Friday, April 30, 2010
Whenever I type the name Ndamukong Suh, I do so fluently, without effort. I don't need to stop to check how to spell his name, and my spellchecker does not spaz out and start screaming at me that it's all just a bunch of damned gibberish. This is how spectacular a prospect Ndamukong Suh really is. By the time the draft arrived, writing his name was as easy for me as writing the name John Smith. I had added it to my word processor's dictionary and all was right with the world. All of this didn't happen in the days leading up to the draft or even the weeks. No, this all happened months ago, during that time when everyone assumed that Suh would be on his way to St. Louis and we would be left in our customary and all too comfortable role as the Disappointed and Tortured. That's how much I liked Suh. That's how much he means. On the slim chance that we would actually draft him, I made sure that I knew all there was about the dude, including the pronunciation, the spelling, the whole House of Spears thing, and of course, the otherworldly talent.
And that's what makes this dude so special. Everyone is busy trying to explain via scouting reports why Suh is a great talent, pointing to his explosion, his strength, his agility, his competitiveness, etc. Basically, the dude is the total package. Coming into the draft, people seemed to compare him to a young Albert Haynesworth, and his closest rival, Gerald McCoy, to a young Warren Sapp. Basically, Suh is that player who's going to dominate the line of scrimmage and collapse into the backfield, while McCoy, like Sapp, is more the guy who is going to explode towards the quarterback. The thing about that is, though, is since the draft, I actually saw someone - I can't remember who, if it was you, consider this a shout out - call Suh a better version of Sapp when it comes to getting to the quarterback. Well, okay.
That's incredible. Basically, this guy plays like an escaped vampire ape, bludgeoning all those who get in his way, owning the line of scrimmage so that others can get to the quarterback or make plays. Only, he's also the dude who makes the plays! He combines the best attributes of Haynesworth and Sapp into one colossal super beast. The term One Man Wrecking Crew has been used and abused so much over the years and it's so worn out that Jenna Jameson looks on it with pity. But when you look at Suh, suddenly that term seems fresh and new, like it was created just to describe him. Suh is not only a man, he is the man, and that is a very rare thing in this world.
And that's a thing that is almost impossible to describe using scouting reports. You have to start relying on contextual clues, things like people ranting and raving that Suh might be the best defensive tackle prospect in 20 years. But even that seems underwhelming. I mean, really, when was the last time a defensive tackle came into the league with this much hype? When was a last time that people not only believed, but knew, that a defensive tackle was the best player in the draft, the alpha dog, the star that shone the brightest, his hot white heat eclipsing every other star in the galaxy?
Okay, that was starting to get a little out of hand, and was veering into Dear Penthouse territory, but the question remains. When was the last time a defensive tackle came into the league with this much ridiculous hype? Well, since 1980, only four defensive tackles have been selected with the first or second pick in the draft. The two number one's, Dan Wilkinson and Russell Maryland, were both terrific prospects, but I don't remember feeling at the time like they were World Dominators like Suh. They were great talents, dudes who the scouts obviously loved, but there wasn't that sense that they were immediately the biggest dog in the room, that their mere presence was the center of everything else that went on, that they were now the Sun that the rest of the defense revolved around.
The two players taken with the number two pick were Darrell Russell in 1997 and Tony Casillas in 1986. I'm too young to remember what the hype situation was with Casillas, but I know enough about him - and remember enough - to know that he was a great player. But he was a great nose tackle, a dude who filled a particular role and filled it very, very well. He dominated the line and buried running backs. Suh seems like he's even more than that though, doesn't he? He doesn't feel like someone who's just going to eat blockers at the line and swallow up ball carriers too stupid to avoid him. He seems like someone who will, well, actually eat blockers and then gnaw on the bones of the quarterback for dessert. Again, he can be Tony Casillas, but he can also be Warren Sapp. He's not just an important cog in a complex machine, a player who performs a role so others can do their jobs. He's both the engine and the drill-bit of the machine. He's the point of the machine. When he's on, he is the machine.
Darrell Russell, meanwhile, was a fine prospect and for a while he seemed like he could end up being among the best in the league before he flamed out, but even at his peak, he didn't generate the hype that Suh has generated.
So, really, when is the last time a defensive tackle came into the league who has had people fawning over him like Suh? I mean, you've got to really start getting the DeLorean up to 88 mph to figure this out. Randy White? Joe Greene? Merlin Olsen!?
Yes, I am getting out of hand here and someone should probably break down the door and hose me down, but if you're going to work yourself into a lather, it might as well be this type, you know? It's the good kind of lather, the kind accompanied by a warm feeling in the gut, a happy feeling that makes you smile, it's the kind of stark raving madness that makes you not care that you sound like an idiot, the kind of fool nonsense that makes the start of the season feel like it's a million years away. It's excitement, man. Pure, unadulterated excitement, the kind that doesn't come around very often, the kind that never comes around for Lions fans. I won't apologize for it. No. It feels too good, too right, and just because I am currently pantsless and writing this with a massive erection doesn't mean that I should feel ashamed.
Okay, okay, I have gone too far again. The truth is, is that I am only partially aroused and am wearing a fine loin skin that was given to me by a Masai warrior after I saved him from a charging rhino. Adjust your mental images accordingly.
All that nonsense aside, the bottom line is that Ndamukong Suh is not only a once in a decade kind of player, or even a once in a generation kind of player, he's a once in a lifetime kind of player. And he's ours.
Anyone who watched the Big 12 Championship Game a few months back understands what I am talking about here. I have never, ever, in the entirety of my strange and sordid life, seen a single player dominate a game like that without the ball in his hands. It was absolutely incredible. Suh's stats for the game are staggering - 4.5 sacks and 7 tackles for loss, but even they don't quite express how dominant Suh really was in that game. I mean, Nebraska sucked. They were terrible. Meanwhile, Texas was marching towards the BCS Title game. Still, virtually all by himself, Suh almost won the game for Nebraska. He did everything he could to give his team a chance to win, and if they would have had even the rudimentary outline of a functional offense in that game, they would have won. They could have beaten any team in the country with Suh playing like that. That's how awesome he can be, how much a difference maker he is. Put him on your team and no matter who else you have, no matter who you don't have, you've got a chance to beat anybody.
That's the bottom line, the stark, naked truth of the matter, the one thing that stands above everything else, all the ridiculous numbers that have been floated since the end of the season, all the scouting reports, all the how does he fit questions. With him, you can beat anybody. That's it. That's really all you need to know.
Look, I recognize that I have gone a bit over the top here, but that's how much I like Suh. I could throw some numbers at you, the ones that everyone has seen by now showing how Suh alone put up comparable numbers to the entire defensive lines for Alabama, Texas and Florida, but sometimes numbers, even ones as impressive as Suh's, aren't enough. Sometimes you have to descend into the land of hyperbole and foam at the mouth with lusty madness to get the real essence of the story. Sometimes you have to listen to the wild street preacher, ranting and raving, in order to truly understand what's going on. Suh's numbers are amazing, but the way he makes me feel as a fan is even more amazing.
There are also people, inveterate cynics, who are already weeping and tearing their clothes and gnashing their teeth, screaming to anyone who will listen that Suh had a knee injury that kept him out of spring practice in 2008 - he never missed a game with this injury by the way, and never showed any ill effects following his recovery - and they will holler and scream about how he plays too high. This would be akin to bitching about the way that King Kong climbs the Empire State Building. "No, no, Kong. You've got to use your legs." No one else is getting up that fucking building, so shut up and just watch the dude climb.
There are also people who are just terrified, people who have been beaten for too long by The Fear, people who are too afraid too hope, people who are jabbering to anyone who will listen about how we shouldn't get our hopes up and what if? What if Suh isn't as good as we hope? What if his legs fall off? What if his is beaten and stuffed into a trunk by the Failure Demon? Oh Lord, what if? This is unfortunate and unconquerable except by time and success. I cannot convince these people to relax and have hope. Only Suh kicking ass and the Lions winning can do that. The good news is I think - obviously - that Suh will prove me right and prove The Fear wrong.
Look, you and I have both seen a lot of hyped Lions draft picks, but this one just feels different, doesn't it? Usually, there is that guarded sense of optimism, the hope that the player will end up being good. This time, I don't hope that Suh is good. I know that Suh is good, and the difference between those two feelings is immense, a vast chasm that almost can't be explained. It is the difference between the shadow and the light.
I have put myself out on a ledge with this post, but I don't care. Fuck it. Sometimes you've just gotta make your move, you know? I'm going all in with Suh and I might get burned because of it. That's alright. I'm not afraid.
Huh. I'm not afraid. I'm a Lions fan and I'm not afraid. Welcome to Detroit, Ndamukong Suh.
HOW HE FITS WITH THE LIONS
Suh will fill the role in this defense that Albert Haynesworth filled in Tennessee under Jim Schwartz. The thing is, though, as I have ranted and raved about like a loon in this post, is that there really isn't a comparable player to Suh. He's a unique beast, a weapon, a tool that can be used in a variety of ways. He can hold the point of attack, collapse the line, swallow up ball carriers and explode into the backfield to attack the quarterback. He's the total package, and as such, it's not so much about he fits with the Lions but about how they will find players to fit around him in the future.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR THE FUTURE
Well, obviously, as I just said, Suh will be the man the Lions build their defense around. I have no doubts about this. I might be a damn fool, and this could be my Waterloo, but this is what going all in means, you know?
WHAT IT MEANS FOR THIS SEASON
This is where things get a little tricky. Suh should start right away, and he'll probably fill the role that Corey Williams was brought in to fill, meaning that that tackle position is fucking loaded with talent. But he could also flex out to defensive end when the Lions want to go really big, providing the Lions with the possibility of putting both Suh and Williams on the line with Sammie Lee Hill.
Suh gives the Lions options. This season he might not just jump onto the field and start clubbing people like a coked out King Kong, but he should definitely be a very good player as soon as he shows up. With his versatility, the Lions can get other pieces onto the field at times without having to yank Suh. This is a critical thing for a team still trying to fill holes. They desperately need their best players on the field as much as possible, even if some of those players play the same position. Suh can move around on the line a little bit and give the Lions a chance to get all those players on the field.
This is just the beginning for Suh and for the Lions and while the beginning isn't always filled with honor and glory, it's a necessary stage and it carries with it its own excitement. Because at the beginning everything is new and open and wonderful and beautiful and anything and everything is possible. Possibility. That's what Ndamukong Suh represents and that's what this season is all about.
