TAMPA, Fla. — Complimenting a team on beating Tampa Bay is like complimenting a surgeon for washing his hands. Still, bad things often happen when the Lions play the lowly Bucs. So fans should be thankful this morning. Truth is, Detroit knew things would be fine when, late in the first quarter, the Buccaneers (franchise motto: “Forget the game, get a tan”) had one of those plays they now will try desperately to keep out of their football video.
Here were the Bucs, driving downfield, all the way to the Lions’ 4. Whoa! The Tampa Bay fans — both of them — were on their feet, rubbing sleep from their eyes and yelling for the cheerleaders to “Move! Move! Get out of the way!” because there was a chance they would actually see the home team score a touchdown, and if they could capture this on film, they might be able to sell it at collectors’ shows for a handsome profit.
Alas. That’s when quarterback Trent Dilfer (Swedish for “Where Am I Supposed to Throw It?”) dropped back and hummed that ball smack into the hands of Bennie Blades.
He plays for the Lions, remember?
Bang! Blades was off to the races. He burst across the field, then motored up the sidelines. Actually, he burst, then he motored, then he ran, then he jogged, then he waved for a taxi. He reached the 30, the 40, the 50, the 40.
(At this point I went out for a sandwich, then came back when he was at the 35.) Blades had one man to beat — Dilfer, the guy who threw the pass, who was chugging just as desperately — and you can only imagine the conversation as they drew closer in the 88- degree heat. BENNIE: Give up now . . . (huff, huff) . . . and I won’t hurt you . . . DILFER: OK, OK . . . (huff) . . . Just let me . . . (huff) . . . get a hand on you to . . . (huff) . . . make it look good . . . BENNIE: (Huff) . . . don’t block the camera angle . . .
Dilfer lunged, Blades straight-armed him, and, with the end zone in sight, Bennie fell down and took a nap. No. I’m kidding. He walked in for a touchdown, and the Lions were on the board. A 98-yard return, the longest ever against Tampa Bay.
That surprises me. Given how bad these guys are, I thought someone would have laid a 100-yarder on them.
Haven’t these Bucs fans suffered enough?
“What were you thinking as you ran down the sidelines?” someone asked Blades, 30, after his first-ever NFL touchdown on an interception, clearly the highlight of the Lions’ 27-0 thumping of the Bucs.
“I grabbed it and did my 40 yards,” Blades said. “Then the old man in me said, ‘The heck with this.’ I kinda slowed down.”
Well. To say he “kinda slowed down” is to say the Tigers “kinda” had a bad season. Here is how coach Wayne Fontes called it:
“He took off like the Bennie of old. After 20 yards, he looked more like me. After 20 more yards he looked more like you guys. And after that, he looked like one of those big old wrestlers carrying a piano on his back . . .
“And after that, he walked.”
Hey. What do you want? It was hot down here. Anyhow, Blades’ pick set the tone for a day in which the Lions made three interceptions and recovered a fumble.
More important, they beat Tampa Bay, which is kind of like paying income tax: no big deal if you do it, but a huge deal if you don’t.
Let’s face it, folks. Nothing demoralizes the Detroit Lions more than losing to these Bucs. This is a sorry franchise that, in the past decade, has had a barrel full of high first-round draft picks and has somehow has gotten worse. Here was Tampa Bay on Sunday, punting, getting called for a penalty, punting again, getting called for two more penalties, punting again. Three punts? On one play?
Same old Bucs. I wrote, jokingly, Friday that this team needed to be destroyed at the end of the season. Now, however, after seeing the sad Tampa fans who have suffered so long and hard, I realize, in retrospect, that I was wrong to be so flippant. And I apologize. They should be destroyed right now.
At least Lions are Tampa-proof this year
As for the Lions? They have now beaten the Bucs the last five times they’ve played them. That’s good. Give credit to Fontes for overcoming one of his demons and for getting the Lions back to a winning record (3-2.) The offense moved the ball, Scott Mitchell looked sharp, Barry Sanders was — well, why even bother, just get down and kiss the ground he walks on — and the defense, despite a linebacker corps that suggested a midseason Fox replacement show, made the big sticks when it had to. Let’s face it. When you shut out a team, everyone deserves congratulations.
“I’m just glad to be leaving here with a victory,” wide receiver Brett Perriman said. “In the past, we’ve come down and blown games we should have won.”
Not that they didn’t have support. At one point Sunday, the Bucs fans began
to cheer for Sanders, doing the familiar “Barry! Barry!”
None of this, by the way, was an excuse for the hot-dogging by Lions receiver Johnnie Morton, who not only high-stepped and pointed at defenders when he scored a touchdown, but reportedly spent several minutes toward the end of the game dancing near the cheerleaders. For one thing, Johnnie, you haven’t done enough in this league to pull that kind of attitude. And second, just remember, you get to leave Tampa, the fans here don’t.
With that, let us congratulate the Lions for passing through the valley of the shadow of embarrassment and coming out unscathed. On to the next game. And if you see Bennie Blades today, offer him an oxygen mask.