Sunday, December 17, 2006

Last Resort

Each time the Detroit Lions play a home game there are 65,000 people that make the trek down to Ford Field to support the organization. I don’t know any of these people personally. But I would like to address them for a moment. I can’t imagine there is anyone out there that is willing to defend Matt Millen or the Fords for the way the team has been run for the last 40 years. Yet, that is exactly what those 65,000 fans are doing whether they know it or not. Throw in the thousands of fans around the state that proudly don their Honolulu Blue and Silver in the form of hats and jerseys and you have plenty of reasons for the Fords to keep doing what they’re doing.

It could be argued that since the Fords march to the beat of their own drum a revolt by the fan-base won’t carry much weight anyway. The fan-base has practiced one form of revolt or another for the last 10 years. Nothing has changed yet. It can also be argued that the players need the support of the fans regardless of what the fans feel about the direction of the team. I am 100% behind that stance. The players have nothing to do with the sad state of the franchise. Despite being on perennial losing teams with a gross lack of talent the players go out and play hard every week. The players should be supported. However, that doesn’t mean that fans need to spend their hard earned money on the Lions.

If I were in charge of Lions Nation I would implement an immediate boycott of all things Lions. I would demand zero attendance for home football games. I would demand an immediate stoppage of the purchasing of all Lions merchandise. This can’t be hard, can it? Who even wants to attend a Lions game? I wouldn’t go for free and that’s the truth. I wouldn’t attend a Lions game if they paid me $500. Who would actually feel good about going into a sporting goods store and purchasing the ultimate sign of incompetence?

Lions fans and local media have been crying foul to no avail for countless years now. Because those “cries” have resulted in virtually no loss financially for the organization, they have fallen on deaf ears. I’m sure the Fords can handle an onslaught of verbal insults as long as there is a “pot of gold” at the end. Just think about all of the embarrassing moments and the resulting negative press that the Lions have garnered over the last few years alone. The Lions are 23-71 over the last six years. That isn’t only the worst record of any NFL team over that time span but it is also the worst six-year stretch by any team in NFL history. They have three top ten draft picks in the last four years that either aren’t in the organization anymore or won’t be after this season. The Lions went three full seasons without a road win which shattered an NFL record. The Front Office has embarrassed the organization on countless occasions most notably when; a fan was tackled for holding up a “Fire Millen” sign, the Lions blasted “Piano Man” over the loud speaker in an attempt to embarrass Joey Harrington, Millen called former Lion Johnny Morton a “faggot”, and the refusal to even play Charles Rogers and Mike Williams in the pre-season preferring to willingly accept a zero return on two pivotal investments. Those are just the Matt Millen gaffes. The biggest Lions gaffe of my lifetime has nothing to do with Millen. Before Millen was even a household name in Detroit, the Fords ruined the career of the most electrifying player in NFL history. They indirectly forced the retirement of Barry Sanders who quit because of how hopeless the organization was.

Throughout all of the embarrassments, the Fords received loads of criticism from every conceivable source. Never once did any of the criticism result in a hit to their pocketbook with the exception of the fines levied by the NFL for some of the stupider acts. Sticks and stones, right? The Fords are big boys. They can handle the barrage of criticism as long as they can do it with wads of money in their pockets. Eight games a year of 65,000 people surely qualifies as a “pot of gold”.

The Fords have heard the same old tired complaints from Average Joe fan. They know Detroit fans (and any fan-base, really) are all bark and no bite. I mean, what are the fans going to do? Become the first fan-base to uniformly boycott a franchise? Well, yes! That sounds pretty good to me. Clearly the Fords have no fears of that happening or they would have fired Matt Millen after his second rebuilding effort failed.

Instead, the Fords keep cashing paychecks from one of the most profitable organizations the world has ever known—the NFL. If a team can be neglected as poorly as the Lions have been for as long as they have been and still rake in the money, that should give an indication of how much money the NFL brings in. The only recourse the fans have in an organizational atmosphere like this is to make the organization look bad. Imagine how embarrassing it would be to the Fords if nobody showed up to Lions home games. That would surely prompt change in the way they run the organization, if not encourage them to get rid of the franchise all together. It is my dream that some day soon, the Fords will sell the Lions or move them to LA. The NFL would then award Detroit with a new franchise ala the Cleveland Browns and we could start over from scratch.