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
It's been an eventful couple of weeks, hasn't it? I mean, obviously, there was the Draft, which this year produced more weird boners and mock drafts and mock draft boners than any other year I can remember, but there were a few other things that went down in the world of the Detroit Lions that deserve some mention. A couple of these things have been beaten into the dirt already, but what the hell, I might as well add my voice to the cacophony of dumb noise which is the blogosphere or whatever the fuck you want to call it. I mean, I may be talking about some of the same subjects, but chances are pretty good that no one will quite have the same bent take on things as I do, you know? As far as I'm concerned, every subject is a fresh subject until I get done mangling it.
Like I said, the Draft produced a lot of boners - which it always does - but this year more than most, and as the weekend arrived we all got to bear witness to all these Draft boners being furiously assaulted by their owners, their tumescence finally relieved in an ejaculatory storm which qualified as the most horrid disaster this nation has seen since Hurricane Katrina. Seriously, it was awful. Everyone with a mock draft scribbling madly with one hand, crossing off names, their eyes on the television, breathless, with sweat on their brows and lust in their hearts, their other hand pumping piston-like, feverishly working towards the finish line of a race they had begun running almost since the day the last draft ended. All those months spent discussing the hindquarters of Player A and the Tremendous Length of Player B and the Huge Hands of Player C left them cocked(pun intended?) and ready to fire.
Normally, this ocean of wasted semen is something that mainly drowns only the fans and so-called experts. The actual coaches and players and general managers seem to be able to put the damn thing into its proper perspective. But then we get stories like the one that came out after the Lions drafted Jahvid Best.
From an article by Michael Silver at Yahoo:
“Some people watch adult videos on their computer,” Schwartz had told me. “I go to YouTube and watch Jahvid Best highlight clips. That’s what gets me going.”
Well, okay then. Aside from the horrible and unfortunate mental image of Jim Schwartz straining and groaning in front of the soft glow of his laptop, I am oddly fascinated by the details of this. I mean, does the dude have mood music? I had a roommate who would disappear into his room at the same time every night, and then a minute or two later, soft music would flow from his room. Soon enough, the music would end and I would know that he was, uh, finished. It was like some demented game of musical chairs. Quick, before the song gets to it's bridge! Splat.
Okay, that was horrible. I apologize. Anyway, for some strange reason I began to wonder what Jim Schwartz was listening to while he, uh, Bested his Jahvid. We know that Schwartz is a metalhead, listing Metallica, AC/DC and the like among his favorite bands. His number one favorite though, if I recall correctly, is Dream Theater. So, it stands to reason that at least at one point during the run-up to the draft, Jim Schwartz found himself watching Jahvid Best highlights with his hands down his pants and Dream Theater pumping through the speakers. Hey, I'm not saying I like it either, but none of us can afford to be naive in these dark and terrible times.
Aside from that, the dude I really feel bad for in all of this is Kevin Smith. That poor bastard must feel like a jilted lover right now. He's back home or at the training facility, recovering from the hellacious wounds of war and he has to hear all about his coach getting sprung over a younger, faster model. The poor fool probably feels like a JC Penney Catalog. He was good enough to get Schwartz through those lean years, but apparently he's not good enough now that Schwartz has found Youtube. Now he's just all wadded up, parts of him stuck together, ravaged and wrinkly, and tossed into the trash can, buried beneath a mountain of, uh, used tissues. That's no way for a man to go out. Because of this, I am now a Kevin Smith fan, and I am rooting for him to come back and fight for his job, if only to reclaim some semblance of his self respect.
Well. This whole post has been fucking depraved, and I should probably apologize, but you know what you're getting into here. For those of you reading one of my posts for the first time, well . . . *chuckles awkwardly and walks away*.
Ahem. Anyway, aside from demonstrating that I probably have a career waiting for me writing Penthouse letters, I think this should bury any talk about the Lions taking Best simply because he was the last decent running back available. No. Hell no. I think it's obvious that, if anything, the Lions wanted Best a little too much, you know? With that in mind, trading up to get him in exchange for one of their million 7th rounder picks and a swaps of 4th rounders seems like a no-brainer, right?
Okay, moving on from the depraved to the, well, to the depraved, the other big story that has emerged the past couple of days surrounds the one, the only Zack Follett. Now, as soon as he was drafted it became obvious that Follett would become everyone's favorite Detroit Lion. He was a scrappy overachiever who loved to run down the field and hit people in the mouth, the seventh round underdog who would make the team and bound around with endless energy, exciting both his fellow players and fans alike.
Usually, this all adds up to a player I can't stand. I hate that Eckstein, Scrappy-Doo bullshit. Usually, it's some Napoleonic little dick who acts like he has something to prove to everybody, and all the fans love him even though his teammates probably think he's an ass. But Follett is different - very different. If anything, his personality seems to be pretty chill. When he's off the field, he seems more like the type of dude you would find on the beach, huddled underneath a blanket next to a fire with his girlfriend, too wasted to drive home but sober enough to . . . well, basically, I am turning Zack Follett into a character from Point Break. I do not apologize for this, and if anything, this is the ultimate compliment from me. I mean, my love for that Oscar winning epic is well known. Let's not forget that Kathryn Bigelow, before she won the Oscar for directing The Hurt Locker, helmed this bad boy. If anything, it just proves that she was ahead of her time and anyone who disagrees can kindly paddle their asses to New Zealand.
But I am getting carried away here. The point is, is that Follett is the real deal. He's deserving of all the fan love. He's not just some dweeb from a local college like David Kircus, and he's not beloved just because his name can be drunkenly bellowed like Greg Blue, and he's certainly not a fan favorite just because he is a midget named Buster like Buster Davis. No, Zack Follett is loved because he is kinda awesome. Aside from that chill demeanor, there was that video from a couple of months ago of Follett playing with actual lions.
And now there is this. Zack Follett in a Lions helmet and a pair of shorts that make him look like he just woke up on a park bench somewhere, shopping for tampons that he can give to his opponents this year because there will be blood. That's some quality shit right there. David Kircus never did anything like that. If anything, David Kircus is probably holed up somewhere trying to figure out to properly apply one of those tampons to his vagina. Okay, I apologize. David Kircus doesn't have a vagina. Vaginas are awesome, women are awesome and don't deserve to be disrespected like that.
Where was I? Oh, right. David Kircus sucks. Zack Follett doesn't. I also liked the little touch at the end there where he picked up some Barbie band-aids for his fallen enemies. He is a noble man, this Zack Follett. He will gnaw on the bones of his wicked enemies, but he'll also provide them with some first-aid. Now that's a man.
Finally, I wanted to talk a bit more about my man Ernie Sims. Now, as you all know, the Lizard King was exiled to Philadelphia, where he will set up a new kingdom. Of course, it can never match the glory of his original kingdom, but you can't fault the man for trying. I mean, he is a born king and that is all he knows. Ernie will be fine. The poor little guy that I'm worried about is his monkey. This is the only home he has known(I have no idea if this true. I mean, probably not, right? I doubt he was birthed in the Sims household. Then again, maybe he was. Who knows? Who cares? Just go with me on this, okay?)and it will probably be disorienting for the little guy to move on like this.
What this means, unfortunately, is that Ernie Sims' monkey is likely to turn violent. I feel for the poor bastards tasked with transporting Sims' menagerie to their new home. I mean, after all, Monkey Sims is Cinnabon's chief counselor and general, and so if he becomes agitated and subsequently violent, he will no doubt lead the other animals, the lizards and birds and spiders and who knows what the hell else, in an insurrection against their captors, those poor unsuspecting movers.
I shudder when I imagine Monkey Sims with violence in his eyes and hatred in his heart viciously assaulting some day laborer. That little motherfucker will get raw on any fool that tries to take him from his home. Because, by God, he is an American Monkey, a real American Monkey, and when it comes crashing down and it hurts inside, he will fight for what's right.
But like I said, it's not just Monkey Sims that the movers need to worry about. No way. While they are busy trying to fend off that wild tiny ape, what the fuck are they gonna do when a tarantula decides to wild out and crawl up their pants? Or how are they gonna respond when a monitor lizard loses his shit? What if Ernie has a fucking Komodo Dragon? Those things fucking eat people. You may think this is all just a bad joke, but this is serious business, man. Some poor unsuspecting mover is going to be found staggering out of the Sims Castle, bloodied and beaten, his face blank, his brain liquefied by fear, and the only thing they will find of his partner is a pair of bloody shoes, the rest of him somewhere inside of that Komodo Dragon and if things really get out of hand, Monkey Sims. He may only be a monkey, but so was King Kong and that motherfucker didn't mind snacking on some random dipshit. Let's not forget that Monkey Sims is also distantly related to that degenerate Bigfoot, and if there is one thing I know, it's that Bigfoot is an immoral son of a bitch.
Okay, well, not a lot of football talk I suppose. For that, I suppose I should apologize, but these were things that needed to be said and I am glad that I said them. Somebody needs to be a voice of truth and a warrior of light in this dark and confusing world. And if that person must be me then so be it. I did not ask for this gift/curse, but I am a gentleman and as the Emperor Xerxes once said "With great power comes great responsibility." I am no coward, and if this is my fate, then so be it. So be it.
Monday, April 26, 2010
Well hell, everybody else is doing it, so I might as well too. Not only is that the very reason why I jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge and smoked copious amounts of crack with hoodlums in my callow youth, but it is the reason why I have decided to give an overview of this year's NFL Draft. And like all activities spurred on by peer pressure, it will likely leave me in tears, my body broken and bleeding, like that time I sucked that werewolf's dick in a back alley for crack money before I was viciously assaulted by a gang of street urchins who then robbed me and left me naked and shuddering in the streets. I was then taken in by a kindly old Korean gentleman who nursed me back to health and freed me of my horrible addictions. Our relationship sadly ended when I tried to thank him by blowing him, and although he understood this was the only way I knew how to show positive emotion, he felt that it was time for me to be moving along. Yes, this post will be exactly like that.
I have no idea what just happened. I just started writing and then a bunch of weird bullshit came out and for that I apologize. I would go back and delete all that nonsense, but that would be inauthentic and would give things a polished sheen that, while much prettier, and much more coherent, would be nevertheless dishonest and how could you trust me again, kindly reader, once you realized that I was lying to you?
