Friday, December 19, 2008

Rooting for a Winless Season

The topic du jour in Detroit sports this week is a debate over whether or not you can call yourself a legitimate Lions fan if you're rooting for the team to go 0-16. The case for the prosecution (i.e. you're not a fan) has been represented this week on Fox 2 Detroit's SportsWorks featuring local media guys Dan Miller, Jamie Samuelsen and Sean Baligian. Online you can find a piece by Tom Kowalski. (Sorry, Tom, I won't call you by your ridiculous nickname; you're a sports beat reporter and a great one, but you're not a pilot in Top Gun). Representing the defense you've got Ian Casselberry at Sweaty Men Endeavors (you have to be secure in yourself to call your blog that) and Al Beaton over at The Wayne Fontes Experience (god help me, but I actually miss the unwavering mediocrity of the Wayne Fontes era).

The prosecution thinks no fan roots for their team to lose. Al calls "bullshit" as only he can and Ian... well, Ian settles on a polite, "Fuck You," which if you read his blog is not something he writes very often (if ever). Their premise is that only the complete and utter humiliation of an 0-16 season will spur real and lasting change.

I've been thinking about it all week and I sort of agree (and disagree) with all parties, if that's even possible given the bitter divide. The people who run this organization, who've been outright stealing fans' money, while displaying the kind of inept incompetence that would get anybody short of an elected representative fired, absolutely deserve to have an 0-fer hung around their necks for all time. The Ford ownership deserves it as do the people running the show. But then you get to the players.

Regardless of whatever hacks are in the offices upstairs, the players are the ones fans turn out or tune in to see. I love Pistons GM Joe Dumars, but when I sit down to watch the Pistons play on TNT it's the players I want to see and I just don't think fans should wish that kind of shameful immortality on them. Some of them may deserve it, but regardless of individual talent, most of them don't. Jason Hanson doesn't deserve it. Calvin Johnson doesn't deserve it. Dan Orlovsky doesn't deserve it. Ernie Sims doesn't deserve it. So, when the team takes the field against New Orleans this weekend, and again when they head up to Packer country for their final game, I'll be pulling for a win. They're not going to, because this team is so epically bad the only way the will sniff a victory is if the other team mails it in (possible, but unlikely; nobody wants to be the team that lost to the Lions).

0-16? 1-15? Al and Ian things there's a world of difference between the two. They think a winless season is the only way to guarantee that ownership takes off and nukes the site from orbit. (It's the only way to be sure.) I respect that, and I would never arrogantly question their fandom as the hacks in print and TV media are doing, but I don't agree. Records aren't the writing on the wall for William Clay Ford. The writing on the wall is the fact that Lions home games are now regularly blacked out on Sundays. As inept as the franchise has been in the Millen era, fans were still showing up. Not so anymore and that's all the ammunition needed to spur the next new wave of Lions management and coaching. No one's job within the organization is going to be lost or saved on the presence or absence of just one win (or two).

So, in the next 30 days or so the Lions are sure to tap their next savior and try to build something up from the ashes of this season. That's all well and good. The rebuilding process has to start somewhere after all. But as I wrote when Millen was finally, mercifully shown the door early in the season, starting over again is the easy part. The hard part is putting someone in place to run this franchise who is actually... what's the word? Oh yes: Competent. I hope that happens. But William Clay Ford hasn't managed to do that during his entire 50-year stewardship of this franchise. Is there really any reason to believe he's going to get it right this time?