Fans take aim again at Lions GM Millen

Updated: December 18, 2005, 7:38 PM ET
Associated Press

DETROIT -- During Chad Sweet's 33 years, the Detroit Lions have rarely given him anything to cheer about.

So on Sunday, he drove more than 60 miles from his home in Tecumseh to a downtown bar to join a pregame march demanding that the Lions fire president Matt Millen.

Like hundreds of others, he dressed in orange, like fans of the Cincinnati Bengals, who beat Detroit 41-17 in the Lions' final home game of the season.

And like the rest of the crowd, the bar and the rally became an outlet for watching years of lousy football.

"All of my life we haven't had a whole lot to root for," Sweet said. "We never really get over the hump. A lot of it seems to be ownership related or management related."

The march, sponsored by a local sports talk radio station, drew about 500 people at its start, but the crowd grew to about 1,000 as the fans walked the five blocks to Ford Field.

Along the way, they chanted "Fire Millen" and "Ho-ho-ho, Millen must go." Many wore "Fire Millen" T-shirts and orange hunting gear. They carried signs that said "Commitment to Ineptness," and "Fed Up." One wore a hat reading, "Blame Ford First," a twist on one of the automaker's slogans.

Many urged the Ford family to sell the team, but few thought the march would have an impact.

"I don't think this is going to change anything, not the way the Fords are," said Rich Lebert, 24, who carried a Millen doll hanging in effigy from a stick. "But we have to do something so that they know we care."

Lions chief operating officer Tom Lewand said before the game he wouldn't comment on the march. "I didn't see it, and it wasn't part of our gameday operations," he said.

Steven Beaton, 32, said he couldn't understand how Detroit's basketball and hockey teams can be so good, yet baseball and football languish near the cellar.

"We've got two good teams here and the other two are horrible," he said. "That's got to change."

The 19-3 Pistons have the NBA's best record this season, and the Red Wings are among the top teams in the NHL at 22-9-3. The Lions have the league's worst record during the past five seasons at 20-57. The Detroit Tigers finished 71-91 this year.

Beaton said the Lions have had a great fan base for the past five years, but he cautioned, "I don't know how long it's going to last."

At the previous home game, fans displayed "Fire Millen" signs and chanted for his dismissal. The scene turned into a circus of sorts when one fan ran from section to section, dodging security, with a "Fire Millen" sign, before he was tackled as he ran up steps toward the exits.

The anti-Millen signs and chants have surfaced at home and away games of the other Detroit sports teams, as well as at University of Michigan and Michigan State basketball games.

On Friday night at The Palace of Auburn Hills, Pistons forward Rasheed Wallace joined fans in the chant during a late timeout against the Chicago Bulls. Even when the Pistons played in Charlotte, N.C., on Saturday night, a fan in the upper deck held a "Fire Millen" sign.

Lions owner William Clay Ford gave Millen a five-year contract extension last offseason after four miserable seasons. Ford allowed the former linebacker to fire coach Steve Mariucci after two-plus seasons. Mariucci was fired just after Thanksgiving.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press