But that is all irrelevant, just mere noise screaming from somewhere deep inside my fucked up brain, and I don't blame you if you tune all that out. You're here to read about football, and more specifically what I think about football, and more specifically even than that, you're here to read about what I think about the Detroit Lions. Unfortunately for you, my own weird neuroses and strange ramblings are part of this package, and well, what the fuck, what are you gonna do, you know? Wait, don't answer that. I know exactly what you could do, and that's to just shrug and get the hell out of here before you are subjected to anymore of this weird bullshit. I'd kindly request that you not do so, but I won't beg. No, sir. You do what you have to do and I'll do what I have to. Deal? In the end, we can come to some sort of understanding, some middle ground where you can learn to live with my nonsense because you know, deep down, that underneath it all, I am a man of staggering genius and the words that I impart upon you are like the songs of an angel, too beautiful for this world and filled with a light and a truth which will leave you breathless and . . . aroused? No, that's not right. Uh . . .
Ahem. Enough of that nonsense. Jesus, I think I took things to a whole new level there. Anyway, I am just an idiot who likes to write about the Lions and sometimes I get out of control, and, well, these things happen and this is just the way it is. I guess I could ramble on some more in lieu of a real apology or explanation, but that would just lead us down yet another strange road that I would end up apologizing for and before long we would all be stuck in the middle of some strange maze, wondering how the hell we got there, and incapable of getting out. Oh shit, we're already there, aren't we? Well fuck, since there's nowhere for us to go, let's just sit down, relax and talk about some football, shall we? Okay.
I have already talked about how Lions fans and the universe at large celebrated en masse and seemed to undergo a radical personality shift following the first round of the draft. There was still hooting and hollering but they were hoots of joy, and for a change people hollered so that others might here the good news instead of the usual foul noise about failure and death. I was caught up in this wave of hysteria, the wave of Suh and Best and Schwartz and Mayhew, and even though I felt vaguely self conscious about it all, aware that I was going over the top a little bit, I couldn't help myself. Nor did I want to. You see, when you have been denied something - anything - for so long, when you finally get it, you cannot enjoy it responsibly. You are like a complete idiot, a water-brained fool, a starving man suddenly given a five course meal. You will eat and you will eat until you vomit and then you will eat some more, the whole time laughing and clapping and gibbering about your good fortune while others stare at you, both amused and horrified.
This is how Day One of the 2010 NFL Draft affected Lions fans. Ndamukong Suh was ours and although we had no idea how to behave, it didn't matter, because at the end of the day he was ours and no one could take that away from us. Of course, it wasn't long before we remembered that we were used to starving and after we had finished gorging, we sat back and that's when The Fear took hold. We began to remember what it was like to starve for those many years and we were terrified that we would go right back to starving once we pushed away from the table. It's a terrible feeling, but it's one which me must control.
The Fear is a toxic thing, a deadly thing. It will eat us up from the inside out and leave us just a husk, a shell of a fan too broken and hollowed out to really care when anything good does happen to us. We have to fight The Fear, rebel against it even as it tries to gnaw away at our hearts and minds. And the harder we fight it, the more vicious that son of a bitch will become.
But the good news is that I have already seen our fans make great headway against The Fear. That bastard is still in there, and he still jumps up and starts screaming at us every time we dare to be happy, but fuck him. This is the message that some of us have begun to impart, if only because we understand that The Fear will own us if we do not. A lot of our fans, though, are still beholden to The Fear, worshipping him in the dark because they do not understand the light, but even they have begun to at least acknowledge that the light exists, saying that although they are still afraid, they trust the ambassadors of the light now, men like Jim Schwartz and Martin Mayhew. This is a good thing, and it means that one by one, we will all be led out of the darkness and one day, hopefully soon, we can begin to understand the light.
The truth is, is that although I have rebelled against The Fear, I am still terrified of him, and I am still trapped in the dark along with everyone else. I will arrogantly say Fuck Him, but this is bravado, a fear of The Fear if you will, and this is not in itself the end goal. The end goal is the light, the end goal is victory, and unfortunately we will all be slaves to The Fear up until that very day when we see the light, when we win.
It's that stark. Win and people will believe. No matter what else you do, no matter how much people want to trust you, want to believe in you, winning is all you can do to make that happen. Great drafts are awesome. But without winning, it's all still dark. Victory is the light and light dominates the dark. Victory is the only thing that can slay The Fear. And there, in light and in victory, lies the true answer, the true road to salvation. Right now, all we have is hope. Hope is not salvation. Hope turns our eyes to the long road ahead. Hope lets us believe, lets us trust that there is a road out of the darkness and into the light. And we have begun to go down that road. But until that light hits us, and until we are embraced by victory, The Fear will always be chasing us, always be hunting us, and before the end of the road, he will take some of us. That's just the way it is.
But the good news is that we have gotten off to a great start down that road. And every time we have a draft like the one we just had, we start to put more and more distance between us and The Fear. Ndamukong Suh is our champion right now, the man who sits in his House of Spears and guards us from The Fear. Jahvid Best encourages us as he runs from The Fear, too fast and too elusive to catch. Together, they make us believe that we can escape.
But then we look around and we wonder where the hell are all the other Suhs, the other Bests? After all, there are seven rounds to the NFL Draft and surely we should get more soldiers to help us fight The Fear than just the few we were able to collect over the weekend. But this is The Fear whispering in our ears, confusing us, disorienting us, hoping that his voice will make us lose our way and begin marching backwards towards the heart of darkness and the stink of death that The Fear lords over.
But what some don't see is that we already planted soldiers in our ranks before this weekend ever got here. Rob Sims, Chris Houston, Tony Scheffler and Corey Williams are already here. This is how we spent our fifth and sixth round picks. Most teams, most fans, hope that they can get a couple of starters, one or two solid warriors out of a draft. We got 7 or 8. Those four are already starters in the NFL. Suh and Best join them. Amari Spievey, our third round pick, a cornerback out of Iowa, could potentially start as well. Jason Fox, an offensive tackle out of Miami that we nabbed in the fourth round, is an intriguing prospect who could be the long term answer at left tackle.
You see, The Fear is full of shit. This was a great draft, an amazing draft, when you look at how the Lions spent their available picks. They picked up four starters with third day picks. Many experts and fans think that the Lions had the best first day out of everyone, nabbing both Suh and Best. What many of them have failed to grasp is that the Lions also had the best third day. It's just that the Lions third day of the draft came long before the draft even started.
I will have an in-depth breakdown of each Lions pick in the coming weeks. In this post I just wanted to do a quick rundown and show how this past weekend affected the narrative as a whole. I think I have shown that it affected it in a good way - in a very good way - and hopefully The Fear doesn't seem quite so ominous at the moment.
Of course, The Fear will still be here tomorrow and the day after that and the week after that and the month after that and probably the year after that. It's a long road, the road that leads to the light, and we have just begun to travel down it, but we are tough people, noble people, and as I have said before, we are warriors of light and we will gnaw on the bones of the wicked and the foolish before it's all over. The Fear may be a terrifying bastard, but we are Lions fans, we can take it.
Friday, April 23, 2010
Last night, when the Lions drafted Ndamukong Suh, I was busy doing a Draft Diary for Heavy.com, so I didn't really get a chance to soak it all in. Sure, I was excited and I allowed myself a quick fist pump or two, but then after looking like a complete jackass, I went back to furiously writing jokes and hoping that I could make it to the next commercial break before I had to take a piss.
Now, though, I've been able to marinate and ruminate and masturb . . . wait, no, not that last one, about the monumental selection of Suh. Well, maybe I masturbated a little, but only for a second or two before they threw me out of the grocery store and you don't want to hear about that. All jokes aside, though, it's hard to put into words just how joyful Lions fans are over Suh's selection. There's no grumbling, no guarded pessimism, no people saying "Yeah, but . . ." and then bitching about the general manager or the coach or the team or whatever the hell they can think of in the moment.
No, there's none of that, and that's really the most amazing part of all of this. For the first time that I can remember, Lions fans as a whole are unabashedly optimistic, smiling and hi-fiving, looking towards the future with hope in their hearts and excitement in their eyes. It's a heady and intoxicating feeling and it's hard not to get all wrapped up in it and start spouting ridiculous gibberish about immediate success and saying and writing a bunch of embarrassing shit that I will be forced to explain later as the ravings of a besotted madman. Make no mistake, this wave won't crest forever and then some of the cold, harsh realities of, well, reality will crash down around us.
But that's tomorrow, and today's a good day, free of worry and filled with hope and light. I'm not going to go real in depth here about Suh and his fellow first rounder, Jahvid Best. I mean, after all, today is about wild and carefree hope, not clinical and cold analysis, and besides, I wrote 5,000 words last night about the draft so I deserve a Goddamn break, you know?
But you don't care about my troubles because you are all vicious and would suck the marrow out of my bones if it meant that you would get one second more of sustenance. Whoa. I'm sorry, that was unfair and I apologize. You are all wonderful people and I would gladly let you suck the marrow out of my bones. Wait, that sounded filthy. Never mind, let's just stop yammering on about bones and marrow before this takes an incredibly dark turn. There are visual images that none of us need to contemplate, and . . . oh shit, too late. I'm so sorry.
Okay, enough bone sucking. The reason we're here today and the reason we are so giddy and filled with hope and light and sunshine and rainbows and candy and blowjobs is because of that man whose father had the foresight to name him House of Spears. Yes, as I am sure you have all heard by now, Ndamukong means House of Spears in the native language of Cameroon(Camerooneese?). This is undeniably badass, and while I am sure that the day will come, and it will come quick, that we are all sick and tired of hearing this splendid little factoid, today is not that day. Today, we delight in the House of Spears.
It's hard to really put into words what Ndamukong Suh means to Lions fans. On the surface, this is just another high draft pick, one of many that the Lions have had over the years. And if you continue to look at that surface, you'll see that many of those draft picks failed spectacularly, as I mentioned in that grim piece of business I wrote a couple of days ago about the top five draft busts of the last twenty years.
But if you look below that surface, you'll see a player who was widely considered the best player in the draft, a defensive tackle who almost won the Heisman because he was so utterly dominant that he couldn't be ignored, a defensive tackle considered by many scouts to be a once in a lifetime prospect, a can't miss superbeast who eats the young of his enemies, picks his teeth with the bones of the fallen and drinks the blood of the wicked and the foolish.
And if you continue to dig below the surface, you'll see a general manager and a coach who have made countless moves that seem to keep them one step ahead of their contemporaries, moves that the artless halfwits who ran this team into the ground over the past several decades never would have had the foresight to make. You'll see a professional football team with a professional coaching staff and a professional group of personnel men. You'll see not only competence but excellence. It is almost disorienting, almost hard to fathom for most fans, and yet, there it is. It is probably because it seems so bizarre, so alien to everything that we have known as Lions fans that is taken us until this day for a lot of fans to get on board.
