As we approach Thanksgiving on Thursday, most of America has a lot to be thankful for.
Then there are the Detroit Lions’ fans who would be more thankful if the entire country didn’t have to watch their decrepit football team and they could suffer in silence.
The Lions have been part of Thanksgiving going back to 1934. The country was trying to fight its collective way out of the Great Depression and playing on Turkey Day was a way to get people out of the house, let mom have the kitchen to herself and spend three hours in a communal exercise of rooting for the home team.
Here we are in 2019, some 85 years later, and things are still depressing in the Motor City when it comes to its sports teams. And somehow, the Lions aren’t the worst of it. That honor would likely go to their next-door neighbors, the Tigers, who lost a Major League-worst 114 baseball games this year. The Tigers were worse than two teams that could care less about winning — the Baltimore Orioles, who dropped 108 games, and the Miami Marlins, who lost 105.
The Red Wings, who play in a beautiful arena, had the fewest wins in the NHL — seven — as of Sunday. The Ottawa Senators, who epitomize dysfunction in professional sports, have more points than the Wings.
The NBA’s Pistons, who share Little Caesars Arena with the Red Wings, had five wins as of Sunday, one more than the New York Knicks. The Pistons deserve to play in Cobo Hall, which was their home in the 1960s when they had famed stick-up artist Reggie Harding as their center.
You remember Reggie Harding, don’t you? He was a 7-footer who continuously ran afoul of the law, the original Pistons Bad Boy if you will. Legend has it Harding tried to rob a neighborhood liquor store and wore a ski mask as a disguise. But he couldn’t disguise his size. The owner immediately recognized him and said, “I know it’s you Reggie, now get the hell out of here.”
So as Detroit wallows in its sports misery, let’s go back to the Lions, who perhaps sank lower than any of the city’s teams with its performance last Sunday in losing to the Washington Redskins, 19-16. The Lions, for one of the rare times this year, were 3.5-point favorites, which should have told you something about the Redskins. But you already knew that, didn’t you?
And on that sorry note, the Lions will be exposed to the entire nation Thursday morning when they host the nearly equally inept Chicago Bears at Ford Field. I would strongly urge you to keep your young children away from the flat screen television if this is on. After all, mental health in this country being what it is, we don’t need any more people being scarred for life.
Now for you brave souls who insist on betting this contest, you have my utmost admiration. For not only will you have to endure three-plus hours of dropped passes, missed tackles, overthrown open receivers and of course, missed field goals and extra points from the kickers, you have to deal with the NFL’s stellar group of gentlemen known as the game officials.
That means pass interference calls, holding calls, roughing the passer calls for barely hitting the quarterback and whatever else they can think of before throwing a yellow flag.
Then there’s the pregame babbling. If you insist on listening, you’ll likely be serenaded about all the Lions’ gaffes over Thanksgivings past. You’ll be reminded the Lions have never been to a Super Bowl, much less won a Lombardi Trophy and they haven’t won an NFL championship since 1957 when Bobby Layne was the quarterback.
Someone will bring up Dave Williams’ overtime kickoff return in 1980 for the Bears’ win. Referee Phil Lockett’s screw-up of the coin toss for OT in 1998 will probably make it into the conversation. The Lions’ 47-10 loss to Tennessee in 2008 which contributed to Detroit’s perfect 0-16 season, is a can’t miss discussion item.
Me? Let’s hear someone talk about playing outdoors at Briggs Stadium, later called Tiger Stadium, with the snow falling and the irate fans pelting the Lion mascot with snowballs among other objects. Let’s have someone wax poetic about Dick “Night Train” Lane, Yale Lary, Lem Barney, Dexter Bussey, Bill and Barry Sanders.
Instead, some wiseguy on FOX (I’m betting on Terry Bradshaw) will bring up the fact that this year’s Bears and Lions have one thing in common that’s positive — that they both own wins over the New York Football Giants. And when that happens, my Thanksgiving will officially be ruined before it ever starts.