Say what you will about the old Detroit Lions. This is a new pride.

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webnexttech | Say what you will about the old Detroit Lions. This is a new pride.
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At present, a football season of profound change for the way better stands poised to further prove the S.O.L. days of the Detroit Lions are dead and gone.Last year, despite all the good run vibrations and reasons this organization gave us to cheer again, that 9-8 team concluded its annual campaign within regular season constraints, after sending Green Bay’s playoff hopes and Aaron Rodgers’ era of division domination packing during a Lambeau field statement game that said something.
As to what, we weren’t quite sure; accustomed as we’d become to fleeting little lifts of Lions’ good fortunes, ever only briefly relieving long, hard stretches of mediocrity and worse that made sticking with our home team year after year feel like progressive punishments reserved for repeat offenders.
Fair to say, we Lions’ followers have likely taken more than our share of lumps with this star-crossed team over time, and for a half-dozen-plus decades to be specific.
In spots, it seems as though the fates themselves have lined-up against this football franchise.
Show me an hour of all-time NFL highlights and I’ll show you twenty minutes or so of clips in which the Lions got posterized for posterity, losing big on record-breaking, last-minute field goals, last-ditch, Packer desperation passes, and an all-around lousy litany of assorted, Motor City low points in recorded NFL history, including plenty of conspiracy-questioning calls on the field that altered outcomes in critical game situations and the complexion of entire seasons in a precious few, contending season cases.
From Tom Dempsey’s then-record 63-yard, game-winning field goal in 1970 to Justin Tucker’s 66-yard record-breaker more than 50 years later, two of the game’s crowning achievements in kicking saw Detroit taking it in the shorts as a result.
From Bret Favre’s scrambling heave to Sterling Sharpe running free deep down the sideline at the sad ending of 1993’s Wild Card tilt, to Aaron Rodgers’s 2015 oh-hell-no Hail Mary to some no-name tight end with no time on the clock (after a Lions face-masking penalty allowed that play to happen), we’ve watched long odds against last-second comebacks by opponents appear more like sure things in cynical retrospect.
And need I mention anything more than the “failure to report” fiasco in Dallas or Calvin Johnson’s not “maintaining control” call playing Chicago in 2010 to re-stir feelings that the fix has been in at times, too (although Karma, perhaps, saw fit to restore that second home playoff game we were robbed of by the obviously missed tackle-eligible report, after the Cowboys crapped their chaps against the Pack last Sunday).
Yee-haw!
As for me, my experiences living and (mostly) dying with the Lions reflect images that mirror the many hapless reflections so many of us who’ve claimed this football fandom by birthright share.
In hindsight, I see some foreshadowing now in the ill-fated Lions jersey I made myself with magic markers on a white tee shirt when I was little.
Misspelling the word “Loins” across my back instead, I was mortified when the mistake was brought to my attention.
Trying to avoid wearing it out of embarrassment, my mother made me on occasion.
“Everybody knows it’s just a Lions jersey,” she’d look at it slightly giggling and say.
“Otherwise, it’s a perfectly good shirt.
You’ll wear it.” My mother was right, of course.
Yet even though I eventually wore out that Loins fanwear, my Lions loyalties stayed virtually on my sleeve ever afterward.
Before leaving Detroit in ’83, I regularly attended Thanksgiving games at the Silverdome, and was treated to O.J.
Simpson’s 273-yard rushing performance in 1976, some short-lived Billy Sims magic, and Lawrence Taylor’s nearly-hundred-yard interception dash back the other way on Turkey Day, 1982.
Again, there’s that sad truth of what we fans have been left with over the years; two-thirds of our Lions’ memories revolving around opponent’s memorable exploits against us on the gridiron.
As an Arizonan, ironically, I began believing the Lions might make it to the mountaintop after seeing Barry Sanders take center stage come the ’90s.
I felt confident a Super Bowl appearance, at least, was a distinct possibility thanks to him.
When Barry’s last memorable move in football was his leaving the Lions in a lurch suddenly and unceremoniously in 1999, it felt like the end of everything plausibly positive for our football team’s immediate and foreseeable future.
And it was the first time I felt myself really losing hope as a fan.
Trying to jump ship and switch allegiances to the Cardinals proved impossible.
They were just the Lions of the West in those days; owned by a family too rich to bother themselves with the business of winning.
Ever the low-middle class Michigan man at heart, I couldn’t help but keep rooting for those underdog Detroit rosters of the early 2000s, which became a depth chart of decline at the skill positions for the next ten years.
Perennially high draft picks became reliable busts.
There was Joey Harrington in 2002 (third overall), Charles Rogers in 2003 (second overall), Mike Williams in 2005 (tenth), ad nauseam.
Not surprisingly, those Lions’ squads who suited-up for those campaigns over the course of that first, 21st century decade became uniformly abysmal.
Bookended by 2001’s 2-14 and 2010’s 6-10 tallies (punctuated, of course, with 2008’s 0-16 exercise in abject futility), Lions football flagged into something that left the organization’s already robust reputation for utter mediocrity reduced to near-laughing stock status.
And despite a few, mostly Matthew Stafford-kindled flickers of hard-nosed hope at the helm of an almost always fairly-rudderless ship, those snickers have remained in evidence on the faces and in the commentary of every sportscasting talking head from the networks to the local news stations.
