Lions insist on being a running joke

There is New England Patriots swagger: an our-coach-is-smarter-than-yours, our-quarterback-is-cooler-than-yours, our-locker-room-is-purer-than-yours superiority complex with multiple rings to back it up.

There is Pittsburgh Steelers swagger: a brashness derived from bone-crunching toughness, an unmatched record of Super Bowl success and an unflinching coach who looks cooler on the sidelines than any of his peers.

There is even, in this strange stage of NFL parity, Arizona Cardinals swagger: Go ahead and double-cover Larry Fitzgerald(notes), and we'll throw it up to the big guy anyway and watch him make a play.


Smith, right, and Calvin Johnson(notes) dejectedly sit on the bench as the Lions fell to 0-15.

(Paul Sancya/AP Photo)

But Detroit Lions swagger? That, sports fans, is a bold and unexpected delight.

After quarterback Jon Kitna(notes) was traded to the Dallas Cowboys in early March, I figured the Lions' locker room would settle down a bit, what with last year's historically abominable 0-16 campaign still fresh on the minds of the survivors. It was Kitna, you remember, who provided some welcome fodder a year earlier when, for the second consecutive offseason, he made a "statement of fact" that it would be a "disappointment" for Detroit not to win 10 games.

He also insisted the Lions were "going to be a better football team" than the one that finished 7-9 in 2007.

Sure enough, the '08 Lions were better, if by "better" Kitna meant "unfathomably worse." It turned out Kitna's season-ending back injury paved the way for the metaphorical moment that encapsulated Detroit's season: quarterback Dan Orlovsky's(notes) retreat and scramble through the back of the end zone in an October defeat to the Vikings.

Thanks to second-year halfback Kevin Smith(notes), the comedy continues even after the departures of Kitna and Orlovsky, now a Houston Texans backup. Last year Smith, a third-round draft choice from Central Florida, burst onto the scene with some serious bravado. He proclaimed that he'd score 20 touchdowns (he ended up with eight) and that the Lions would win a playoff game.

Blessedly, he now has a personal blog, on which he recently assured readers the Lions "will definitely make the playoffs this season."

If Smith had stopped there, I'd have shrugged it off as homage to his departed teammate, an NFL version of a rapper sampling one of his influential forebears. However, Smith took his delusions to an entirely new level, claiming, "Believe it or not, we weren't far off last year. Almost every game we could have won, we were one play or one player short. Except for Tennessee on Thanksgiving … they manhandled us, but nobody else did."

It's possible that the Green Bay Packers (48-25), San Francisco 49ers (31-13) and Chicago Bears (34-7), who drubbed the Lions in consecutive games during the first quarter of the season, might take issue with that statement. I'm guessing the Jacksonville Jaguars (38-14) and New Orleans Saints (42-7) also processed their subsequent clashes with the Lions in a slightly different cognitive manner.

Look, I understand why Smith is excited about the future. As I wrote in February, I'm convinced new coach Jim Schwartz is a shrewd dude who's eventually going to rock Motown. Detroit has made some nice offseason personnel acquisitions, including linebackers Julian Peterson(notes) and Larry Foote(notes), defensive tackle Grady Jackson(notes) and cornerbacks Phillip Buchanon(notes), Anthony Henry(notes) and Eric King(notes).

And surely, Smith is excited about No. 1 overall pick Matthew Stafford(notes) – right? Uh, maybe not.

Asked about the former Georgia quarterback last week, Smith made him sound interchangeable with incumbent Daunte Culpepper(notes), a noble expression of team-first unity that nonetheless made many Lions fans cringe.

"[Culpepper's] a professional," Smith told the Detroit Free Press. "He does this. Everyone welcomed Stafford aboard, and let's win games. How 'bout that? Forget Daunte versus Stafford. Let's get to the playoffs."

Playoffs? Is that Jim Mora I hear in the background? Or is it Ronald Reagan?

I hope Smith turns out to be a sage, if only because I'd then have more opportunities to quote him in the coming months. It would be wild if the Lions could do the '08 Miami Dolphins one better and complete one of the greatest single-season turnarounds in sports history.

However, it's going to take more than a hyper-confident halfback and a snazzy new logo to convince me – and, more important, long-suffering Lions fans – that legitimate change is upon us.

