These Lions are make-believers

STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:29 AM ET

TORONTO - All my life, I’ve been laughing at the Detroit Lions.

Okay, not all of my life. There were the Barry Sanders years. He was fun to watch.

I don’t remember the most recent NFL championship won by the Lions. I still wasn’t yet walking when Tobin Rote threw four touchdown passes and ran for one himself as the Lions defeated the Cleveland Browns for the NFL title.

It was so long ago that the Super Bowl was years away from being invented.

It was so long ago that Rote, deciding he wasn’t being paid enough by the Lions — and there wasn’t really free agency in his league — he eventually left the team to sign a higher paying contract with the Toronto Argonauts. And when was the last time a storied NFL quarterback left his team to sign for more money in the CFL? But that’s another story.

You see, the 1960s weren’t much of a decade for the Lions. They had people such as Karl Sweetan and Milt Plum a guy named George Plimpton playing quarterback for them. The ’70s and ’80s weren’t a whole lot better. There were the Sanders years in the 1990s, when Barry ran and carried the franchise about as long and far as one all-world running back could. That meant for playoff seasons, but nothing close to contention.

And since then, nothing.

This is the team that passed on Jim Kelly and Dan Marino in the 1983 NFL draft. Why? Because they had Eric Hipple, that’s why. Instead, they drafted a fullback named James Jones, who ran for 3,626 yards in a nice, quiet career. Marino passed for 61,361 yards. This is what it’s like to be a Detroit Lions fan. You don’t wait for next year, you wait for the next century.

Once Sanders quietly retired, life got worse for the Lions. They had Matt Millen as their general manager. Great player, horrible GM. The Lions haven’t had a playoff game since 1999. They haven’t had a winning season since 2000. In their past 10 seasons, they have all of 39 wins, including the only 0-16 campaign in league history.

But, guess what? It’s time to stop laughing. I’m not saying this could be the year for the Lions, but this could be the year they win more games than they lose. This could be the year where this moribund franchise begins to look like it can actually contend for something significant — a playoff spot, a divisional title, something that means something.

Because after years of having Scott Mitchell and Greg Landry and Joey Harrington and Erik Kramer and Andre Ware and Bill Munson at quarterback, they have Matthew Stafford. If he stays healthy — and that’s the big if with Stafford — this is a legitimate quarterback. This is a potential Pro Bowl quarterback. This guy is a reason to believe.

He becomes more of a reason to believe when he can throw the ball to Calvin Johnson, who can line up around Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Johnson and Roddy White and you can have a good old-fashioned argument about who the best receiver in football happens to be. Johnson hasn’t had a full year of Stafford yet. But outside of Atlanta, where is there a better young quarterback/receiver combination in football?

The best QB in Lions history happens to be Bobby Layne. His last year in Detroit was 1958.

The best receiver in Lions history, prior to Johnson? Probably Herman Moore?

And probably the best defensive player in Lions’ history? Alex Karras, who after going to the Hall of Fame, was best known for punching a horse in the classic comedy Blazing Saddles.

Karras probably appreciates Ndamukong Suh, who isn’t the Detroit front four, but just seems like it. The second-year defensive lineman is, how do we say this, larger than life. He is big, strong and, frankly, awesome. Teams won’t be running against the Lions any time soon. And when first-round pick Nick Fairley is ready to play, it makes the Lions’ front four all the more fascinating.

A defensive line. A quarterback. An all-world receiver. Maybe the Lions could use a running back to fill out the offence. But for once, once in a very long time, there is something to believe in with the Lions. This is just the start.

Dare we say a Super Bowl doesn’t look that far away?


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