by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Gather round, Lions. Everybody grab a Coke. We’re gonna give out a sack of game balls for Sunday’s efforts against Minnesota.

Get comfortable. It’s a big sack.

But then, this was a big game, at least if massacre is your thing. Detroit was to Minnesota on Sunday what a Cusinart is to a potato masher. They pureed the visitors, 41-21, proving once again, that Dorothy knew what she was talking about. There’s no place like home.

But then, the Vikings helped out quite a bit more than they did two weeks ago in Minnesota (when they beat Detroit, 16-13). This time, their secret game plan must have arrived by last minute telegram: GIVE DETROIT THE BALL. STOP. AT ALL COSTS. STOP. DON’T ASK QUESTIONS, JUST DO IT. STOP.

They obeyed. In the first quarter alone, Minnesota fumbled to Detroit twice, threw an interception, and punted. The only delivery method they didn’t try was Federal Express.

Thanks to their generosity, this may have been the first 4 p.m. game ever played in which you could make it home for a 5:30 supper and be certain you weren’t missing anything important.

But enough blabbing. After all, the Lions won this thing. They are still in the playoff hunt at 6-5. Soooo, let’s give out the first ball. You know who.
. . . Give credit where it’s due

That’s right. Darryl Rogers. And they said this guy would be bald by the fifth week on the job.

Come on up here, big fella. Let’s see. Landry, Shula, Walsh, and now Bud Grant. Only four of the winningest coaches in NFL history. You’ve beaten each of them this season. Not bad for a guy who never before coached a team without the word State in its name.

Take a ball, Darryl. Give us a few words. Was this the most fun you’ve had in your freshman NFL year?

“Most fun? No. I don’t think so. All the wins are fun. This was a vital game. Not anymore. Now it’s just over. We go on to the next vital game.”

Right. A coach’s work is never done.

Next up — oh, this is sweet — Mr. James Jones. Week after week, he tucks his head down and barrels ahead, and I’ve yet to see the guy go down with the first hit. The past few games, he has been the lone beacon in the Lions’ darkening offense. Take a bow, James. This time, you got a win to go with your bumps and bruises and 80 yards.

“Yeah, my back’s hurting even now. But this is really encouraging. This time we didn’t just move 25-30 yards and punt. We scored. Our offensive line was doing it.”

Oh yes. The offensive line. Come on up. All of you. Greco, Dorney, Strenger. Take a few game balls. Uh, limit three to a player. OK, guys? Guys?

And, uh, of course, Mr. Quarterback, the now-beardless Eric Hipple. Nice throwing. Three touchdown tosses in one half, a gorgeous timing pass to Mark Nichols down the left sideline for 38 yards.

“Well, we played it like a playoff game. They’re all like playoff games now. . . . Two weeks ago, Minnesota caught us off guard. This week, we caught them off guard, kept their defense on its heels the whole time.”

Defense. Almost forgot. Two weeks ago, the Lions played the Vikings’ running attack like a mound of shaving cream, and with about as much effectiveness. But Sunday? Only 63 yards surrendered — their best defensive effort yet.

There’s balls here for all you guys. Eric Williams — subbing for the injured Doug English — Demetrious Johnson, William Graham (two interceptions, forced a fumble). And then there was Eddie Murray, two long kicks, and there’s, uh, sure, Eddie, just take it, and Mark Nichols’ catches that, uh, OK, Mark, and the punting. . . . I, uh, no, I didn’t forget Alvin Moore, but, wha . . . Forget it. Everybody take one. Lions really cook at home

The rest of the balls in this bag go to the Silverdome. What is it about that place that turns the Lions into, well, Lions? They are undefeated there this season, 5-0. Could it be the fans? The field? The cooking?

“Whatever it is,” said Jones, “we gotta get over it fast. Next week we’re on the road.”

What the Lions need to do is figure out a way to take the Silverdome on the road with them. You know. You bring the pads, we’ll bring the stadium. Or maybe just a few familiar seats.

But OK. For now, the end of Week 11 in the NFL, the Lions are playing above .500, and they showed Sunday that they can learn from their mistakes and beat a team that has beaten them. Good. Because Chicago and Green Bay have invitations here next month.

Still, you can’t complain. Last year at this time, the Lions were somewhere between helpless and hopeless. But after Sunday’s game, a fan was heard to holler on his way out, “Six and five and still alive!”

Nice. Let’s hope it’s still rhymes next week.


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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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