LIONS’ LAST 1986 EFFORT REALLY WAS NO EFFORT AT ALL

Out with a whimper.

There were no bangs in this Lions’ season finale, not unless you count Darryl Rogers’ head against the wall. It was just another loss — the 11th of the year. Success? Absent. Effort? Missing. Execution? Well, unfortunately, no one tried executing the Lions. That might have worked. True, a few days ago, Rogers threw his players off the practice field for uninspired play.

The problem was they came back.

Save the worst for last, is that it? What an embarrassment. A 20-6 loss to an Atlanta team that looked as inspired as a group of Ex-Lax test rats. Forget that there were more people at the average shopping mall Sunday than were at the Silverdome. Maybe if the Lions had put out VCRs and sweaters and neckties
. . .

But no. That wouldn’t have helped. We all knew they weren’t going to the playoffs. But Sunday they played as if they had a taxi waiting. And even the tortured Lions fan deserves better than that.

“A lot of our guys had their minds on the highway,” fullback James Jones admitted.

If we’re lucky, some of their bodies will follow. Easy game proved too tough Splat! Thus endeth 1986. How awful was this closer? Well, let’s say you were on line at a department store Sunday for three hours, holding a tricycle and a dozen Santabears, with six kids drooling on your socks and a cashier who spoke only German.

You were still better off.

The Detroit offense never scored. The defense lived in the shadow of its goal line. Ed Murray missed an extra point. And Chuck Long? Well, maybe I better skip him. It could give new meaning to the phrase “holiday season depression.”

Remember how this was supposed to be Long’s “easy” game — after starting his career against the Chicago Bears Monday night?

Bring back Chicago.

If it was bad, it happened to Long Sunday. He tried two consecutive sneaks. Failed both times. He tried a long bomb. Got it intercepted. He had a third-and-long in scoring territory and got sacked back at the 50.

He is no doubt the future of this club, but with 11 minutes left in the game the future went to the sidelines in favor of Joe Ferguson. Chuck Long ended the 1986 season the way he started it — with a clipboard under his arm.

“Did you feel more like a rookie today than last Monday night?” he was asked.

“Definitely,” he said. “I’m just glad the rookie stuff caught up with me today rather than next season. I mean, we weren’t going anywhere today, no matter what.”

Credit the kid with perception, if not completion. Not everyone wearing a silver-and-blue uniform seems to realize the gravity of the situation. In fact, there is an attitude amongst some Lions that their team is far more talented than its record.

“We’re 5-11 now,” Jones told reporters. “But a few bounces and we could be 11-5.”

They’d have to be pretty big bounces. The season was a waste The fact is, the Lions never got off the ground this year, and this finale was the cherry on the whole lousy Sunday, er, sundae.

This was the season when things under Darryl Rogers were supposed to gel. Instead they coagulated. This was the season of the Long arrival. It proved to be the Long wait. It was the season of James Jones, left, James Jones, right
— but it wound up James Jones, missing. Where did he go the second half of the year?

The home field magic of 1985 went poof. The upset victories disappeared. And finally, Sunday, so did the inspiration — and that is inexcusable from professionals. Sure the 16-game season is long, and being out of the playoffs is a tough hurdle to keep jumping over. But Pittsburgh has managed to stay tough despite its early elimination, and so has San Diego and even Philadelphia.

“Today was embarrassing,” Jones said. “I don’t think any of us played 100 percent, me included.”

Too late now. The Detroit season is over. The players walked off to boos. And Darryl Rogers, who has said all along he lacks the horses to run at a lot of key positions, can put the finishing touches on his Christmas wish list.

“What do you need?” someone asked him.

“Oh, some linebackers, some big defensive linemen, some offensive linemen that can keep guys out, and some running backs that can go north and south.”

Got that, Santa?

Out with a whimper. An embarrassing finish. Lacking talent is one thing. Lacking intensity is another. All that is left for the Lions in this Christmas

season — when some teams actually go to the playoffs — is to throw a log on the fire, flick on the TV, and get out the ingredients to make eggnog.

They can start with the stuff on their faces.

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