Detroit has a 31-97 record over the past eight seasons, and if you think it was all the fault of jettisoned president Matt Millen, I've got a bunch of Chrysler stock to sell you. The way the team's ownership responded to Millen's early-season firing was especially revealing: The two men with whom he worked most closely, Tom Lewand and Martin Mayhew, continued running the show, and both executives were officially promoted (Lewand to president, Mayhew to GM) in December.

While the Kansas City Chiefs went out and got Scott Pioli to run their football operations, as the Dolphins had done with Bill Parcells a year earlier, the Lions tried putting new wrapping on old packages, the NFL equivalent of re-gifting.

Lest you doubt that such an analogy is appropriate, consider the recent experience of Lions season-ticket holder Todd Taylor, one of the seemingly lucky people who went home with a free Lions jersey handed out at a team-sponsored draft party last month.

The No. 34 jersey had a certain prediction-happy halfback's name on the back, but according to the Detroit News, Taylor felt the stitching looked kind of bulky. So he and his friend, Jim Allen, decided to cut off the name – and, underneath, they discovered the name "Jones."

That's right, loyal customers: After releasing halfback Kevin Jones(notes) (who previously wore No. 34) following the '07 season, the Lions apparently recycled his jerseys by layering them with one of the few names more common among American citizens.

"It was kind of a punch in the stomach," Allen told News columnist Terry Foster.

That's one way of describing it. To me, it was simply Detroit Lions swagger.


"Comment – great column on Favre. As a lifelong Packers fan and 42-year-old professional, I'm embarrassed by how much Favre's flirtation with the Vikings pissed me off. If he truly has decided to pass on the Vikings and stay retired, I hope that he and Packers organization can move past 2008 and get him fully back into the Packers family where he belongs. He has been the face of the Packers for every young Packers fan. The Packers are more than Ted Thompson."

Paul Buchberger
Wassau, Wis.

Thanks. Despite the frayed feelings on both sides and the emotion that every development in this saga seems to provoke, I remain convinced that, eventually, there will be a permanent reconciliation. Favre has meant too much to the franchise, and to the fans who love it, for that not to happen.

"Your last article about Favre is nothing but speculation. He has yet to make any kind of announcement regarding a comeback. I can tell by the content and tone of your article that you don't like him or respect him. You've already condemned him for allegedly meeting with Vikings personnel, do you have proof of that? What is so unusual about retiring and then unretiring? Other players have done it but they don't make the news. Obviously, Favre had a difficult time making that decision, so what if he changed his mind? He has played football all his life; that's his identity. I will always be a fan and wear his No. 4 shirt, shame on that child who said she wouldn't, and shame on you for reporting nothing but speculation. I hope he comes back as a Viking and beats the Packers."

Boerne, Texas

Shame on that child? You do realize you're talking about an 8-year-old girl, right? I have none of the dislike or disrespect for Favre that you suggest – time to dip into the archives to remind people of the good times we've shared – but if you're going to declare war on a kid, I'm going to side with the little lady on this one.

"Please stop with the Favre drama? When any member of the media quotes an unidentified source it's the equivalent to saying, 'I made this up just to get a story out.' When [Ted] Thompson and [Mike] McCarthy said something it was reported as gospel, but when Favre says something, it's questioned all the way down to whether the words were used in past, present or future context. Could it actually be that Favre was somehow pressured by them into retirement? But didn't really want to and was forced into it? Bottom line is this, prediction = speculation. So could the media stop speculating? (Game predictions aside, because no one truly knows that.) But believe it or not the general public, at least the people I've talked to, have had enough of the media speculating on Favre. We would rather hear about the rookie minicamps, free agent status, injury reports, contracts signed, etc. We just can't understand why the media is turning this into a soap opera we've entitled, 'As My NFL Stomach Turns.' Seriously, with all this speculation the sports media is swiftly, if not already, taking on a tabloid type of reputation. Respectfully,"

Dean Barber
Atlantic, Iowa

I understand your general frustration, but I can definitely assure you that when I quote an unidentified source, it's the equivalent of saying, "This is a completely accurate quote from a heretofore trustworthy person who is an authority on the situation in question, and he/she does not want his/her name used for a very legitimate reason."