I know that the next logical step is to fire Matt Millen. That phrase has gotten so much use that it’s not even cool to say anymore. Let’s say that the Fords do fire Millen. Then what? We’re dealing with an ownership that hasn’t made a good personnel decision in my lifetime. What makes anybody think that they’ll get it right on the 30th try? I don’t even hope Millen gets fired anymore. That won’t mean anything. The Lions are like a weed. To kill a weed, you have to pull out the root. Millen is not the root. He is the stem. Wayne Fontes was the stem. Scott Mitchell was the stem. Andre Ware was the stem. Bobby Ross was the stem. Joey Harrington was the stem. Marty Mornhinweg was the stem. Every Lions quarterback and coach over the last forty years has been the stem. The Fords are the root. Unfortunately, there is nobody around to pull out the root since the root owns the team. The only way the root can be pulled is if Lions fans ban together and do the job themselves. Stop spending hard earned money on an organization that doesn’t appreciate it. If you hold out long enough, the Fords will get the message. If they never get the message, then at least you won’t be spending your hard earned dollar on someone who doesn’t give a damn what you think.

I know there’s going to be a lot of people out there that say it’ll never work for various reasons. I’m sure that the NFL revenue sharing system is set up in such a way that the Lions would make money even with zero attendance. However, if the Lions brought in zero dollars in ticket sales and concessions, then the rest of the league would notice quickly. Humans can only live so long without water. Professional sports franchises can only live so long without money. Cut off the money flow and things will happen. Even if you are convinced that nothing would come of it, the benefit of not wasting money is well worth it.

I understand that loyalty means a lot to people. The fans that continue to go to Lions games probably come from the school of thought that says you support your team through thick and thin no matter what. While I respect that viewpoint, there surely is a point at which that ceases to be reasonable. Loyalty is a two-way concept. In any instance where loyalty exists, it exists because of a mutual payoff. Americans are loyal to America because there is a sense of pride and unity that results from being loyal to one's country. Friends and family are loyal to each other because they know that their loyalty will most likely be reciprocated. If America morphed into a dictatorship and citizen rights were quelled, you would see an across the board elimination of loyalty. Sure, loyalty to the old guard would still be in play. That should be the case regardless. There is every reason to celebrate the great players and championship teams in Lions history. Unfortunately, those things are not a representation of what the Lions are today. Be loyal to the players. Appreciate the effort. Just do it in a way that doesn’t reward the Fords for taking our beloved Lions franchise and making it the laughing stock in sports.

This is an excerpt from the Wikipedia write-up on Matt Millen:

“On December 6, 2005, Detroit sports talk radio station WDFN announced the "Angry Fan March" (also known as the "Millen Man March") in protest of Millen's contract extension.

In protest of Millen's poor record, some Detroit fans have turned to actually rooting against their team at homes games, desperately hoping that increased losses will hasten his firing. On December 9, 2005, one group of Lions fans, known as "The Lions Fanatics," organized an "orange out" event, which encouraged Lions fans to show up at Detroit's Ford Field clad in orange , the color of their opponent that week, the Cincinnati Bengals.

On December 24, 2006 another group of fans plans a walkout protest towards the end of the first half in the game against Chicago, to express their disgust with the current management.”

Shockingly, every one of those forms of protest involves continuing to give money to the Fords. Stop giving them money! Whether you spend $50 on a ticket wearing a Lions jersey or spend $50 on a ticket wearing a Bengals jersey, you’re still giving the Fords the same amount of money. That form of protest has virtually no impact. The same goes for the half-time walkout. The Fords still get the money. The only message that would ever resonate loud and clear to the Fords would be to stop going to the games all together.

I’m not going to pick up a sign and picket at Ford Field. I’m not going to call sports talk radio to air my grievances. I am going to do something that, when done by every other Lions fan, is considerably more powerful than any of the other stuff could ever be. I’m going to ignore the Lions all together. Fans have so much power but simply do not know how to use it. If any of the crying, belly-aching, sports talk radio bashing, “Orange Outs”, and front page opinion-pieces about the Lions actually worked, the Fords would not have given Matt Millen a five year contract extension in 2005 in the face of public outrage after Millen had amassed a 16-48 record in four seasons.

3 comments:

Christy Hammond said...

I couldn't agree more. Last year, I watched every single Lions game. This year, I've watched one full game (the Thanksgiving game). And sadly, I can't say I missed much. A 2-12 record isn't fun. Here's to hoping the Fords (1) fire Matt Millen and (2) make a wise decision with their no. 1 draft pick we should be getting (please pick Troy Smith over Brady Quinn).

Big Mike said...

The fan that was tackled with the Fire Millen sign, Duncan DeBruin, is a buddy of mine down here in Austin.

Sabir said...

There are other owners of big market NFL teams that would do just fine financially even if they didn't give a crap, yet they still try their best to maximize profits by maximizing wins. Ford is different. I think Ford's apathy stems from the fact that his fortune is inherited. Because he didn't build his business empire himself (unlike Bill Davidson or Mike Ilitch, for example), he never possessed or developed the ambition, judgment, or decision-making sense of a successful leader and businessman. The normal process of analyzing choices, decisions, and consequences that occurs in the brains of most good business owners (or normal people, for that matter) is either warped or absent in Ford's brain.

 

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