LIONS DON’T THINK, SPEND LIKE WINNERS

There go the Dallas Cowboys, rolling down the highway, heading for the playoffs, maybe the Super Bowl, while the Lions sit here, on the side of the road, casts on their legs, thumbs out, looking for a ride.

The final cookie of last year’s dream season now officially has been crumbled. There will be no beating Dallas this year. This will be no beating anyone that matters. The only sure thing to come out of Sunday’s 37-3 embarrassment was this: That’s the last time the Lions see 75,000 fans in the Silverdome for a while.

Never have so many shown up for so little.

Scoring? Oh, we had scoring. Unfortunately, it was all for the Cowboys. Tackles? We had tackles. They, too, were mostly by Cowboys, except the time Rodney Peete scrambled out of bounds and went smack into the table full of Gatorade, knocking it over, landing on his face. We have to credit the table on that one.

One thing the Lions did offer was penalties, 10 in all. In the first half, the Lions drew four yellow flags on kicking plays. This, unfortunately, is not the stuff you put in highlight videos.

But then, nothing on Sunday was, except an aerial shot of the parking lot. Sadly, the game was decided so early, some people were driving in while others were driving out.

“Hey. Where ya going?”

“Dallas already has an interception, fumble recovery and two touchdowns, and it’s still the first quarter!”

“Damn. Can I get my parking money back?”

Bust of the ’90s

Well. Such is losing. The Lions began the game by turning the ball over, made a few more heartfelt efforts, fell behind, and pretty much sighed their way through the final three quarters. Afterward, in the locker room, most of them were nonchalant, a sure sign a team is done.

The Cowboys put on a clinic.

“What did you say to Michael Irvin on the phone this week?” someone asked Brett Perriman. Perriman and Irvin — Dallas’ star receiver — were college buddies back at Miami (Fla.).

“Well, Michael told me, ‘We’re good,’ ” Perriman recalled. “That’s all he said. ‘We’re good, and we’re gonna whip you this time.’ “

Hmm. Does he give stock tips?

They were good. They did whip the Lions. And the sad thing was, almost everyone expected it. Can you believe this same Lions franchise beat the Cowboys twice last season by a combined score of 72-16?

How far things have fallen. Last year, the Lions and Cowboys were toasted as “teams of the ’90s.” Wayne Fontes and Jimmy Johnson both took over about the same time. But let’s be honest: There is no question now who has been smarter in the rebuilding.

And it ain’t just the coaches.

It’s the owners, and the rest of the front office.

Want proof? Johnson, working in cahoots with his owner-buddy Jerry Jones, has made wholesale changes with the Cowboys, 46 trades since his arrival. The Herschel Walker deal, of course, gave Dallas the most draft choices this side of the Army — and resulted in players such as Emmitt Smith, the reigning NFL rushing champ. But it wasn’t just that:
* The Cowboys signed a record 16 Plan B free agents one year, and spent more than $1 million in signing bonuses, which got them players such as tight end Jay Novacek.
* Last year, their top three picks were signed on the day they were drafted.
* They spent a fortune on upgrading practice facilities.
* They put the emphasis on blocking, and getting to the quarterback, so they used a No. 1 pick on Russell Maryland, a defensive lineman, and they now have the top-ranked defense in the NFL.
* They managed to get diamonds for dust, like Charles Haley, starting defensive end, for second- and third-round picks, or Thomas Everett, starting safety, for a fifth-round pick.

Now consider what the Lions have done in that same time. They used a No. 1 pick on Andre Ware, who does nothing but hold a clipboard. They made few significant trades. They had holdouts. They changed their offense, then changed it again. They overrated their line, and were dead in the water when injuries occurred. Their practice field is in the parking lot. They still can’t block or get to the quarterback.

And they gave Fontes a contract extension this year.

Notice a difference in philosophy?

This Bill needs a plan

Yes, it’s true, the Lions made some nice additions — mostly skill players, like Barry Sanders and Herman Moore — and yes, tragedy and injuries have poisoned them. But they don’t have the personnel brains to patch things quickly, and they certainly don’t spend their way out of trouble, like Jones and the Cowboys do. William Clay Ford watches the purse strings, and that’s largely why he ultimately watches teams like Dallas surpass him.

“Dallas keeps getting better, and we’re like sort of starting over again,” sighed offensive tackle Lomas Brown.

Again is the key word there. The sad truth is, it’s time for the Lions to do their Bill Clinton impression. Plan ahead. Put the transition team in place. This year doesn’t matter anymore. Try things. Re-evaluate players. Let unknown talent play.

We don’t need Fontes saying: “Our goal now is to finish 10-6. . . . Our goal now is to finish 9-7. . . .”

Their goal now is to finish. Alive.

There go the Cowboys. We wish them well. Maybe one day, we’ll look them eye-to-eye again. As for the rest of this Detroit season? Well. At one point, the Silverdome scoreboard lit up with a contest message:

“IT’S LIONS TRIVIA TIME.”

It sure is.

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