But today, it seems that just about everyone is onboard. It's not just our fans either. It's the national sports analysts too. It's guys like Chris Mortensen saying that the Lions are close to something magical. The fucking Lions! I know! There is a palpable sense that some sort of invisible barrier has fallen, that the Lions have finally - finally - crawled out of the desert of the damned after so many horrible years of vicious wandering, and have stood up and dusted themselves off. And standing by their side is a man known as House of Spears.
Whatever happens the rest of this offseason, whatever happens in this coming season, remember this day, because it's a great day. It's the day that we all picked are heads up and started to believe. It's the day that we all started moving forward. It's the day that we'll look back on ten years from now, twenty years from now, thirty years from now, and we'll laugh at the grainy looking footage and some idiot analysts will make fun of the outdated fashions and the shitty hairdos, but when it's all done, we'll sit back and we'll smile and we'll remember it as the day that we got our faith in our football team back.
Now that may all sound really, really corny, and I'm sure there are people - hell, friends of mine - scoffing and shaking their head, but fuck it, you know? Sometimes, you've just gotta take a deep breath and dive in. Well, I'm in. I'm all the way in. I might drown, but fuck it, as a football fan I've been drowning all my life anyway. This day has made me corny and I don't even care.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Yesterday's post, the one in which I celebrated the Lions top five draft steals of the last twenty years, was supposed to make us smile and celebrate the good in our football lives before trudging into the deepest, darkest places of hell, the sorts of places where the only sound is Hitler sobbing while he's getting reamed by a twelve foot tall demon with a two foot long dick, and the only smell is of feces, desperation and failure. That's what this post is all about. There's nothing like comparing your own post to Hitler crying while being Roethlisbergered in hell or to the smell of shit, but then again I am a Lions fan, and these things happen.
Of course, this would be much easier to take if yesterday's post actually filled us with smiles, sunshine and rainbows like it was supposed to, but instead, somehow, it managed to be depressing and terrible in its own unique way, reminding us that although we have had plenty of bad in our lives, we have had very little good to balance it out. As much as this post will go a long way in explaining why things have been so terrible for so long for the Lions, yesterday's post explains it even better. In order to survive in the NFL, you not only have to have elite talent, you also need to get lucky from time to time. You need to be able to identify talent that no one else sees. You need a dude to come out of nowhere and run wild on the football field like Bigfoot on meth. But the Lions have not been lucky. Not even close. Part of it is that the word luck doesn't really tell the tale. It's not luck. It takes a lot of hard work and skill to pick out the diamonds in the rough. The people in charge of doing this have apparently been blind and have no sense of touch because they have continually picked up pieces of coal and then watched them crumble into dust. Hopefully, this will change.
But this post isn't about that. No, this post is about the glaring, naked failure that can't be hidden, that can't be explained away as bad luck. This post is about wrestling with the devil. This post is about failure so immense and so terrible that it almost defies explanation. This post, taken in context with yesterday's post is the backbone for everything we have seen gone on in the past two decades as Lions fans. This post explains it all, explains the pain, explains the suffering. This post is naked and harsh. This post is the Detroit Lions, or at least the Detroit Lions of our past. And these are the Top Five Draft Busts of those Detroit Lions from the last twenty years.
5. Aaron Gibson, 1st Round - 27th Pick Overall - 1999, Stocker McDougle, 1 - 20 - 2000
I'm cheating a little here, but what the hell, you know? I'm doing this for a couple of reasons. One, there is just too much terrible to ignore, and two, because Gibson and McDougle are basically the same person in my mind.
Now, perhaps that's not fair. I mean, obviously they are different players, but for our purposes, they are representative of the same thing, which is of the Detroit Lions utter failure to find a franchise left tackle. Furthermore, both Gibson and McDougle were giant fat dudes who were expected to blot out the sun and anything else that threatened the Lions quarterback. Unfortunately, it turns out they were just a couple of fat guys who the sun and everything else passed right on by.
Both Gibson and McDougle were taken in those dying days when both the team and the fans clung desperately to the illusion that the Lions could be winners. There was a window that existed once upon a time in which we could all see a new world, a better world, and by the time Gibson and McDougle were taken that window had closed. The only problem was that we could still pretend that it was open, and we could still remember what that image looked like. Hell, we could almost remember what it felt like.
And that makes a man desperate, that memory of what could have been. And it was with that desperation that the Lions took both Gibson and McDougle, hoping against hope that both could finally shore up what long had been considered the Lions fatal flaw, the offensive line. But they were just shots in the dark, just desperate lunges, trying to grasp that elusive lost world that never was.
Gibson lasted less than a year and a half in Detroit before he was cut adrift, left to spend his days on reality shows about the grotesquely obese and selling himself to traveling circuses as the world's fattest football player. He was an epic disappointment, a dominant force in college who simply ate his way out of football.
McDougle lasted a little longer, spending five years with the Lions, serving as a full time starter at right tackle for two of them, but the bloom was off of McDougle's rose before his rookie year was even finished. He came into the league as a left tackle and ended up on the right side because it was soon apparent that he wasn't good enough to play left tackle. Sure, he started for a couple of seasons, but they were seasons that came in the midst of the Lions decade of hell. There simply weren't any other options. The Lions were the only team that McDougle could have started for and when they cut him lose, he never started another game in the NFL again and was out of the league entirely within two seasons.
4. Mike Williams - 1 - 10 - 2005
Oh Lord, here we go. It is a testament to the absolute horrors we have had to face as Lions fans that an epic bust like Mike Williams only checks in at number four on this abominable list. He is part of an unholy trio of busts made by Matt Millen, and somehow, someway, he is the least offensive of all of them. Of course, saying that there is only a trio of busts is entirely too kind to Millen. I mean, an argument could be made that all of his picks were busts, but this post is about the worst of the worst. These aren't just dudes who didn't pan out, these are the dudes who give us that sharp pain in our insides when we think about them, the dudes who make our faces scrunch up whenever anyone mentions their names, terrible names, the names that launched a thousand torturous jokes. They are the Helen of Troy of draft busts.
Like I said, somehow, Mike Williams is the least offensive of these three miserable horsemen of the apocalypse(There was a fourth, but his horse was beaten to death in a heroic stand by Ernie Sims' monkey. But that is another story for another day.) A stud wide receiver at USC, Williams appeared unstoppable at times. I remember watching him dominate Michigan in the Rose Bowl, catching everything that was thrown his way, including a sick, one handed catch for a touchdown. This dude was the real deal. Huge, fast, great hands. He would be a sure star.
But then Maurice Clarett pitched his fit and managed to briefly get the NFL to waive its rules regarding who was eligible for the draft. Up until that point, a player had to be three years removed from high school in order to be eligible for the draft. Sound familiar? That's because it's exactly the same today. But for a brief moment in time prior to the 2004 draft, those rules were thrown out and in the confusion, Mike Williams jumped with Clarett through that open window and declared himself eligible for the draft even though he was only a sophomore. Then, a funny thing happened. That window closed and the NFL told Williams he had to go back to school. Unfortunately for Williams, the NCAA told him that since he had hired an agent he had to get his ass off of campus. That left him in limbo. It was incredibly unfair, and yet, it was his unfortunate reality.
Fast forward to the 2005 Draft. Now, Williams was eligible for the draft and the image of him dominating at USC was still in everyone's mind. The only problem, though, was that people were starting to worry about what the one year layoff did to him. I mean, he was still young and he was still in his developmental years. In retrospect, that should have been a huge red flag, instead of the tiny pink one that went up at the time.
In addition, scouts began to whisper that Williams had simply outgrown the wide receiver position and might be better off as a tight end. You know, when scouts start to complain that you might be too fat to play your natural position, that should probably be another huge red flag. Still, somehow, Williams managed to be considered a top prospect coming into the draft, and when he fell to the Lions with the tenth pick overall, it seemed a lucky accident, a quirk of fate. After all, the only reason the Lions were even able to end up with him was because of the one year layoff. Surely, he was a better prospect than that.
Yeah, about that. Williams showed up to camp and right away Matt Millen and the coaches began to harp on him about his weight. He was too fat, too slow, and they just beat the living shit out of the dude in the press. It was awful. Of course, even though they kinda acted like assholes about it and ruined the dude's confidence, they weren't entirely wrong. Williams was too fat and too slow.
Williams wasn't all that great as a rookie, but a lot of that was chalked up to his year long layoff. He did just enough, catching 29 passes for 350 yards, that people were still fairly optimistic about him. And then everything went to hell. The Lions continued to bitch about his conditioning, Williams wouldn't respond and he found himself in the doghouse. His second year he went out and only caught 8 passes. And that was it for him as a Detroit Lion.
Since then, Williams has bounced around, a football vagabond, and just a few weeks ago, I made a joke about him offering to suck Pete Carroll's dick for a job. That's how low he has fallen. Of course, a couple of days later, it found out that he was given a job. With the Seahawks. By Pete Carroll. And that wraps up the weird and tragic saga of Mike Williams.
3. Charles Rogers - 1 - 2 - 2003
Oh man, oh man, oh man. Again, the fact that Charles Rogers is not number one on this list is absolutely staggering. I mean, at one point this dude was considered a can't miss star. Today, he's most likely to be found in a halfway house or a dumpster.
Rogers was a superstar at Michigan State, but even there it was fairly well know that Rogers, uh, liked to smoke weed from time to time. Still, that didn't deter the Lions, who took Rogers with the second overall pick, back in those days when the Millen era was still young and we were all still cautiously optimistic and much, much more innocent.
Rogers actually looked like he would be pretty good as a rookie, catching 22 passes in his first five games before, uh oh, breaking his collar bone. If this post had a soundtrack, now is where that dun dun DUN music would play. It sucked, but we still believed in hope and we knew that Rogers would be back. He did come back, and somehow, he ended up breaking his collar bone again. And then all the bullshit came out about the weed, and then the drug suspensions happened and then I started making jokes about him having a hollowed out collar bone to store his weed in, and that was it for Charles Rogers as a viable NFL player.
Rogers only lasted three seasons with the Lions, and never played a down with another team. And in those three seasons, he only played fifteen games and only caught 36 passes. Charles Rogers was, as they say, an epic, epic bust. I will say no more because really, so much has already been said. His story is sad and ridiculous. Of course he was a Detroit Lion.