Let’s be honest: no one’s taken the Detroit Lions seriously as an NFL contender for anything approaching on-field success for the past twenty-plus years, period.
But not end of story, thanks to this new chapter.
And the folks who combined their talents and instincts to author it for us.
Here are just some bullet point credits, which I hope we’ll all consider going into Sunday’s second home playoff game of this stupendous, turnaround season of 2023-24: Sheila Ford Hamp She of the hold-your-horses speech made after second-year head coach Dan Campbell’s 1-6-starting team last season triggered a twitchy stampede of calls for his drawing and quartering.
The first words I’d heard on Hamp over Michigan sports talk radio when I relocated back to metro Detroit in early 2022 had much to do with child of privilege chatter directed at her in the context that this team owner — far better suited to tennis set pomp and ceremony than NFL team oversight — could never manage to make a difference as the Lions’ ultimate decision maker.
No how.
No way.
Yet Hamp mustered what she felt was called for in those circumstances; a calming reassurance to her team and its leadership that she fully intended to stay Campbell’s course, as uncertain as it seemed then.
What ensued was 8 and 2, and what came together over the course of that run was a top-down cohesiveness that coalesced Lion’s ownership, leadership, and the team itself into the essence of what it’s now so obviously become: an example of total togetherness on an approach to building something that’s hitting on all cylinders.
This leading lady showed the Ford running through her veins when she strapped herself to something that hadn’t been built right forever and helped a bunch of guys under her employ get in line, work side by side, and start assembling this machine we’re starting to see really come together now.
You aced that one for sure, Ms.
Hamp.
Brad Holmes One wonders if Holmes’s early run of draft pick winners could likely be rivaled, let alone equaled, anytime soon, anywhere across the NFL or the three other major sports, for that matter.
And don’t write it all off as some kind of lottery-winning luck.
In fact, I’d be willing to bet that Brad Holmes’s success rate in hitting on all the selections he’s made since becoming the Lions’ G.M. are as commensurately remote as someone winning Powerball millions.
There’s method to this success rate, not mere chance.
I’m not going to rattle off the dozen or so names Holmes didn’t just pick out of a hat to contribute in the numbers they have, but by all means, do so yourselves.
Across the board, you’ll see that Holmes’s picks are all virtually in top places on the current depth chart.
That’s a lot of talent that our Lions’ G.M. go-getter went and got.
And be honest; you probably bristled at least a little bit over Holmes’s picks of Jameson Williams, Jahmyr Gibbs, and Sam LaPorta as he scooped them all up earlier than the mouth that bored Mel Kiper could condone.
But how do you like them all now?
Again, get on your phones and find the complete list of talent Brad Holmes has secured for our Detroit Lions.
Then make a call to the team’s front office to leave a big, long thank you message for the man.
He’s earned it.
Dan Campbell The only thing I’d rather have Dan Campbell be than my hometown football team’s head coach is my bodyguard.
Holy crap.
He’s a beast.
Still, the beauty of Campbell is something else.
A few things, perhaps.
He’s a pied piper to players, for one.
They follow his lead.
And that whole grit thing?
Legit.
He brought it to town with a bust-some-kneecaps statement some saw as comically novice.
No one’s laughing now.
From his current players to the ones who’ll come to him through free agency, in large part, to go to battle with a consummate player’s coach, this guy’s a badass bell cow in a league full of bad ass athletes who believe Dan Campbell is not only the same animal they are, but the biggest and baddest currently stalking the sidelines with a Super Bowl contender going forward.
That’s the truth, sports fans.
Coach Dan Campbell’s the truth, and at the core of what’s changed the Lions’ culture.
He growls.
He gambles.
And he’s going places with this team that it hasn’t been to since the days of leather helmets.
Damn straight.
Ben Johnson and Aaron Glenn How good are these guys?
Well, their head coaching interview dance cards are full come season’s end.
That much we know.
According to all we hear, Johnson’s a Harry Potter-esque wizard of the X’s and O’s; a young prodigy of the offensive game, waving a wand that’s made magic happen for Jarred Goff and the boys with the ball in their hands.
On Glenn’s side, they say his defense profoundly respects him to a man, as a guy who’s been there and knows the way to make his players better.
Johnson’s offense has become a juggernaut.
Glenn’s defense has its playmakers and some promisingly developing young talent, yet it remains a system work in progress.
Taken together, these two coach two sides of a game on a team that went 12-5 (13-4 in my eyes) and is making a run at a deeply successful postseason.
Again, they’re both likely to get their shots at becoming the head guy somewhere soon.
I only wish I could have the opportunity to give them both bad references in the looming offseason.
And, of course, the team I predict Jared Goff’s career will be defined for his current and future exploits.
Jameson Williams is proving a lot of premature naysayers — myself included — wrong.
Jahmyr Gibbs might be the next man up after Barry.
Hutch is huge.
Sack counts aren’t the whole story.
Other guys deserve kudos, but I’m reaching my word count limit here.
Perhaps I’ll be able to shout more individual praises at some point over the course of the next week or three.
In a next victory follow-up piece, perhaps.
Or maybe at their parade bus.
Cool.
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