The difference a year makes in Detroit

By Os Davis  |   Thursday, August 16, 2007  |  Comments( 0 )

Detroit Lions
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Wow, they've got to be optimistic in Detroit, eh? Despite everything, Matt "Fire" Millen did the right thing by all reports in the first round of the NFL draft. The Lions even managed to make one or two acquisitions that bolster the team. Head coach Rod Marinelli's defensive schemes and offensive coordinator Mike Martz's adaptation of the Greatest Show on Turf game plan has observers and players excited about the upcoming season.

This is a more solid, more confident team that...

Wait a minute, wait a minute. This is last year's column.

How do Lions fans do it? How do they get up in the morning? What is the reaction when Jon Kitna brazenly claims these guys can win 10 games? That's something the franchise hasn't done since 1995 and Barry Sanders isn't walking through that door. If he did, he'd be old and gray. Is it the Tigers and Pistons who somehow give them the strength to get through another blah Sunday in which leads are never held and questionable play-calling is the norm?

A bit over one year ago, I came to work for RealFootball365; like most NFL fans, to that point I barely suspected that they were still playing football in Detroit -- Imagine my surprise when I first took a long, hard look at the 32-team setup. (I also recall thinking, "Whoa, Arizona has a team?" and "Wait a minute, what happened to the Los Angeles Raiders?")

At the time, it felt as if good things were happening to the longtime (long, long time: Happy 50th anniversary, 1957ers!) toothless Lions. Ernie Sims, a guy who looked perfect for the Tampa 2 defense they'd be running in Detroit, was drafted in the first round, thereby defying the punchline-propensity to overpay overblown wide receivers. Martz, the guy who won a Super Bowl as the coordinator of the greatest offense in the last 10 years or so, had come aboard to run the 'O' for the Lions.

And then there was Marinelli himself. The latest in an unenviable string of men willing (or desperate) enough to take the job - since 2000, the Detroit revolving door has seen six head coaches - Marinelli was most noted for never having held the job at any level previously. If we didn't always know what he was talking about, well, at least he looked like a football guy. Or the captain of the Enterprise, what with the Jean-Luc Picard haircut.

Motor City fans were enthusiastic, and this writer got swept up in Marinelli mania. I was crazy enough to take them at 9-7. Few had Detroit winning lots of games last year and ultimately it seems the master, Gregg Easterbrook, over at The Worldwide Leader in (American) Sports, had them best pegged; he took the Lions at 2-14.

This year, optimism again surrounds this Detroit Lions team. No. 2 overall Calvin Johnson wowed in his brief appearance against the Cincinnati Bengals and said all the right things to the nice ESPN lady after the game. There's the aforementioned Kitna quote, who's got some "analysts" so geeked, they're forecasting a 5,000-yard season for the QB. (Well, I'm sure Pat Kirwan will be taking Kitna for his fantasy team.)

As for the Detroit faithful, bless 'em, one and all. Check out the video highlights of that first preseason game and admire the way Lions fans are truly enthused with this crazy thing called a "win." (Who says the preseason is meaningless?)

Well, this year, I refuse to believe the hype. OK, the defense appears to be solid enough, if full of question marks (Was the second-half Stanley Wilson for real? Will Kalimba Edwards shed underachiever mode?) and notoriously thin (Who's that on the depth chart at cornerback? Beckham? I thought he was playing for the Galaxy). The offensive line is reputable, even if the Damien Woodys of the world are becoming a bit injury-prone.

The running game could work with new signings Tatum Bell and T.J. Duckett. Though surely Martz laments that neither will be confused with Marshall Faulk in terms of catching the ball, the Lions could pile up a few yards on the ground. At least they're deep here.

Finally, jokes, kidding and hyperbole aside, the receiving corps does look pretty good, especially considering the recent slew of first-round WRs taken by Millen and two converted to the position (Mike Furrey, Josh McCown saw time catching Kitna last year). Furrey and Johnson together with the criminally underrated Roy Williams is a fearsome threesome.

But no, no, no. I can't do it. I can't believe, which is what would be required to side with those seeing a winning season in Detroit's future. (Incidentally, what's the over/under for games won in order for the Lions to get a ticker-tape parade in the Motor City after the season? Would 6-10 be enough? How about if they win two within the division?) The schedule's too tough; this year, the Lions will play Philadelphia, the AFC West and Dallas in addition to the two games against those defending NFC champions.

The difference a year makes? Ultimately, in some cases, not much. It's kind of depressing.

And then multiply it by 50. Sheesh. How do the fans do it?

Trying hard -- so freaking hard -- to believe in the Detroit Lions year-round at
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About Os Davis

Os Davis has taken a twisted route to get to in his nearly 17 years in professional writing, working in any number of capacities in the sportswriting, news reporting and film criticism worlds. In print media, Os has served as editor at a few publications, including Albuquerque's...
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