Detroit Lions share perfect Christmas gift in historic, division-clinching win

by | Dec 25, 2023 | Detroit Free Press, Sports | 0 comments

How’s this for a Christmas morning stocking stuffer? The Detroit Lions will win their division. The Lions will host a playoff game. Manna will fall from heaven.

OK, maybe not the last one. But the occasion calls for hyperbole, right? In a game that went down the final seconds Sunday, and looked like it might be lost in the ugliest of Lions’ traditions, defensive back Ifeatu Melifonwu stepped in front of Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson and finally got the best of him, stealing an interception near the end zone.

Melifonwu’s nickname is “Iffy.” Until that point, that was exactly how the Lions chances looked.

No more. History, made. Melifonwu’s timely pick cemented a win that shakes the rust of more than three decades of futility. That sound you just heard was history choking, and destiny clearing its throat.

How long has it been? Waco was under siege. Monica Seles got stabbed. The Dow Jones Industrial Average broke 3,700. That was all going on in America the last year the Lions won their division.

1993? A kid born back then could have graduated medical school and been delivering babies by now. But even the best doctor would be hard-pressed to deliver a more hand-wringing clincher than Sunday’s opera in Minneapolis.

“It was really important for us,” Amon-Ra St. Brown told the media, after a marvelous game, 12 catches for 106 yards, “I mean 30 years is a pretty long time when you think about it.”

Uh yeah. St. Brown hasn’t been on Earth that long!

Still, for much of the game, it looked like two people filled with Christmas spirit, one opening the door for the other. The Lions drove right downfield for a touchdown, then allowed the Vikings to do the same. The Lions turned the ball over on a fumble. The Vikings gave it back with an interception. The Lions punted. The Vikings punted. The Lions drove for a TD in the final two minutes of the first half. Then they let Minnesota do the same.

After you. No, after you.

Hey. No one said it had to be pretty.

History often isn’t.

Far from a perfect game

Now before we get too deep in the sticky weeds of this clincher, let’s remember the Lions are 11-4. Say it out loud. “The Lions are 11-4!” Pretty soon — maybe already — no one will care how they got there.

Which is a good thing, in the case of Sunday’s 30-24 victory. Yes, it was a critical win and wining is what counts. But as the final seconds clicked down, Dan Campbell didn’t look like a party animal. He knew there was a lot about this game that needed “cleaning up” — to use the en vogue phrase in the NFL these days.

The Lions surrendered 390 yards of offense to the Vikings, with backup-to-backup quarterback Nick Mullens passing for 411 and taking four sacks for a loss of 38 yards. And that’s with Mullens throwing the ball four times to the wrong team!

That’s way too many passing yards, and it won’t hold up in the postseason. The Lions also drew nine penalties. Unacceptable for a playoff team. But the Vikings drew eight flags of their own, and some of those overturned what would have been daggers for Detroit.

In the end, when you added up the mistakes and the takeaways, the great catches and the drops, the terrific running by Detroit and the non-existent running by Minnesota, it all came down to a final drive by the Vikings, who needed a touchdown to win the game, keep their own division hopes alive, and dangle the sword over Detroit for yet another week.

What happened? Well, since you’re likely busy with presents under the tree, here’s all you need to know: The Lions defense surrendered a third-and-27 completion from Mullins to Jefferson for 28 yards and a fresh set of downs — third-and-27? — and everyone in the stadium knew Jefferson was going to get it again.

Which is when Iffy did his thing, snagging his interception with less than a minute left. The Lions exhaled. Campbell exhaled.

The fans fainted.

Thirty years, but who’s counting?

How long has it been? Bill Clinton was sworn in as president. People were watching “Mrs. Doubtfire” at the movies. And it was a good year for future lovers Arianna Grande and Pete Davidson.

They were born.

That’s how long it’s been. Thirty years. So let’s take this moment to tip hats to Campbell, general manager Brad Holmes and team owner Sheila Hamp. How many coaches since 1993 have come in here saying, “The goal is the playoffs”? How any GMs have stood behind a podium defending draft choices and predicting their greatness? Do we really need the names? Ross? Mornhinweg? Quinn? Patricia?

No, we don’t need the names. Because, of all of them, only the Campbell-Holmes tandem have delivered a division title, a home playoff game, and possibly more.

Think about that. The first week of the playoffs will see Ford Field hopping with its first ever playoff game. Maybe the next week as well. And there’s still a chance the Lions could capture the No. 1 overall seed and stay home until elimination or — gulp — the Super Bowl?

This is heady stuff. A lot to take in. There are sportswriters like myself who look at locker room video from that last playoff win from the 1991 season and wonder who are those younger, thinner, hairier versions of ourselves? It’s over? The curse is really over?

Yep. Nothing Iffy about it.

“That was my first career interception,” Melifonwu told the media afterwards, “and thank God for that.”

Then again, it’s Christmas Day. We’re supposed to be doing that anyhow, right?

Contact Mitch Albom: Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at Follow him @mitchalbom.


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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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