” pick. Not at all. In fact, it’s fraught with danger.

But if you feel, in your gut, that Stafford is the quarterback of your dreams—the one that could wash away the stench from Chuck Long and Andre Ware and Joey Harrington—then pick him and do so with confidence and maybe even a little defiance.

Play the draft to win, not to “not lose.”

I’m proud of the Lions. For a change.

1 comment:

redhog1 said...

I am sure Mike Utley enjoys your title. Ah, just bustin' you. I remember when Lloyd Carr went nuts on Drew Sharp because Drew said a player had a "brain freeze" and that player's brother had some sort of brain trauma (tumor?). While Lloyd was right that Drew is a moron (oh how right he was), he should have chilled. So I am just teasing you.