2. Joey Harrington - 1 - 3 - 2002
Oh Joey, you piano playing, smilin' son of a bitch. It might seem somewhat odd to rank Harrington over both Mike Williams and Charles Rogers. I mean, after all, he technically had a far better career than either one of them. But, the thing is, is that there is no one player who is more synonymous with the horrid Matt Millen era than Joey Harrington. There just isn't. Seriously, close your eyes and think of Matt Millen. I'm sorry to do that to you, but isn't one of the first things you see the face of Joey Harrington? Yeah.
And that's the thing about Joey. That poor son of a bitch will forever be the face of the single worst era in pro football history. That is a staggering statement to make, but it's true. The dude was the signature pick of the Matt Millen era, the player who the entire team was going to be built around, the franchise. Well, the franchise disintegrated. And with it went the reputation of one John Joseph Harrington.
Now, that's not really his fault. Harrington found himself caught up in an unseemly situation much bigger than himself. And yet, that's the reality that he has to face, the reality that we all have to face. He was a mediocre quarterback who we all needed to be extraordinary. That light from the Barry Sanders era had died, that window of opportunity that I talked about earlier had closed and we were all still desperate for someone to open that window back up, for someone to somehow capture that flame, that flicker of light which left when Barry did. Joey was not that man. That is almost an absurd understatement. For what we needed him to be, Joey Harrington was as colossal a failure as any other quarterback bust in this league. That's an entirely unfair statement to make, mean and cruel. It's not really his fault. It's ours for putting all that on him. And yet, that is the reality of the situation. It is what it is, and that's why Joey Harrington is number two on this list.
1. Andre Ware - 1 - 7 - 1990
And here is why Harrington isn't number one. Andre Ware. Heisman trophy winner. The last piece in the puzzle. The last piece we needed to go through that window of opportunity, the last piece that would turn us from a pretender into an ass kicking leviathan of a contender.
Here are Andre Ware's career stats: 14 games and 6 starts over 4 seasons, 83-161, 1112 yards, 5 TD, 8 INT, and a QB Rating of 63.5. That's it. That's all the dude did for his entire career.
His best season? 50 of 86 for 677 yards, 3 TD, 4 INT and a QB Rating of 75.6. Ladies and gentleman, the missing ingredient for the Detroit Lions during the Barry Sanders era.
And really, that's what this is all about. During the entirety of Barry Sanders' stay in Detroit, during that time when the winds of hope still blew strong, when everyone thought we had a legitimate chance to be a great football team, the one big thing that we were always missing, the one big thing that never let us get over that hump was a decent quarterback. Not even a franchise quarterback, but a decent quarterback, someone who could make us feel secure and comfortable with the game on the line, someone who wouldn't fuck up when we needed him to be steady. We didn't need someone to win football games for us. I mean, we already had Barry. We just needed someone who wouldn't lose them for us.
The thing about Andre Ware, is that he was supposed to be that guy. He was supposed to be more than that guy. He was supposed to be the answer for when people took away Barry. And Barry would be the answer when they took away Andre. Together they would be unstoppable. But Andre Ware never even made it to competent. Andre Ware never made it past the point of developmental project. His failure left a gigantic hole in the Lions puzzle that they were never able to fill. It's as simple as that. If Andre Ware works out, we all remember the last couple of decades a lot differently. But he didn't work out, not even close, and the result was that Shakespearean tragedy known as the Barry Sanders era, and then the holocaust known as the Matt Millen era.
It's incredibly unfair and hyperbolic to say, but what the hell, I will say it anyway: Andre Ware's failure was the trigger for all of that, the initial domino that led to all the other dominoes of failure falling, the domino that led to 0-16. Like I said, that is a ridiculous statement to make. It's incredibly simplistic and it's incredibly hyperbolic. And yet, I can still make it. I don't even entirely agree with it, and yet it's still there and it has to be at least considered. That is an absolute testament to the enormity of Ware's failure, and it's the reason why he is the number one choice on this terrible, terrible list.
Ugh. Jesus. I feel like I need a shower and a hug. Jesus.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Okay, friendos, as promised, I have shamelessly stolen our very own Kevin's idea of coming up with the Top 5 Lions Draft Busts and the Top 5 Lions Draft Steals. I will start with the steals because I am an optimist and it's important to revel in the good every once in a while before diving into the muck of the bad, which I will do tomorrow. The memory of the good can sustain us while writhing around in the sewers, trying to avoid all the rats and shit dragons. The bad news here, unfortunately, is that in attempting to come up with some good stuff to revel in, I discovered what amounts to a piece of week old bread and a glass of dirty water. Those weren't exactly the memories I was looking for to sustain me for my trek through the marshes of the wicked, but what the hell, I am a Lions fan and I am used to disappointment.
And really, I knew that coming into this. I knew that the busts list would grossly outnumber the steals list. I may be an optimist but I am not an idiot, you know? I just wasn't prepared for it to be this lopsided is all. Seriously, this is kind of depressing. In a way, this list makes me even sadder than the busts list. I'm not even joking. The fact that these were the best dudes I could come up with makes me want to wander into the woods down by the sand dunes and wait for the spirits of the Pottawatomie Indians to come drag me back through time into a place where none of this nonsense had yet to take place. Oh, the horror of it all. Anyway, enough weirdness, let's just get on with this asinine list. Oh, I should also probably mention that this is only going to cover the past 20 years because - well, why not? Sure, it's arbitrary, but so is life.
5. Willie Green - WR - 8th Round - 194 Overall - 1990
Yeah. That's how bad this shit is. I told you, didn't I? Anyway, Green was an 8th round pick. For perspective purposes, the 8th round doesn't even exist anymore, so if this happened today, Green would be the equivalent of an undrafted free agent. And for what amounts to a dude basically pulled in off the street, Green had himself a nice little career.
Of course, only the first three seasons of that career were spent with the Lions, but fuck it, pickings are slim here. Green actually was a starting wide receiver as a rookie and caught 39 passes for 592 yards and 7 TD's in that magical 1991 season that saw the Lions advance to the NFC Title Game. Not a bad start. Not great, but come on, the dude was an 8th round draft pick. I am guessing that the majority of 8th round draft picks in NFL history either ended up as garbage men or fighting in death matches in Thailand in between bouts of drunken whoring. So, in those terms, Green had a pretty damn successful rookie season. He remained a starter for most of the 1992 season, and his numbers were close to the same as the 1991 season. He then hit the bench for the majority of the 1993 season, saw his numbers drop a bit and that was it for him as a Detroit Lion.
Green later found new life with the expansion Carolina Panthers, where he put up the best numbers of his career, but that is irrelevant to our interests. I only bring it up to illustrate the fact that for an 8th rounder, Willie Green had a pretty damn good career. Unfortunately for us, that still shouldn't qualify him as a steal. But this is what the vagaries of fate have left for us on our doorstep and all we can do is nurture this sad little bastard child and call it our own. Well, I suppose we could flush it down the toilet, but we are above such nonsense, and besides, we are clearly barren and beggars can't be choosers, you know?
4. Tony Semple - 5 - 154 - 1994
Oh for fuck's sake . . . look, I made this stupid list and even I just recoiled upon reading that. And I knew it was coming! I can't imagine the disgust you must feeling right now. But really, yes, Tony Semple makes this list. Isn't that just abominable?
Anyway, Semple played eight years for the Lions, and was an occasional starter at left guard for them. Over the last four years of his career, he was basically the de facto starting left guard, the best blob of shit we could find to man the position haunted by Erik Andolsek's ghost.
Tony Semple is the embodiment of the left guard position for the Lions. Everything you need to know about that position is explained by his career. Tony Semple wasn't a good football player. But he lasted EIGHT YEARS with the Lions because they didn't have anyone else. Good Lord. Let's just move on before I start to howl like Sloth from Goonies or Chewbacca and have to be restrained.
3. Willie Clay - 8 - 221 - 1992
Clay, like the other Willie, the wide receiver Green, was an 8th round pick. And like Green, he had a nice little career. And furthering the uncanny similarity with his namesake, Clay only lasted a few years in Detroit before getting the fuck out of town.
Clay managed to start at strong safety for the Lions in both the 1994 and the 1995 seasons, and he was a pretty decent player. In fact, in 1995, Clay picked off 8 passes and led the league in interception return yardage, for whatever the hell that irrelevant little stat is worth.
Willie Clay didn't have a great career with the Lions, but what the hell, it was good enough, and certainly good enough to solidly make this list. We could have done with a lot more Willie Clays in our life and a lot less of the dudes who will be on tomorrow's list. That's just about all there is to say here. By the way, I literally just shrugged.
2. Cory Schlesinger - 6 - 192 - 1995
Hey! Cory Schlesinger! It's no surprise that Schlesinger made this list. After all, he kinda seems like the personification of this sort of thing, right? A player long on guts and heart and David Eckstein Scrappy-Doo White Man grit, and short on natural talent, Schlesinger is the epitome of that player who everyone loves a little too much. He's the dude that every redneck father wants their son to grow up to be. He's the picture of an old school football player, that Middle-American everyman who can keep the evils of the secular hippie world at bay. He's the love child of Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry, a man borne of spit, hard work and gumption, raised up out of the primordial ooze of the American spirit, shaped by the hot sun in a mid-western cornfield and let loose onto the world like Clark Kent marching proudly out of Smallville. To a lot of people, someone like Cory Schlesinger is America. I don't want to get into a political and cultural pissing match, and so I'll just leave it at that, and all I'll say is it's no surprise then that Schlesinger was much beloved while he was with the Lions.
And all that is not to say that he was a bad player. Not by any means. Schlesinger was a classic fullback, a hit you in the mouth ass whipper who was among the better fullbacks in the league for a long time. Unlike a lot of our heroes, Schlesinger wasn't cowed or broken by Lions Disease, and he didn't flee for greener pastures. Instead, he stood and he fought the good fight until his body betrayed him, and he retired, a dozen years after he was drafted in the 6th round, having never taken a snap for a team other than the Detroit Lions. So, yeah, he makes the list.
1. Stephen Boyd - 5 - 141 - 1995
It would appear that the 1995 Draft was pretty damn good for the Lions. In addition to Schlesinger and first round pick Luther Elliss, the Lions picked up Stephen Boyd in the fifth round. Boyd was never supposed to be anything more than a hard working body to throw into the mix, a player similar to Schlesinger in both the good ways and in the annoying cultural ways.
