I can’t say I didn’t see that coming. The Lions had the number one pick gift-wrapped with a nice little bow on top behind door number one. Instead, they chose to see what was behind door number two. Someone should have clued them in that there isn’t a higher draft pick than first overall. Maybe they were holding out hope for the negative first pick. All the Lions had to do was play like they’ve played for six consecutive seasons. Instead, they chose to make Sunday their Super Bowl. This is the second year in a row that the Lions chose to view the end of a miserable season as their Super Bowl. Both times it has cost them dearly. Last season’s pointless victory over New Orleans on Christmas Eve dropped the Lions from the second pick to the ninth pick. Nobody is happier about that than Reggie Bush and Vince Young.
Players and coaches can’t lose a game on purpose. The first sign of improprieties in that regard would likely result in immediate banishment from the NFL. However, every other directionless team in the NFL uses the last few games to take a look at some of the younger players. That alone is usually enough to keep a team from winning unexpectedly. Instead, the Lions played all of their grizzly veterans in an attempt to get the all important third win of the season. The players have too much pride to go down without a fight. If you put guys like Jon Kitna in a game, they’re going to give it all they’ve got and in a league like the NFL, that sometimes leads to victory. I don’t blame the players one bit. I blame the organization for being inept in yet another category.
Although I have no gripes with the players competing hard in a meaningless game, I do have plenty of gripes about the atmosphere surrounding the end of a 3-13 campaign. The Lions were a brutal football team this season. They have the least talented roster in the NFL. They have the worst management in the NFL. They have no hope on offense or defense. Winning the season-finale over a 9-7 team that has tanked the end of the season to “improve” to 3-13 is nothing to be happy about. There shouldn’t be a happy guy in that locker room unless of course players are happy that the season is finally over. It’s amazing to me that the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press were littered with quotes from the players and coaches about how overjoyed they were about winning. The NFL is the only professional sports league in the world where one win offsets an entire futile season. Seriously, what is there to be happy about?
I would have loved to see the Lions with the first pick. If any team has “earned” the first pick over time, it is the Detroit Lions. There are variations of the “Lifetime Achievement” award at the Oscar’s and the Grammy’s that go to artists and/or entertainers that perform consistently well over a long period of time. It’s more of an honorary distinction. I believe the Lions have earned the equivalent. They should be given the honorary first pick in every draft. Isn’t it amazing that the Lions have been, by far, the worst team in the NFL over six years and haven’t been rewarded with the top pick? That’s not as easy as it sounds. It takes ineptness at a level that most of us could never accomplish.
Even though the Lions lost out on the wealth of leverage that comes with the first pick in the draft I am a little relieved because I do believe that the Raiders will take Brady Quinn with the first pick. Quinn is not the kind of player the Lions need to be taking at this point. He is Joey Harrington redux. Millen would’ve bowed to public pressure and taken Quinn no doubt. The best-case scenario would have been for the Lions to pick first and then trade the pick. There is so much more leverage in a trade involving the first pick than there is for the second pick. Teams with the first pick can work on trades for weeks leading up to the draft because any team willing to trade with them knows they can select any player they want. That is not a luxury that the number two pick provides. Even with the second pick, the correct move for the Lions is to trade down. That has been the correct move for six years running and it has never happened. Something tells me that the ’07 draft isn’t going to be any different.
I’m not blind. I know that it doesn’t matter who the Lions take other than to see who will have their NFL career immediately ruined. The Lions could have the first overall pick five years in a row and still not make the playoffs. However, the NFL Draft has become the Super Bowl for Lions fans. The rampant speculation that goes on in the months leading up to the draft is the result of millions of angry Lions fans trying to find an avenue for their frustration. It is a tradition. It doesn’t matter that the Lions will inevitably screw up. April is the only month of the year that provides even a glimmer of hope. For a comparison, just think of how much the residents of Alaska value the few minutes of darkness they get each day. Lions fans value their few minutes of hope much in the same manner. As much as the fans despise Ford and Millen, they still cherish the Lions.
While it certainly bums me out that the Lions were so close to securing the number one pick in the draft, equally disheartening is how this victory is being viewed. It literally makes me sick to my stomach that this victory occurred. The predictable headlines about how this victory somehow sets the stage for a successful ’07 campaign have already flooded the newspapers. Rod Marinelli suggested that the “cement is hardening” meaning the molding of a successful team is close to being finished. Millen gets to parlay a 3-13 season into a “springboard” for the ’07 season. The fact that Ford retained him for another season is just laughable. One stupid victory has somehow made everyone forget a miserable season. Every member of the organization is buying the victory over Dallas as a great accomplishment. It’s sickening. A good portion of the press eats this stuff up, too. Had the Lions lost in typical Lions fashion, the atmosphere would have resembled that of a funeral. It’s amazing how much winning at the right time changes things. Had the Lions beaten Dallas last week and lost to someone else this week and still finished 3-13, there wouldn’t be a positive word spoken.
Lions fans were screwed out of finally seeing their team pick first in the draft but they were screwed even more by the season-ending victory because now they have to hear the positive spin garbage that irrationally comes from “finishing the season on a good note.” That is what I despise the most about the victory on Sunday. That says a lot too because I was really hoping to see the Lions botch the first pick. It gets old seeing them screw up the second and seventh picks.