by | Oct 22, 2001 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

At one point in Sunday’s Lions-Titans game, play was stopped because of a rip in the artificial turf. Eventually — and we’ve had commando raids completed in less time — someone from the Silverdome grounds crew showed up. Here is what he did:

He took duct tape, double-sided the problem, and stomped on it until it stayed put.

Oh, if we could only do that to the Lions!

Tennessee 27, Detroit 24. Some losses amuse. Some losses amaze. This one did both. And then, in the final seconds, it broke your heart — assuming your heart is silly enough to still be involved with an 0-5 football team.

“There were a lot of strange things that happened today,” coach Marty Mornhinweg said.

Gee, I don’t know. Not if you live in Amityville.

Try this on for weirdness: Two Lions get thrown out of the game. One Lions field goal attempt gets blocked and returned for a touchdown. Another field goal attempt fizzles when the snap rolls off the snapper’s hand. Charlie Batch sees a snap fly over his head and a sneaker fly over his head (from one of his linemen, who didn’t want to tie it.) The Lions once again draw eight penalties, including roughing the passer, pass interference, taunting and leverage.

I am not making this up. They got penalized for “leverage.”

What are they, junk bond traders?

Not so fast, Heisman dude

As if all this weren’t enough, the Lions were, believe it or not, still in the game in the final minutes. They rallied above their errors — which is like a lobster rising out of boiling water — and stopped Tennessee, forced a punt, then drove 79 yards for a tying touchdown.

That touchdown — sit down, folks, you won’t believe this — came on a long pass reception by Desmond Howard, who hasn’t done that around here since he was studying for final exams in Ann Arbor.

“I was trying to catch my breath,” said Howard, whose beautiful 36-yard catch made it 24-24. “I was sure we were going back out there for overtime.”

Not so fast, Heisman dude. This was still the Lions, remember?

So in the final 78 seconds, the Detroit special teams gave up a 25-yard kickoff return. And Robert Bailey missed a tackle that turned a short pass into an 18-yard gain. And Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair escaped the Lions’, uh, defense and rumbled for 22 yards.

That was all the Titans needed. They hailed their field goal unit, and one 46-yard kick later, the game was over.

The Lions, last of the winless teams, are now officially in the basement of the NFL.

“If you’d have told me at the start of the season we’d be sitting at 0-5, I’d never have believed you,” Batch said.

Well, the record is only one stunner.

How about losing two of their best receivers in one week — Herman Moore and Germane Crowell, both gone for the year?

How about Tracy Scroggins and Luther Elliss — two of the most experienced Lions defenders — getting tossed out of the game for bad behavior?

How about Terry Fair getting called for taunting Tennessee receiver Drew Bennett as the Titans were within spitting distance of the Lions’ end zone? What on earth could Fair have been saying?

FAIR: Ha! Knocked you down!

BENNETT: Uh, we have another play.

FAIR: You do?

Explosions, bottle rockets, laughter

Now it’s true with the Lions, there seems to be one of these games every season, when the house collapses and the roof caves in and there are explosions and bottle rockets and laughter and anger and dumb plays and penalties and blocked balls and tips and bounces. Some of these games they win. Most of them they lose.

But this one pretty much buried the season. At 0-5, Mornhinweg is already working on year two of the five-year plan, whether he wants to admit it or not.

And that’s a shame, because this team has some talent. This week and last week, with last-minute losses, the Lions did enough to make you think: Gee, maybe with a tweak here, a tweak there. . . .

Forget it. The easiest thing to do is stay close and lose. The hardest thing is to make plays when you have to — and avoid stupidity when you can least afford it. The Lions don’t do this, which makes them about a million miles from victory, no matter how close the score.

“Eventually, something good is gonna happen,” safety Ron Rice said. “We haven’t done anything right all year.”

If you can balance those two sentences, you should be the coach.

At the end of Sunday’s downer, as the Lions walked off the field, whoever runs the stadium music actually played “Freefalling” over the loudspeakers.

Where’s the duct tape when you need it?

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or Catch ”Albom in the Afternoon” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760) and simulcast on MSNBC 3-5 p.m.


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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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