Sunday, October 02, 2011

Unlike in 1980, Smart Money Is on Lions in 2011

The NFL season is chopped into fours, not unlike what the ponies have to deal with at Pimlico.

It’s often times just as foolhardy to put good money on the leaders at the first turn in pro football as it is on the fast starting horses sprinting out of the gate at the track.

The NFL gives us 16 games per team, per year—nice and divisible by four. The NFL has always been fond of quarters, as you know.

The first turn of 2011 is going to be made after Monday night’s game. Each team will have played four games. As usual, there are some horses making that turn that are either the real deal or destined for the glue factory.

OH—look at who’s charging on the outside. Our own Detroit Lions!

The Lions don’t charge out of the gate, as a rule. The past decade has been filled with false starts, if you will. If it were harness racing, many years the Lions would have been passed by the pace car before the gate folded up.

But here we are, at the first turn of 2011, and the Lions can be no worse than 3-1 after their game at Dallas on Sunday.

ESPN has the Lions ranked fourth in all the NFL after their 3-0 start. Fourth!

This is tortoise keeping up with the hare kind of stuff. It’s McGovern keeping pace with Nixon. The ’67 Arabs giving the Israelis all they can handle.

What in the name of Darryl Rogers is going on here?

Should you cash your paycheck and put it on the Lions’ Honolulu Blue number?

Even during the playoff years under Wayne Fontes, the Lions jumped out to a 3-0 start. They did 0-3—and still made the playoffs in 1995. They limped into the first turn in ’95 but finished 10-6. So you never know.

In fact, Jimmy Carter was president the last time the Lions started 3-0. It was also the last time they started 4-0.

Jimmy “Spiderman” Allen was an eccentric defensive back for the Lions in 1980. What else could he be, with a nickname like Spiderman?

Allen was also with the team in 1979, when the Lions lost starting QB Gary Danielson for the season to a knee injury in the final exhibition game, dooming Detroit to a 2-14 finish.

So when the 1980 Lions got off to a rollicking 4-0 getaway—thanks in part to the electrifying rookie runner Billy Sims, who was the team’s haul for finishing 2-14 in ’79—Allen got a bright idea.

Allen recruited several of his very willing teammates and cut a record.

It was a Lions take on the Queen hit, “Another One Bites the Dust.”

Coach Monte Clark wasn’t too keen on it. Clark blocked for Jim Brown in Cleveland as a player and assisted Don Shula in Miami as a coach. Monte was more buttoned down than Bob Newhart.

But when an eccentric puts his mind to something, there isn’t much you can do to stop him. So Clark winced and waited for the song to come out.

All the radio stations in town played Allen and company’s bastardized version of Freddie Mercury’s tune, which had lyrics like, “See Billy run—you can’t catch him with a gun.”

It wasn’t Grammy stuff.

But the fans loved it. The Lions were 4-0! They were among the leaders of the pack at the first turn.

The smart money wasn’t on the Lions, after all. During quarters two, three and four, the Lions fell back to the rest of the also-ran horses. They finished the season 9-7, out of the playoffs. Allen’s ditty took a nosedive on the radio play lists.

So it has been some 31 years since the Lions have had a shot at finishing the first turn undefeated.

Should you place any hard-earned dimes on the Honolulu Blue number?

I would—if those numbers are No. 9, No. 81,No. 90 and No. 4.

Those would be, respectively, QB Matthew Stafford, WR Calvin Johnson, DT Ndamukong Suh and kicker Jason Hanson.

The 1980 Lions had no one at those positions even remotely as good as the aforementioned quartet. And that’s no disrespect to Danielson, Freddie Scott, Dave Pureifory and Eddie Murray—the 1980 versions of that foursome.

The ’80 Lions were a 9-7 team that was probably exactly that—a 9-7 team.

The 2011 bunch is more talented, but so is the NFL.

The NFL has turned into something much different than what it was in 1980.

In 1980, you had haves and have-nots. The same teams, for the most part, made the playoffs every year. You had the Vikings and the Rams, the Cowboys and the Steelers, the Raiders,the Oilers and the Chargers. Pretty much every year.

Today, the teams peak and valley like the Dow Jones. Their year-to-year chart, if you plotted wins, would look like an EKG readout.

It’s not a favorite word in the league office, but it’s called parity.

Teams make the playoffs one year and fade into oblivion the next. Look at the Kansas City Chiefs. I dare you. The Chiefs made the playoffs last year at 10-6. This season, they’re 0-3 and barely competitive.

Look at the Buffalo Bills. With both eyes open, for a change. Last year the Bills didn’t win their first game until you could almost smell the Thanksgiving turkeys in the oven. In fact, it came against the Lions, last November 14. Fancy that.

This year, the Bills are another of the 3-0 teams entering the first turn. Last Sunday they rallied from 21 points down to beat the vaunted New England Patriots.

The football experts are also debating the true worth of the Bills, as they do with the Lions. Put good money on the Honolulu Blue number? I think I might, as long as you can keep Suh out of the recording studio.

Just hope he doesn’t put his mind to it. Who’s going to stop him?

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