A new night, a new team and a whole new feeling

by | Oct 11, 2011 | Detroit Free Press, Sports | 0 comments

Change. One minute, the Lions didn’t have a rushing game. The next minute, they had an 88-yard touchdown run.

Change. One half, they didn’t have enough points. The next half, they had more than they needed.

Change. One season, they couldn’t keep the Bears from knocking out their quarterback. This season, Matthew Stafford raced past Chicago defenders to high-five teammates.

Change. One decade, the Lions didn’t have a team worthy of a primetime performance. This decade, well…

When are you coming back, ESPN?

Change. On a sports night of epic proportions – playoff baseball team in action, undefeated football team on national TV – it was the Lions who provided the exclamation point, staying perfect, taking down the rival Bears, 24-13, the way they’ve taken down a lot of teams down this year, emerging at halftime, righting the sails, sinking the battleship.

Are you ready for some Prime Time?

Because this was a real performance. Worthy of the TV slot. Chocked with highlight plays:

This was Stafford laying a feather bomb into the hands of Calvin Johnson, who lost two defenders en route to a 73-yard touchdown. This was Jahvid Best taking an underneath handoff, cutting back, and going 88 yards untouched. This was the defense flying like a fleet of loose jackhammers, throwing Bears to the turf with hustle, with muscle, and with a little bit of attitude.

And this was Detroit – 67,861 fans, the largest Lions crowd in the history of Ford Field – making the place so insanely loud, a Metallica fan would ask for earplugs.

“It’s our job to go out there and give them something to cheer about,” Stafford would say. They did.


A few issues in the first half

It had been 37 years since a “Monday Night Football” game was played within our city limits. The streets were teeming with sports fans seeking updates from the Tigers-Rangers playoff game while marching through turnstiles screaming “LET’S GO LIONS!”

From the jump, the human amplifiers in Ford Field were dialed to the point of explosion. The whole first quarter had the feeling of a building on fire. The stands were 5,000 volts of nervous energy. Players soared and crashed furiously. Yellow flags flew so fast you thought they were being thrown by Kevin Bacon at the riotous end of “Animal House.” Stay calm! All is well!

How crazy was it? How about one Chicago drive with seven penalties called? It wasn’t loud in the building, it was painful. The noise was a suffocating blanket, a pounding hammer, if you put your hands over your ears it only made it feel like you were under an crashing ocean.

But amidst all that first-half hysteria, the Lions neglected to do some basics things – like stop the run, sack the passer and avoid mistakes that prolonged drives. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, moving like a man being chased by lions (the other kind), managed to slip tackles and flip passes with stunning accuracy, finding a leaping Devin Hester between two defenders, finding Kellen Davis in the back of the end zone.

Chicago had the ball more than twice as long as Detroit. By the halftime gun, the Lions had won the noise, energy and passion battles, but they were losing the scoreboard one, 10-7.

A perfect ending

But as Barry Sanders said on the EPSN intro to the game, “Detroit doesn’t pat itself on the back. It gets the job done.”

And who’s gonna argue with Barry?

So despite a Houdini performance by Cutler, the Lions’ defense caught him eventually, sacking him several times in the second half, thwarting drives, chucking receivers and running backs to the turf. Detroit played sloppy (way too many penalties) but it played mean, and mean was enough.

Finally, with 4:07 left, and the Bears within eight points, 21-13, Stafford handed the ball off to Best, and off he flew – racing for 43 yards, stomping any Chicago comeback ideas, bringing the crowd yet again to its feet, and earning his first ever 100-yard running game.


They shut the door. They won by 11. And just shy of midnight (on a school night!) fans were still rubbing their eyes, screaming themselves horse and the Lions are 5-0. I’m not kidding; they’re not kidding. They may not be a perfect team, but they’ve found a way every week. And Monday they turned baseball heartbreak into football exhilaration.

At one point in the dramatic ESPN open, the announcer acknowledged previous years of Detroit gridiron frustration, but added the sweetest words you can hear in Motown: “Those days are gone.”

So gone, they’re now nights.

Change. It’s a good thing, no?

Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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