Thanksgiving, Lions: A Bad Taste

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - December 03, 2008
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A sign of the times for both the city and the team

While it may not be a popular idea with the folks in the 313, the 734 or in any other of the 10 remaining telephone prefixes that make up the calling zones of The Big Mitten, the NFL has to take a serious look at pulling its holiday classic out of the Motor City.

The Lions, and therefore the game, have become embarrassments.

After six decades of playing host to some of the greatest - and worst - games in NFL history, such an inglorious end would be a tragic blow to an area that has seen more than its fair share of grim news in recent years. But the NFL isn’t in the business of playing social worker to economically depressed regions. Its loyalty is to the dollar and to maintaining a carefully manufactured image. Both of which could suffer should the Lions continue to put on their annual display of ineptitude.

The Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving Day since 1934, with the city’s involvement going back to the original Turkey Day game in 1920 when the Detroit Heralds lost to the Dayton Triangles 28-0.

And though the biggest contest to that time was the professional debut of Red Grange in 1925, whose star power went a long way toward making the NFL a legitimate enterprise, it wasn’t until ‘34 that the game became the national showcase that we have come to know.

Lions’ owner George A. Richards, a radio executive who moved the team from Portsmouth to Detroit, along with NBC set up a 94-station network to broadcast the game between the 10-1 Lions and the undefeated and defending champion Chicago Bears to a nation-

al audience, and the tradition was born. The next year Detroit defeated the Bears on their way to the NFL championship. It proved to be one of the few forward-looking decisions the team would ever make.

Two decades later, the Lions were on top, winning eight of 10 holiday games and three NFL championships. Any thought of playing the game anywhere else was laughable as the team won on Thanksgiving four more times in the next five years to usher in the 1960s. After 30 years, Thanksgiving belonged to the team in Honolulu Blue and silver.

The game again made sense during the Barry Sanders years. Because of the team’s general mediocrity, most NFL fans couldn’t get a glimpse of the era’s most exciting player.

The unknown fan has been a staple a Ford Field for years

And the team responded, winning seven times during Sanders’ 10-year career, even though the Lions won just 78 regular season games in that same span. But in the decade since he was chased away from the game after a career of team futility, the Lions have done nothing to merit being highlighted on the biggest food-eating day of the year.

Since 1998, Detroit has lost seven times, including five in a row counting this year’s 47-10 debacle at the hands of the Tennessee Titans, in which the Lions didn’t even resemble a professional football team.

Linebackers lunged at ball carriers, cornerbacks exhibited the tackling skills of kickers and the offensive line proved to be nothing more than speed bumps on the way to the quarterback.

So bad were things that Titans center Kevin Mawae burst out laughing during the post-game interview while explaining how he knew the game would come down to line play.

Tennessee ran for 292 yards with both LenDale White and Chris Johnson scoring twice while running for 100 yards each. Detroit, on the contrary, gained just 23 yards on the ground while surrendering more points than in any of its 68 previous contests.

Though it is not up to a former Pro Bowl tight end turned broadcaster to offer apologies to what remained of the television audience, Shannon Sharpe was correct in saying the game was an embarrassment.

Lions’ kicker Jason Hanson confirmed this opinion, saying the team just proved what everyone outside the organization was saying:

The Lions stink.

That’s a paraphrase. And although head coach Ron Marinelli (10-34) doesn’t expect to be fired, continuing his mantra that he still has great belief in himself, he’s clearly the only one with such confidence.

With the Big Three auto companies in a massive tailspin along with the economy of the metro Detroit area - and therefore the entire state of Michigan, and therefore the entire nation - hanging in the balance, Lions fans do not deserve another slap to the collective jaw that would be brought if one of their favorite holiday traditions leaves town like so many manufacturing jobs.

But without a solid commitment by the Lions to rescue the game from the abyss that has become Lions football, the NFL should pull the plug on the team’s Thanksgiving Day game.

Give them three years to improve, or else.

Sorry, Detroit.

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