Boyd was undersized and undertalented, but he was smart and he was willing to smack someone in the mouth. Aside from that, he wore that grit label that makes sportswriters pant and sweat, and so, like Schlesinger, he was destined to be a fan favorite from the moment it became apparent that he was more than just another body, more than just grist for the mill.
But Boyd deserved a lot of that praise. When Chris Spielman made his goodbyes, he left a gigantic hole in the middle of the football field. Somehow, someway, Boyd filled that hole admirably, fighting hard in the dying light of the Barry Sanders era, keeping the Lions from falling into the abyss which was calling their name from the moment Barry tearfully fled town. Boyd stood on the brink of chaos, on the edge of utter collapse and he kept fighting. He stood as a beacon of light in a world that was fading, someone who we could all rally around in our time of great need. He would fall before too long and the darkness would rush in, overwhelm everything, and leave us gasping for whatever little air was left in this choked out, ugly mess of a world, but while he stood and while he fought, he was noble and he was proud, and he didn't let the dark fate that hung like an inevitable cloud deter him from being a champion in his heart and a final proud knight in a kingdom that was no more.
Boyd was a hell of a player, a Pro Bowl selection who took up the standard of Spielman and rode hard into the heart of darkness and for that, he'll always have the admiration and respect of Lions fans everywhere. Injuries finally dropped him, shy of his 30th birthday, and when he fell, so did the Lions. Boyd is an important player in our history. I have come to realize that, and I'm not sure if many other people really get that. He was the last guard before the gates of hell, the last one separating us from the doom that lay before us. Not bad for a fifth round draft pick. And that's why he's number one on this list.
Monday, April 19, 2010
I wanted to sit down and write a nice little thing about the upcoming draft but then the Lions went ahead and overthrew The Lizard King, Cinnabon Sims in a vicious coup and left me stunned and confused. To be fair, my stunned confusion has nothing to with football - Sims was a tremendously talented player, but he was a human missile who didn't fit what the Lions wanted to do on defense - but rather because I have devoted so much time to rhapsodizing about Sims' animal kingdom, his warrior lizard foot soldiers, his fleet of sleek fighter birds and, of course, his general, the noble and oft mentioned monkey. What the hell am I supposed to do now, huh? No one ever thinks about that, the innocent victims of the bloodbath. Sure, Tony Scheffler might be a more competent administrator but that dude probably doesn't even speak Monkey. I thought we were moving forward as a society, but no, I guess not. I guess not.
I will probably write something else about Sims later. Then again, I might not. I don't know. Hell, how much is there really to say? Sims was - and still is, I suppose - a freakishly talented natural athlete who was rated as the number one recruit in the entire nation coming out of high school. But, to be honest with you, he wasn't all that great a football player. He was good at running around like a freak and smacking into people. Not a bad quality to have, but as soon as a team asked him to - Gasp!- read a play and react accordingly, or to stick to his own assignment, shit didn't go so well. The sad reality is that the Lions are better off without him. Beyond that, I could write a billion words of utter gibberish about Sims, his monkey, his lizards, etc., but they would all be written with tears in my eyes and sorrow in my heart and I have enough of that as a Lions fan. Instead, I will choose to believe that his kingdom will still exist, even while its king is gone, and on quiet nights, I will open my window and I will listen - perhaps in vain, but I will listen - for the voice of his sweet, beautiful monkey. Because, friends, it is important to remain hopeful against even the most terrible of odds. After all, isn't that what being a Lions fan is really all about? And so, I suppose the last thing to say is this: Vaya con dios, Lizard King. Vaya con dios.
Okay, now we can move on to all this draft nonsense. Of course, much of what I wanted to say about the draft in the larger sense, in the leaguewide sense, was summed up nicely by my boy Harpo in his mock draft posted below this. Stunningly accurate, I imagine. But still, I should probably offer a few words about the Lions and their prospective draft picks, because that would be the responsible thing to do and I am, above all, a responsible man who loves you deeply.
The thing is - and this is what Harpo pointed out very nicely - is that none of us have a fucking clue what is going to happen. We like to think we do, and to some extent we have a rough outline of how things will go, but that is only because we have been able to piece together sketchy information from the teams themselves, and that sketchy information is made all the more sketchy because often, in the days leading up to the draft, that information is, frankly, full of shit. The sad fact is that we are all on the outside looking in and our assumptions mean somewhere between jack and shit. Player A might make Mel Kiper play the ol' slide trombone but he may leave Martin Mayhew, Jim Schwartz and co. flaccid. Unfortunately, too many fans see Mel Kiper furiously working that trombone, sweat on his face, lust in his eyes, a dull moan escaping his lips, and they reach for their own, uh, instruments. Somewhere in all of this, Todd McShay sits on a rubber trombone and goes wild, but that is too disturbing and I won't elaborate any further on that disgusting point.
The real point - if there is one in all that weird and depraved gibberish - is that we don't know a damn thing, and just because the so called experts have a player rated highly on the draft board, it doesn't mean that this translates at all to what our own team is thinking. Hell, I remember last year, chatting with a bunch of friends, and laughing at each other's picks because they seemed so outrageous. They just spit right in the face of that sad old prick known as conventional wisdom. I remember taunting Harpo when his Raiders took Darius Heyward-Bay and I remember everyone laughing at me when the Lions took Brandon Pettigrew even though Michael Oher and Rey Maualuga were still available. And then again when the Lions selected Louis Delmas over Maualuga and James Laurinaitis. Most shamefully of all, I had to be given a pep talk by my boy Adrian when the Lions drafted Matthew Stafford over Aaron Curry. It was sad. I got caught up in all the pre-draft hype and after it was over, I felt like an ass. Also, like an idiot, but that is a common occurrence. Then again, so is feeling like an ass, but never you mind that. The point is, is that I didn't know a Goddamned thing even though I follow this shit like it somehow holds the keys to the kingdom of heaven. It's absurd.
It's natural, I suppose, to get caught up in it all when everyone around you is screaming their own opinions about what your team should do. The trick is, is to recognize the fact that most of those opinions aren't original in the least and are merely the parroted opinions of people like Kiper and McShay. And if you realize that, you'll realize how ridiculous this whole thing really is. I mean, would you listen to Mel Kiper about anything? Everyone shits all over the dude and then, come this time of year every year, everyone starts heeding his words like he's the fucking pope urging us to retake Jerusalem. "WE MUST TAKE NDAMUKONG SUH BECAUSE GOD WILLS IT." It's ridiculous.
It only gets worse in the couple of weeks leading up to the draft. Then everyone gets really stupid. It's absolutely ridiculous. Everyone starts hollering at one another, screaming back and forth about why Player A is going to be a bust and about how Player B's sprained pinky in the fourth grade means he is an injury risk and about how Player C failed to lift a car over his head during the combine or about how Player D didn't do well enough on his Iowa Test in elementary school. It's ridiculous. Pretty soon, everyone is all in a lather, just spouting gibberish that they don't even necessarily believe just to back up a prediction that they made a couple of months before. Now you've got guys calling each other a dumb asshole and slandering everyone who doesn't like the correct 22 year old. People start throwing up desperate solutions to made up problems. "Well, if we can only get back the Washington Monument and a football helmet filled with cottage cheese, maybe we can absorb Haynesworth's contract, and . . ." I mean, it just goes on and on and on.
Of course, then the draft actually happens and everyone swings into warring camps, clashing over made up letter grades and whether or not their team did the right thing. It's horrible, just horrible, and everyone will do it. They will. Just watch. Hell, I will too. I guarantee it. You pretty much have to. To not do it would be incredibly unnatural and would cause everyone to view you with queer suspicion. You have to care. It's required by football fan law, and so, ridiculous as it all is, when the smoke of this madness finally clears, and we start to sift through the wreckage, try not judge me to harshly when I am ranting and raving about the relative merits of the Lions third 7th round pick. Just know that I will be whipping my own ass enough for all of us. And by whipping my own ass, I mean metaphorically. Of course. I mean, I would never literally whip my own ass. That would just be too damn weird. Ahem.
Okay. Jesus! I have rambled on a lot already and I haven't even gotten to the Lions prospective picks, and so I will try to keep this short. I'm just going to focus on the Lions first pick, because to do anything more than that would probably make me swallow my own tongue and then you'd turn on the news tonight and see a story about a disgruntled Lions fan marching down the street, naked, playing a snare drum and wearing an Uncle Sam hat, a diaper being the only thing between his shame and the world, and no one needs to see that, do they? No.
The conventional wisdom, such as it is, has the Rams taking Sam Bradford, the quarterback from Oklahoma, with the number one overall pick. That is good news for us, because those damn experts have labeled Suh as a can't miss prospect, a once in a lifetime beast who you pretty much can't pass on. Of course, they still are expecting the Rams to pass on him, so go figure, right? And, of course, this glowing praise hasn't stopped fans everywhere from picking apart Suh, claiming worry about knee problems from his past, and even bitching about his technique and about how his weight is distributed.
All I know is that I watched this dude play a few times in college and when I did he was an absolute machine. The most famous of these games was the Big 12 Championship game. Nebraska sucked. They had no real offense, and they had no business even being in that game with Texas, but they almost won the damn thing because Suh went crazy and single handedly put his team on his back and destroyed everyone wearing burnt orange. It was an amazing performance, one of those once in a lifetime deals(there's that phrase again . . .)that you can never forget. To hell with your bullshit about weight distribution and technique. I want that dude on my football team. It's that simple for me.
Of course, it seems that the Rams and the Bradford camp are refusing to do the traditional thing, which is to hammer out a contract before the draft, meaning there is always the chance the Rams steal Suh and leave us scrambling. That, uh, that would suck. Fortunately, I have a lot of faith in Mayhew and Schwartz and I assume they have a backup plan, or, really, several backup plans. That, of course, is all predicated on the wild assumption that Suh is their plan anyway. You see how we don't know shit?
So what are some other possible plans? Well, let's see, shall we?
McCoy, a defensive tackle out of Oklahoma, has been linked at the hip with Suh for a long time. They both play defensive tackle in the Big 12 and for the last year or so, they have been vying to be the top prospect in this year's draft. Unfortunately for McCoy, Suh's performance on national television made him the Robin to Suh's Batman, at least in the public's eye. The reality is that this probably isn't fair. I mean, there's a reason why McCoy has kept pace with Suh all this time and it's because he's a damn good football player. While Suh has been compared to a young Albert Haynesworth, McCoy has been most often compared to Warren Sapp. Not exactly a bad thing, you know? I feel kind of bad for McCoy. Just about any fanbase that winds up with him is going to wish they had Suh instead. It's not fair, but such is life I guess.
