Wretched Lions have what it takes to be NFL's first 0-16 team
Went online to see if I could buy some Detroit Lions tickets for the big Thanksgiving Day game against the Tennessee Titans. Wanted to see if I could get two together at Ford Field for The Winless versus The Lossless.Yes, you can get two. Actually, you can get 25 together. All it will cost is $88 per ticket, plus a $6 "convenience" charge. For that price, I better get a brown paper bag with eyeholes included.
The Lions aren't going to win a game this season. They're 0-9 and they're not going to win at Carolina on Sunday, or the next week against Tampa Bay, or against Tennessee, or against Minnesota, or at Indianapolis, or against New Orleans, or at Green Bay. They're going to become the first 0-16 team in NFL history and the league's first team to lose all of its games since the Buccaneers took a season 0-fer in 1976."Right now, things are tough," says Dan Miller, who does radio play-by-play on Lions broadcasts. "No way you can paint it any other way." "It's mind-boggling, isn't it?" says author and Detroit Free Press sports columnist Michael Rosenberg. "This is just the worst I've ever seen." Do you know how hard it is not to win at least one regular-season game? It might be harder than going undefeated. In the past 47 years, two teams have finished the regular season unbeaten (the 2007 New England Patriots and the 1972 Miami Dolphins), but only one team has lost every game it played (those '76 Bucs).
If ever a city deserved a break, it's Detroit. It's now-former mayor is in the big house (and I don't mean Michigan Stadium), the auto industry is rattling a tin cup at the federal government, and the local economy is in the dumper."We're almost paralyzed here," says Tom Wilson, president of the Detroit Pistons. "Everybody is scared in this city." And yet, people always buy tickets to see the Lions. Or did. It is still a Lions town -- and always will be -- but you can swing a goalpost in some sections of Ford Field these days and not hit anyone. I could get 25 together for a game against the only unbeaten team in the league, as well as 25 together for the Bucs game.
"The economy is so bad that people just don't want to spend their money on crappy football anymore," says Rosenberg.The Lions are so bad that you can't blame them. This is a franchise that has won exactly one playoff game in the past 50 years. It's had 23 head coaches since 1930 -- five of them since 2000. It had Matt Millen as team president, which is like asking Britney Spears to babysit your kids. Millen's first-round draft picks in 2002 (quarterback Joey Harrington), 2003 (wide receiver Charles Rogers), 2004 (running back Kevin Jones and wide receiver Roy Williams) and 2005 (wide receiver Mike Williams) are no longer with the Lions or out of football altogether -- much like Millen, who was canned by owner William Clay Ford in September. Not only can't the Lions win games, but they can barely win coin tosses. They're 3-for-9 this season in that category. "Is it tough right now?" says Miller. "Yeah, it's tough. It's tough for me, for the coaches, the players and for the fans but it's not like they're not trying. I do a radio show with [Lions linebacker] Ernie Sims every Monday night. I can see this is killing him." Killing him? How would you like to be Miller's broadcast partner, Jim Brandstatter? Brandstatter does Lions games and Michigan games. The last home win he's seen with either team was Sept. 27 (Michigan 27, Wisconsin 25). "Right now I'm 3-16 and that ain't a lot of fun," says Brandstatter, a 21-year veteran of Lions broadcasts. It was fun in the preseason. The Lions finished 4-0. "It looked like they could compete," says Brandstatter. They couldn't. They traveled to Atlanta for the regular-season opener against the Falcons, got beat by a rookie quarterback and, says Brandstatter, "It hasn't gotten a whole lot better since that first game." The Lions are 14-point dogs to Carolina this Sunday. They're ranked near or at the bottom of every meaningful NFL statistic. They have only one player (wide receiver Calvin Johnson) ranked higher than 20th in any individual offensive category. They're doomed. "They're 0-9 and, if after Sunday's game they're 0-10, they'll have the entire front page of the newspaper, in a town with the Stanley Cup champions," says the Pistons' Wilson, whose own franchise won an NBA title in 2004 and reached the Finals in 2005. He added: "I do marvel at the struggles that they've had and the hold they continue to have on fans here." Wilson was 6 and living in the Detroit area when the Lions last played for an NFL championship. He missed the game because of a family outing. "Well, you'll see their next one," his mom told him that December 1957 day. Says Wilson now: "That was 51 years ago. I'm still waiting for the next one." The good news is that the Lions potentially have five of the first 100 picks in the 2009 NFL draft. The bad news is that the Lions potentially have five of the first 100 picks in the 2009 NFL draft. With Millen out of the war room, maybe something productive will happen. I mention to Rosenberg that Bill Cowher, the former Pittsburgh Steelers coach, would be the first guy I'd call about running my team. I mean, do you really think Cowher would rather stumble through highlights on a studio set than be back coaching in the NFL? "Of course, because you're thinking about winning football games," says Rosenberg. "You're looking at this the wrong way. You're not looking at it the Ford way." In the meantime, Lions fans hope for a miracle. Or a win. Same thing. Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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