"I and other fans do not care to hear about Brett Favre(notes). Who Cares Mike? … Move on, and stop engaging him. He ain't news and lost his credibility [a] long time ago. With all these other players in the news, can't you all for once ignore Favre because the fans are? He looked like crap last year and no one wants to see him this year or anytime thereafter."

Stevenson, Md.

Again, I understand why you and other readers would be sick of Favre. But given that he's a future Hall of Famer who plays the most important position in football and has obviously been ambivalent about retirement, no, I can't ignore him. Besides, if I resisted the urge to write about him, I'd get far fewer emails.

"Why can't you sports wirters just stop wirting articles on Brent Favregone. We are so fed up with him coming back!"

Ernest Martin
San Diego

I thought about goofing on your spelling, Ernest, but then I asked myself: Is it really "wirth" it?

"Best. Altered. Lyric. Song. Ever."

Michael Shirek
Bismarck, N.D.

Much. Love. Brother.

"Hey Silver, so you caught the Dalai Lama's Pats moment. Did you miss his Cal moment? Of course, if he tried to pull that at a game, he'd hear the traditional cry of the Cal fan on game day: 'Take off those red robes! Take off those red robes!' "


Damn straight he would. The real question is, if he ignored the chants, would he be rolled up to the top of the stadium?

"One-nil deficit – OH-OH!!!"

Kurt Allen

Yes, my Royals are living on the edge after a 1-0 defeat at Burnsley Saturday on a late penalty kick. But there's still another game in the home-and-home playoff, at Madejski Stadium on Tuesday, and I have faith that Reading will find a way to keep its promotion hopes alive.

"The article on the Niner GM was probably the best, most well written piece I've read since the draft period began. I'm a homer, but that man seems to have the 'It' and so do Samurai and Jed [York]. The Niners have an idea about how they will do business, and I think the league better be on notice. People are gonna get smashed by the Red and Gold, win or lose. Let's go Niners. Keep up the good work. I love hearing you on KNBR."

Barry Williams
Folsom, Calif.

Thanks, man. I loved watching you on "The Brady Bunch." (Unless, you know, this isn't THAT Barry Williams.)

"Hey Michael, your article 'San Francisco shoots for return to relevance' was great. The amount of detail in the story was impressive. You're a writer that has a knack for getting under my skin, but I have to give you props for such good work."

Sacramento, Calif.

Props accepted, and if a writer's not getting under somebody's skin, he/she ain't tryin' …

"Michael, great article on Scott McCloughan and the 49ers. I was wondering if you could help myself and all 49ers fans? As you know the 49ers recently released new jerseys. However, the replica jerseys available for sale look nothing like the authentic ones the players will wear. The major problem being that the color of the replicas is not the cherry red, but more of a cardinals red. I was wondering if you could get to the bottom of this and not subject 49ers fans to wearing those awful looking replicas in the wrong color? Thank you very much."

Sacramento, Calif.

I cannot get to the bottom of this, but I can suggest that, instead of buying replica jerseys, you spend your money on other worthwhile endeavors (like, say, finding a cure for Type I diabetes or donating money to the Cal athletic department).

"Michael, Excellent column on the Niners and specifically, McCloughan. I felt like I was in the war room with the tension and really was feeling his [Scot's] thought process. You are definitely still on your game! How do you determine which team or player you will write about? Best!"

Rob M.
Bay Area, Calif.

My editor and I have an intricate storyboard containing the names and likenesses of every player, coach, front-office executive, owner and other relevant NFL personality. We stare at this board from about 20 feet away, and then we take turns throwing darts at it. (I realize I'm not actually answering your question, and that's because it would take an entire column to begin explaining it, and my editor and I would have to talk about it first …)

"Greetings. I am a 29-year 49ers fan and I got to say, you don't know Jack about the 49ers' draft. First up, I am more then pleased we got [Michael] Crabtree. But the other picks, come on! And then we traded our 2nd and 4th. What did McCoughan of the 49ers do, sell the picks for a beanstalk, or did he climb up the hill and tumble down? I want Scot McCloughan fired for his disappointing draft picks. Even if you 49ers fans may claim improvement: Our offense scores 7, our defense gives up 7. Why? We have no pass rush. We have a [questionable] secondary. You can't just rely on our LBs. You can't play the 3-4 if again you got no pass rush from the D-line. Then our offense can't counter. … And on the schedule: Atl, Jax, Det, Rams, Ari are your six wins Colts, Hou, Titans, Chi, Min, GB, Phil, Ari, Sea, including the Sea home contest, all losses. Tell me why Michael, I got to have some 'hope' for another lost season. You too, 49ers fans, tell me why I got to have hope. 49ers, you blew it in the draft."