For me, personally, while I think that McCoy is indeed a fine prospect, Suh just seems to be that rare talent that you can't pass up. I know this is me falling into that WELL I SAW HIM A COUPLE OF TIMES AND I LIKED HIM SO NOW I WANT TO MARRY HIM AND LIVE HAPPILY EVER AFTER camp that gets so absurd this time of year, but what the hell, I am but a lowly human and these things happen.
But more than that, I think that Suh fits what the Lions are looking for better than McCoy. McCoy would be the dude if Rod Marinelli was still hanging around, fouling up the place. He's perfect as that attacking Sapp type defensive tackle who can put pressure on the QB, which is critical in Marinelli's beloved Tampa 2. But we're not talking about Marinelli(THANK GOD), and just as McCoy fits with that sort of scheme, Suh seems to fit with what Jim Schwartz and company like to do. After all, Albert Haynesworth excelled in Schwartz' defense, and again, Suh has been called a young Albert Haynesworth, so . . . yeah, you do the math, Stephen Hawking.
Then there is the fact that McCoy's relatively unimpressive display of bench press prowess at the combine had people acting like he would be slapped around and then beaten into submission by the dude who played McLovin. Which is important because of all those pesky bench press competitions during games. That's really where we need to improve as a team. Last year, we lost almost every bench press competition. It was embarrassing watching Grady Jackson try to bench his own body weight and failing at the fifty yard line, thus costing us the game. Oh, wait, shit . . . you mean that never happened? Well, then.
McCoy has never had a problem with his strength on the field so I view that as just a bunch of dumb noise swirling around in a thunderdome filled with dumb noise right now. It is loud and it is terrible and it is painful. There is also a report, which came out today, that says that McCoy tested positive for marijuana, but then again, I assume that all the players could test positive for marijuana, so who cares? Unless he turns out to be Charles Rogers and is all HEY HEY SMOKE WEED EVERYDAY and declaring that shit a sacrament, I think he'll be alright. If anything, it just makes the Warren Sapp comparison all the more eerie.
This would make me cry. Everyone hates Jeff Backus, but the Lions don't and the scouts don't. Do the Lions need a replacement for Backus? Yes, eventually. I don't think he's as good as those people want to make us believe he us. He still gives us up too many sacks and he's not nearly athletic enough to be anything more than adequate. But, I also don't think he's as bad as everyone else thinks either. He's never had a left guard who's been even remotely competent playing next to him and, with his lack of athleticism, he has had to try to play both positions, holding down the entire left side. Of course he has failed. Great players would struggle given that situation. And Backus is not a great player. But I think he can be an adequate player, and for now, given all the Lions other needs, adequate is good enough.
Meanwhile, Okung is the top rated left tackle prospect in the draft, but he is by no means a sure thing. I don't think it would make sense for the Lions to draft him at number two with Suh or McCoy still on the board and with both Backus and Gosder Cherilus set as the starting offensive tackles. Again, eventually, those positions do have to get better, but not here and not with Okung. The financial commitment doesn't really make sense, and like I said, there are questions about Okung. Okung is a pure pass blocking specialist at this point, someone with a lot of upside and a great frame who played in a spread passing offense at Oklahoma State. Meanwhile, the Lions like to focus on a power run game. So, yeah, not exactly the best fit. I think the Lions are looking for a better version of Backus, a great run blocker first, and a decent pass blocker second. Okung just isn't that guy. Of course, I am just talking out of my ass here and making wild assumptions based on other wild assumptions, and . . . Jesus, I am doing exactly what I bitched about everyone else doing. I apologize.
The Lions could also trade the second pick, which probably wouldn't be horrible. If they could end up with a Joe Haden at cornerback and an extra first day pick, that would be rad, but still, I really, really want Suh. I'm just not so sure that the Lions feel the same way. But that's just the thing. I don't have a fucking clue how the Lions feel and neither does anybody else. They will do what they will do and we will all scramble afterwards to make sense out of it, just like we always do. Often times, the plan isn't apparent until it starts to come together. It was that way last year and a lot of us were caught of guard. I like to think that I adjusted pretty damn quickly to it and started seeing things with the eyes of the new plan, but that's just the thing. I'm still seeing things with those eyes, going off of the assumptions and beliefs which make sense in the context of the plan revealed last year. But the dudes in charge, the dudes actually making the decisions, are already on to the next phase of the plan, and with that comes a whole new set of assumptions and beliefs. The only thing any of us can do is keep up and hope that we don't make too big an ass out of ourselves in the process.
So, there it is, my big treatise on this year's edition of the NFL Draft. Like the draft, it is long and maddening, at times useless and vaguely obscene, but what the hell, you know? This time of the year makes fools and madmen of us all and who am I to be any different? I will look back on this post with derision and regret. Hell, I already do, but it needed to be done and although it may demean me as a person, it shows that I will do the ugly things that make you people happy. As always, this is because I love you.
I might pump out a couple of more draft related things before the fateful day. Something like a Top 5 Busts of the last 20 years or the Top 5 steals, which is appropriate because I am shamelessly stealing this idea from Kevin, our Falcons contributor. But these are strange and terrible times, and in the madness of these days, we must do what we can to survive and so, I'm sorry for the blatant theft, but what can you do, you know? I'll be back tomorrow, and I'll try not to be so rambly, but you know by now that is just a terrible lie. Oh well.
Friday, April 16, 2010
Okay. On to part two of the best of the best in the Detroit Lions in The Age of Neil. The first part was trying indeed and left a lot of us sad and bewildered, but we are warriors of light and pure of spirit and thus we will continue to brave the harsh realities laid out before us. Unfortunately, part two will focus on the defense and if you thought I had to reach for some dudes in part one(No, not reach for some dudes in that way. Well, maybe . . . wait, what?), you haven't seen anything yet.(I refuse to submit to the will of those degenerates in Bachman Turner Overdrive with their colloquial Ain't Seen Nuthin' Yet bullshit. This is America, damn it, and it's important to have standards.)
Anyway, yeah, the defense. GOOD LORD. I knew there would be, uh . . . let's call them issues here, but there are a couple of positions where I am simply dumbfounded, and it makes me wonder how the Lions even managed to survive these many years if some of these dudes can truly be called the best of the best. And then I remember that they haven't really survived and it all starts to make sense and then I sit and weep for a while, wail and tear at my clothes and punch holes in the wall and then the lady at the bookstore asks me to please leave because I am making a scene. Ahem. This is not as fun as it should have been. I should not be surprised, but what the hell, I am an optimist, and sometimes part of being an optimist is experiencing the unique pain of great disappointment and so I shouldn't complain. Then again, I am a blogger which is 21st Century English for complainer, so fuck it, I'm so confused. But you don't want to hear about my weird neuroses or about the crude noose I have fashioned out of old neckties. No, you just want to hear some gibberish about football, and so, nice guy that I am, I will indulge you.
LEFT DEFENSIVE END: ROBERT PORCHER
I thought about just including two defensive ends regardless of the left and right designation, but that would be unseemly and unnatural and would possibly lead to an armed insurrection in hell and by year's end we would all be ruled over by Zombie Hitler and a gang of Nazi cannibals. Horrible, just awful. No, I'm not entirely sure how all of that follows either, but just to be safe, we'll be smart and break it down into left and right ends anyway. This is because I am a defender of mankind, and quite frankly, you're welcome.
Okay, anyway, Porcher is a no-brainer pick here(the no-brainer part is especially good because of the potential for Zombie Nazis . . .). Really, aside from one or two other players, no one else was as obvious a pick as Porcher is at his position. He is the Lions all-time sack leader with 95.5, a three time Pro Bowl selection(I have decided that Pro Bowler sounds wrong as it gives the impression that he gave up football to hang out with The Dude and Walter at the bowling alley.), and a three time All Pro. No one else even comes close here.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE: LUTHER ELLISS
I decided to have one conventional 4-3 defensive tackle spot and one 3-4 nose tackle spot on this team because the Lions have played both in my lifetime, and it felt weird not making a distinction. Anyway, I went with Elliss at this spot. He was a two time Pro Bowl selection even though he never really put up eye popping numbers. He was just a big, tough versatile player who could plug the middle on 1st and 2nd down and rush the quarterback on passing downs. He was a stalwart for the Lions line - which at one time, believe it or not was actually considered a strength - for several years. Much like Lomas Brown and Kevin Glover on the other side of the ball, Elliss is a player who I have fond memories of, and on this team, sadly, that's kind of a rare thing.
NOSE TACKLE: JERRY BALL
I couldn't have this team without Jerry Ball, and if I am being honest, he is the real reason for the distinction between defensive tackle and nose tackle. You see, Jerry was a true nose tackle. He wasn't an under tackle whose job was to get to the quarterback. No, his job was to be a fat monster who would plug the middle of the line.
It's a testament to Ball's presence that it seems like he was a Detroit Lion for life, instead of a dude who only spent half his career here. Later on, he went to Cleveland, Oakland and Minnesota, where he played as a more conventional defensive tackle, but he got his start in Detroit as a nose tackle and that is where he had his most success. With the Lions, he was selected to the Pro Bowl three times and was a first team All Pro in 1991. And perhaps more importantly than that, when I first thought of doing something like this, his was the first name I thought of when I thought of the defense. It wasn't necessarily because of how great he was - although he was very good - but because when I first became really aware as a fan(something I talked about in an earlier post), Jerry Ball was the man. He was larger than life to me, and in my mind, this team couldn't exist without him being a part of it.
RIGHT DEFENSIVE END: WILLIAM GAY
Ugh. This one was tough, and not because there were too many quality dudes to pick from. There is Al Baker, who honestly is probably the best of the bunch, but I don't remember him at all and his best years with the Lions came before I was even born, which disqualifies him. There is Tracy Scroggins, who stuck around for a long time and was a semi-productive player, but he never really seemed like anything more than just another dude.
I guess that leaves Gay. I don't really remember William Gay. I suppose, technically, that I am aware that I watched him at one point, but I still don't really remember him. I know he was a very good player for a few years, and in 1983 he notched 13.5 sacks and was named UPI first team All Conference. So, really, by default, William Gay is the man here. I suppose I should also mention that in my notes for this infernal project(yes, I took notes, in an epic fit of nerdery, but they are rudimentary and sad. Let that help or hurt your opinion of me in whatever way you see fit.), in parentheses next to Gay's name(obviously, I like parentheses), I have written this: JOKE ABOUT NAME? NO. HOMOPHOBIC? YES, BUT ALSO GAY JOKES SUCK. BETTER THAN THAT. Now, obviously that last part about me being better than that is a terrible lie, and I suppose I did just make the joke without making the joke, which is a zen sort of thing best left to high level thinkers such as myself, but what the hell, you know? No? Neither do I. Never mind, let's just move on.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER: MIKE COFER, REGGIE BROWN
I know, I know, I should probably split this up into left and right outside linebacker or, better yet, strongside and weakside linebacker, but both Cofer and Brown played on the right side and damn it all, there simply isn't anyone else.
