Monday, November 22, 2010

Kitna's Predicted 10 Wins Only Recently Realized By Woeful Lions

The declaration grew a life of its own. It would be used first as a rallying cry, then eventually as a weapon of mockery, rubbed in the face of the source of the words.

Jon Kitna's delusional expectations for his Detroit Lions in the spring of 2007, once it hit the airwaves and the Internets, spread like wildfire. Or cancer---depending on how you look at it.

The Lions of 2006, Kitna's first season as Lions quarterback, rode in at 3-13. Their third win came on the season's final week---in Dallas.

So here was Kitna, talking of his expectations for his team in 2007.

"I think we can win 10 games," Kitna said.

The daffy prediction drew ire, praise, and derision---depending on to whom you served it up.

The words made it into the ears and through the eyes of the entire fanbase within minutes, it seemed.

But Jon Kitna first spoke them to me. True story.

He was on the phone, chatting with me as I gathered info for the "A Few Minutes With" section of the Detroit sports magazine I was editing. Kitna was the subject. After several questions of eclectic variety, I put one more to him.

"What would you say," I said through the phone, "to the long-suffering Lions fans reading this?"

He thought about it briefly; there were several seconds of dead air.

Then he spoke with excitement, as if he had just remembered the answer to a trivia question.

"I would tell them that we're gonna win 10 games next season," Kitna said.

I reminded him that his words would not be printed in invisible ink.

"That doesn't bother me at all," Kitna said.

Well, a few days later, speaking to one of the radio stations in town, Kitna repeated his assertion about the 10 wins for the Lions in 2007.

That's when all of Detroit became awash with their quarterback's delusional giddiness.

Kitna's words, so infamously uttered, became so only after he spoke them into a phone through the radio. His conversation with me had been much more private.

Same declaration, totally different result.

Over three-and-a-half football seasons have gone by, and the Lions have only recently surpassed Kitna's 10 win total, predicted in the spring of 2007. The win total that Kitna thought the Lions could reach in a single season---not three-and-some-change seasons later.

Since the beginning of the 2007 campaign, the Lions are 11-47; they're 5-45 in their last 50 games. It's unbelievable in its ineptitude, that in today's NFL, a team could average just one win for every 10 games for over three seasons.

Kitna still wears blue and silver, but it's a different shade of blue, and there's a Texas Lone Star on his helmet---not the futile rampant Lion.

Kitna on Sunday was the latest quarterback to make mincemeat of the Lions, a team he so once gallantly led.

It took the Dallas Cowboys more than a half, and a flukey punt return to kick start them, but they had more than enough in the end to subdue the men in Honolulu Blue and Silver, 35-19.

The Lions, once again, used a suicide cocktail of penalties, a poor rushing attack and a second half swoon to blow a football game that they, if ever so briefly, held in control.

After a safety early in the third quarter put the Lions ahead, 12-7, the Cowboys' sparkling new stadium was cast with a pall. Kitna and his offense were mostly a rumor, aside from the opening, 98-yard TD drive.

When Kitna spoke his delusional words to me over the phone that spring day in 2007, he'd only been a Lion for one season. He had no idea how bizarre Lions football could be.

That bizarreness was on full display during a punt by Nick Harris in the third quarter, not long after the aforementioned safety.

Just when you think you've got a favorite bad/weird play in Lions history to hold up as a sampling of the franchise's bungling, along comes another one.

This one came courtesy of Bryan McCann, a three-time NFL loser who is suddenly one of the most dangerous return men in the league.

McCann, playing in just his third NFL game Sunday, nonetheless had the presence of mind of a grizzled veteran and took off running with the football at his own three yard line, following what appeared to be yet another great special teams play by the Lions' John Wendling, who batted the ball from the evils of the end zone.

A touchback never looked so good, after what McCann did.

Up the sidelines McCann scooted, 97 yards to paydirt. Maybe one of the strangest punt returns you'll ever see---and it went for six points. Against the Lions, natch.

I remember Lem Barney against the Cincinnati Bengals at Tiger Stadium in 1970.

Barney, punt returner extraordinaire in addition to being a shutdown cornerback (Lem was Deion Sanders before Deion was out of diapers), watched along with a group of Bengals as a Cincinnati punt rolled to a stop.

Just before the Bengals went to touch the football, Barney bent over, scooped it up, and zig-zagged about 50 yards for a touchdown.

There was a time when the Lions inflicted odd punishment, believe it or not.

Momentum is one of the most overused words/phrases in sports, right up there with chemistry and unsung heroes and "on the same page" and "at the end of the day."

But sometimes those words are appropriate in their use. After McCann's "excuse me" punt return, momentum indeed shifted, like San Francisco's terrain during the 1989 World Series.

You just knew the Lions were cooked, even though McCann's dazzling play only put the Cowboys up, 14-12.

Jerome Felton poured gasoline on the Cowboys' fire by benevolently fumbling on the Lions' next possession. Before long, it was 21-12, Dallas.

Goodnight, nurse.

How's this for the epitome of "same old Lions"?

After a week of talking and preaching and practicing in order to cut down on the before snap and after whistle penalties, the Lions had the Cowboys pinned on their own two yard line for their opening possession.

On the Cowboys' first play, Detroit DT Corey Williams jumped the snap and was flagged for encroachment.

The Lions are 5-45 in their last 50 games. It took them over three years to reach Jon Kitna's predicted 10 wins in 2007.

So when you see plays like what Bryan McCann made Sunday, shame on you for being surprised that they happened to the boys in Honolulu Blue and Silver.

It would be more surprising if McCann had done that to a team other than the Lions, when you think about it.

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