Piers Morgan
Bay Area, Calif.

I may not know Jack, but I must say I'm impressed by your knowledge of both Jack And Jill and Jack And The Beanstalk.

"Michael, Nice story on McCloughan and his draft strategy regarding Michael Crabtree(notes). Of course your Cheap Trick reference confirms to your readers that the Dream Police really do live inside of your head. Do you think that Crabtree told McCloughan in his interview that 'I want you to want ME'? And of course, after the pick, you suppose McCloughan said 'the house is rockin'? Ok, I'll stop, but only if you Surrender. Ain't that a shame?"

Joe G.
Plano, Texas

Would you like to do a number with me?

"MICHAEL – Your last article on Scott McCloughan was tops. The idea that he is an honest man probably has a lot to do with your being a trustworthy newsman. I've seen too many 'off the record' conversations end up in print. It's a 2-way street and you have earned your stripes."

Curt Wojo
San Bruno, Calif.

If I start putting off-the-record conversations in print, then I'll be taking the Cheap Trick thing to a whole other level – and basically surrendering any semblance of self-respect. As for earning stripes, that brings us to our next topic …

"In reading some of the responses about Rulon Davis, I was quite disappointed with the comments made by Mike Grose. Something about 'just a mechanic' and 'not in the infantry.' I served in the 82nd Airborne Division, had bullets whiz by me as I was hanging under a parachute, but maybe because I wasn't 'blown up' I shouldn't be proud of what I did? This is very sad. The man volunteered, and did his duty. As I was 'just' in the Field Artillery, the King of Battle, maybe Mike should re-think his stance since the infantry is the queen of battle. He might also want to think about how he was fed, drank water, got his ammo, or mail with cookies for that matter. Someone had to bring it there, and someone [perhaps a mechanic] had to make sure the GD truck/plane/ chopper that was carrying all that stuff could make the trip. Maybe Rulon didn't receive the enemy marksmanship badge [Purple Heart], but he's earned any accolades that come his way. GO Rulon Davis, whoever you are. ALL THE WAY."

Jason Campbell
Arlington, Texas

It all sounds noble (and scary) to me, and as always, I thank you, Davis and everyone else who has made the brave sacrifice to serve.

"The email by another service member diminishing Davis' accomplishments in Iraq was a disgrace. I went back and read the very honest way Davis portrayed his service, and I was pretty impressed that he admitted to being scared. Had he been shot down, I'm sure he would have had ample opportunity to discharge his weapon, but he was rightfully thankful to not have been in that situation. He didn't make himself out to be some war hero, and I applaud his honesty. I was a Hospital Corpsman on a ship that had helicopters on board, and I wouldn't consider flight operations safe under friendly conditions. My hat is off to the other guy for getting blown up and all, but I would seriously like to introduce his Purple Heart to his black and blue prostate."

Christopher Benz
Windsor, Pa.

It hurts just reading that.

"Hey Mike, looking for a prediction here. Will Shawne Merriman(notes) play clean this season and how effective will he be? Love your column … Michael Silver: No. 1 on the job, No. 1 on the story, No. 1 in our hearts."

Angwin, Calif.

He'll be a clean, lean, mean fighting machine.

"As a Chargers fan, I want your expert opinion. What would it take for the Chargers to finally win the Super Bowl in the 2009-2010 season? I think a ring is overdue for LT and Philip Rivers(notes). Thanks."

San Diego

If Merriman and LaDainian Tomlinson(notes) could remain completely healthy throughout the season, that would be a hell of a start.

"Michael, I have been a fan of yours for years now. And just today realized, that if we met, we would be best friends. Your sarcastic comebacks only remind me of myself, and I can't help but praise you for them. You are a one-of-a-kind Boss. Keep On Truckin'."

Royal Oak, Mich.

Thanks BFF!