Really, there isn't. I mean, who the hell else was I going to with here? George Jamison? Jimmy Williams? Please. No, really, please, I'm begging you, don't make me relive this shit.
Sigh. Okay, fine, I'll keep going. Cofer was the man when I was a kid, as discussed in that same post I linked to in that blather about Jerry Ball, and even though his actual accomplishments don't really match up to those in my head, he was still pretty good. He had 62.5 sacks as a Detroit Lion and was selected to the Pro Bowl in 1988. That pretty much makes him the king of this shit heap.
Brown, on the other hand, is an interesting case. He was a terrific young linebacker who looked like he was going to be a star for the Lions, or at the very least a very productive linebacker for a solid decade, but then cruel fate intervened and Brown almost died on the field during his last game with the Lions, the last game of the 1997 season. He had to be given CPR on the field and needed emergency surgery to avoid the Mike Utley retirement plan. He was able to walk again, but he never played football again, a blow the Lions have never really recovered from, much like the loss of Utley and Erik Andolsek on the other side of the ball. Brown only played 26 games in his career, but they were a pretty damn good 26 games and that combined with the long lasting impact his injury had on the Lions makes it tough to leave him off this team. On the other hand, it's easy to include him when his closest competition is George Jamison. So, somehow, someway, a dude who only played 26 games is almost a no-brainer. I suppose I could mention Ernie Sims, but that would only be because he has a monkey and a shitload of lizards and I will not be bribed by your monkey, Ernie Sims. No, indeed. So, Brown it is.
INSIDE LINEBACKER/MIDDLE LINEBACKER: CHRIS SPIELMAN, STEPHEN BOYD
As another nod to the fact that the Lions used both the 4-3 and the 3-4 extensively over the span of my fandom, I have decided to include four linebackers as well as four defensive linemen on this fictional team, which should come in handy when we face better fictional teams, because having twelve players on the field should be an advantage.
Anyway, Spielman was an obvious pick. I had to include him. Spielman is the best defensive player the Lions have had during my many years as a Lions fan, a four time Pro Bowl selection and an All Pro in 1991. Spielman was the heart and soul of the Lions defense in those years when they were actually semi-respectable. He was the spearhead of the defense during an era when I actually had hope. Perhaps it was a naive hope, youthful and trusting, but it was hope nonetheless. Barry Sanders was the avatar of that hope, the champion of my wildest football hopes and dreams, but Chris Spielman was its spine, the support, the one man who was always there, who always made me breathe easy and make me feel that even though we had problems - and there were always problems - he would always be there in the middle of the field, ready to solve them. So yeah, he's on the team.
Stephen Boyd was never supposed to be the heir apparent to Spielman, but when Spielman's stay in Detroit abruptly ended, Boyd stepped in and put together back to back Pro Bowl seasons in those waning days, when the light and the glory of St. Barry and Spielman and Herman Moore had not quite faded and just before the dark curtain of Millen fell. Sadly, Boyd's career was ended by injuries before he hit 30, but before he went, Boyd was the last tough ass kicker we had on defense, the last gasp of nobility in a dying world. He wasn't Spielman, but he was still damn good, and because of that, he's on the team.
CORNERBACK: DRE BLY, BRYANT WESTBROOK
OH LORD, WHY??? This is where things get truly sad. I mean, look at those names. Those are the two best cornerbacks the Lions have had in my lifetime. Excuse me while I boil in my head in battery acid and then shove a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire up my . . . never mind, that was getting out of hand. Anyway, this kind of explains a lot, doesn't it? I mean, the fact that these two dudes are the best of the best at anything really drives home the state of the Detroit Lions over these many harrowing years.
Bly is the only Lions cornerback to make the Pro Bowl in my entire life. It's true. You can look that shit up. A ball hawk who often gave up big plays in pursuit of making the big play on defense, Bly managed to snare back to back invites to the Pro Bowl in 2003 and 2004. Bly was never really that good of a player, but he's the best of the best for the Lions in my lifetime and really, isn't that unfathomably sad?
Bly's stay with the Lions finally ended when he contracted Lions Disease and was traded to the Broncos for the Underwear Thief and Lennie Small, which is retrospect might be one of the most amazing trades in team history, if only from a purely comedic standpoint. Oh well, thanks for that anyway, Dre.
Westbrook, on the other hand, was a bona fide blue chip player, drafted fifth overall in 1997. He promised to be the solution to the Lions fabled woes at cornerback, and seemed well on his way to being a Pro Bowl caliber player, but then the Failure Demon popped up, slashed Westbrook's Achilles and then ran cackling back to hell. Westbrook was basically finished after that, and because of it he never lived up to his promise, and while that may disqualify him from greatness, sadly, it is enough to get him on this team.
One guy I should probably mention here is Ray Crockett, or Big Play Ray as he was known throughout the league. Crockett won two Super Bowls with the Broncos, but he started his career with the Lions and spent a few seasons as a ball hawking cornerback with them before moving on to greener pastures.(Although, to be fair, those pastures were likely stripped bare by John Elway and the grazing of his horse teeth before Crockett could get there. Was that mean? Eh, whatever.)
I strongly considered Crockett for the team, but then I checked out his Wikipedia page, which had about a two sentence blurb about the fact that he was a football player and then a couple of paragraphs discussing his reality show ventures over the past several years, including a stint with Dick Butkus in that ESPN show Bound For Glory, some game show called Identity, where someone had to apparently correctly guess who he was(I find it hilarious that Wikipedia notes that they correctly guessed that he was a football player. I am thinking that if they had to guess who he was specifically, they would still be there today, asking questions. "Your first name is Ray and your last name is the same as the main character from Miami Vice? Uh, Ray Tubbs? No?"), and then finally, and most ridiculously, in that Morgan Spurlock show 30 Days, in which Crockett apparently lived for thirty days in a wheelchair so he could experience what it was like to be Mike Utley. That's not even a joke! That's the reason given! Now, this is just me, but it doesn't speak all that highly of your skills as a football player when, according to your Wikipedia page(which, as we all know, is a bastion of uncompromising integrity), your biggest claim to fame is riding around in a wheelchair on TV for thirty days.
FREE SAFETY: BENNIE BLADES
I could have gone with Blades at either the free or strong safety position because he played both for the Lions during his career, but he spent more time at free safety, and that is where he played during the peak of his career, so free safety it is.
Blades is the best player the Lions have had in the defensive secondary during my lifetime. That's kind of a sad statement. It's not really a knock on Blades. He was a very good player, a perennial leader for the Lions defense who was selected to the Pro Bowl in that great year 1991. But still, best of the best of my lifetime? Yeah.
Again, I liked Blades - a lot, actually - and he is one of those rare players who I have fond memories of, but when Bennie Blades is hands down the best player in your entire secondary over a span of close to 30 years, things aren't going so well, you know? Still, Blades was pretty damn good and along with Ball, Porcher and Spielman, he is a dude who actually is a credit to this team and not just some guy I had to reach for because there was no one else. So, there is that, you know?
STRONG SAFETY: WILLIAM WHITE
Yeah, I know. Not exactly inspiring, but who the hell else was I going to pick? Ron Rice? Seriously, it's that bad. Which isn't to say that White was a bad player. Not at all, actually. He was Blades' partner in the secondary for a few years and was a definite asset. His best season probably came in 1990 when he intercepted five passes and racked up 106 tackles. Pretty good numbers. Unfortunately, this is a best of the best team and usually you hope for better than "Pretty good", you know? Sadly(or perhaps thankfully, depending on your point of view), I have nothing really left to say about strong safety, which, really, is an indictment of the lack of, well . . . anything worth talking about at the position during my lifetime. That's not really a good thing.
KICKER: JASON HANSON
With apologies to Eddie Murray, Jason Hanson is the obvious choice here. I mean, in the past year alone, I have written two posts which have basically just been about Jason Hanson and what he means to Lions fans. And he's a fucking kicker. I don't think I need to say anything I haven't already said before about Hanson and so I won't. You're welcome.
PUNTER: JIM ARNOLD
Look, this thing is already a million words long and I am not going to write a million more about a punter, okay? Arnold was a very good punter for several years with the Lions. He was selected to the Pro Bowl twice and was an All Pro in 1987. There have been other good punters since, guys like John Jett and, what the hell, Nick Harris, but Arnold is the only one to be honored as the best of the best in the entire league, and so he's the pick here.
RETURN SPECIALIST: MEL GRAY
I could break this up into separate kick and punt return positions, but Gray would be the guy at both spots so what's the point? Gray was the first in a long line of excellent return men for the Lions. He was a four time Pro Bowl selection and a three time All Pro. You can't really beat that. The Lions had some good ones after Gray, guys like Glyn Milburn, Terry Fair, Desmond Howard and Eddie Drummond, but Gray was the first and he was the best and he's our man.
HEAD COACH: WAYNE FONTES
Jesus. It has come to this. Wayne fucking Fontes. For most of his stay with the Lions, Fontes was regarded as a joke, a buffoon who occasionally lucked into success on account of the fact that he had Barry Sanders, Chris Spielman, Herman Moore, Robert Porcher, Bennie Blades, Brett Perriman, Lomas Brown, Kevin Glover, Jerry Ball, Jason Hanson, etc. With that kind of talent, the Lions should have been perennial contenders, but with Fontes at the helm, they would often find themselves inexplicably floundering at 5-11 or 6-10. They were kinda like the Jacksonville Jaguars of their day, sometimes good, sometimes not, always somewhat baffling. And perhaps worst of all, Fontes was the man who presided over the great wasting of Barry Sanders and that is a shameful thing indeed.
But the harsh reality, the one that should make all of us follow Barry Sanders down that river of tears, is that Wayne Fontes is the only head coach who actually occasionally won with the Lions in my lifetime. That is an exceptionally sad statement, but it is also terribly, terribly true and as much as it pains me to say so, Fontes is the man to lead this team. You will excuse me now while I go projectile vomit out of my window. Thank you and good night.