BUCS TRIED LIONS’ SOULS; NEXT FOES WILL TRY MORE

There’s this old Three Stooges routine. Curly is in a coffee shop, ordering breakfast.

“Gimme a cold egg and stale toast,” he says.

“Cold egg and stale toast?” says the waiter.

“Yeah,” says Curly, “I got a tapeworm, and that’s good enough for him.”

It came to mind Sunday at the Silverdome, where the Lions overcame boredom, apathy and a shaky start to beat the hapless Buccaneers, 30-9.

Good enough.

But not so appetizing.

Sure, on the surface, this was not what you call your “big” game. Tampa Bay versus Detroit — one team winless, the other a loser to Indianapolis the week before.

You could tell by the crowd, or lack of it. The Silverdome was a sea of blue. Seats. The fans there couldn’t do a Wave. They couldn’t do a Puddle.

They booed. They wheezed. One sensed an overwhelming desire to go home and watch the Elvis movie on Channel 50.

What did it matter?

Well, it did matter. It mattered a lot. Because this was one of those games a hopeful football team has to swallow like cough syrup and pray that it doesn’t choke. The games against doormats — the snoozers, the games you’re supposed to win — are always that way.

These are the games that try men’s souls.

Men in shoulder pads, anyhow.

Bucs don’t run in a fast crowd

Remember that last week Eric Hipple fumbled on a key fourth- quarter drive. And the Lions lost to the Colts, 14-6.

The Colts were supposed to be hapless too. The Lions couldn’t afford a repeat against the Bucs. No way. Not with their schedule. Over the next six weeks they face four division champions. We’re talking Redskins, Bears, 49ers, Dolphins.

We’re talking blood.

So despite Tampa Bay’s 0-3 record, despite their Chiropractor Offense — everything begins with the back — despite the fact that a harp concert might be more exciting, this game was, in its own way, crucial, and Lions fans should be thankful the team got out with a victory.

Because it was not a masterpiece.

And there is some cause for concern.

Tampa Bay’s offensive line plowed through the Lions in the first half, opening holes that Jackie Gleason could have gone through. The Bucs prefer to use James Wilder. But then, the Bucs always prefer to use James Wilder. Run. Catch. Run. Run. Catch. Run. Catch. The last guy to get so much solo work was Rambo.

Fortunately for Detroit, Wilder is the beginning and the end of the Bucs’ offense. And eventually he ran out of steam.

And yet, until a touchdown in the closing seconds of the first half, the Lions were losing. And they really didn’t put the game away until the the Bucs fumbled over the ball in the final period.

Steve Martin once said, “Comedy isn’t pretty.”

Sometimes, neither is victory. OK for Hefner, not for Lions

But OK, 3-1 is 3-1. Good enough. Because the Lions will need the padding. They’ve finished boot camp. It’s time to ship out against the real teams.

“It’s going to be a week-to-week struggle from now on,” admitted coach Darryl Rogers.

And here’s why:

Although the Lions’ defense has generally held its own, their offense has been scattershot at best.

Sometimes they run. Sometimes they complete a pass. Sometimes they even score. But the same things can be said of Hugh Hefner, and he doesn’t have to play the Packers next week.

The running game? Well, without fullback James Jones the Lions are like cyclists in lead boots. And either Wilbert Montgomery needs bigger holes or the offensive line needs a faster running back, but one way or another, the guy is not breaking through enough.

And Hipple? Despite some heroics on Sunday, he’s generally played like an old Duke Ellington record. Sometimes he’s smooth as blue velvet, and sometimes he skips all over the place.

The team is 3-1, but there’s a nagging sensation that they could just as easily be a lot worse.

Good enough is only good enough sometimes.

But, OK. Let’s be optimistic. Let’s say Sunday was a motivational thing. Getting up for a game against the Bucs is like getting up to shovel snow. And just as entertaining.

The Lions won. It counts. That’s mostly what you want to hear for now.

These are the games that try men’s souls.

The ones coming up will try everything else.

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