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

TAMPA, Fla. — Yippee! The Lions won. I vote we end the season right now.

Why wait the final two weeks? They could lose the final two weeks. Please, somebody. Put it in ice. Let us finish this desperate journey on a happy note, even if it did come at the expense of the Buccaneers, Florida’s answer to the poster child.

“How does it feel?” someone asked Darryl Rogers, after his Lions knocked off Tampa Bay, 20-10, Sunday to end a four-game losing streak and raise their record to 3-10.

“It feels,” he said, “like a change.”

Right, Darryl. My thoughts exactly. Look at this locker room. Players slapping backs, screaming, making jokes. Wayne Fontes with his hair slicked back, holding a cigar. Rogers and Russ Thomas and William Clay Ford huddling, for once not looking as if they’re about to get sick.

Amazing what a little victory will do.

“We played hard,” Chuck Long said.

“We ran more,” James Jones said.

“It wasn’t sloppy,” Jimmy Williams said.

Well. Wait a minute. Let’s not get carried away. From the joyous locker room, this might have felt like Camelot. From the press box, it looked more like parking lot.

Here was a contest handled like a bag of manure. Take the snap, fumble it away. Recover the fumble, get a penalty and give it back. You take it. No, you take it. Five fumbles. Fifteen penalties. Young players playing young football.

Happily, for once, the opponent was better at this than the Lions — largely because of Vinny Testaverde, Tampa Bay’s latest savior, who, at 24, is rich every which way but in experience.

Listen to this series of downs in the second quarter: Testaverde throws an interception. Wait. It’s nullified by a penalty on Bobby Watkins. Testaverde throws an interception. Oops. Check that. He was ruled in the grasp of Mike Cofer. Testaverde throws an interception, which Jimmy Williams returns 48 yards.

What, no flags?

Bucs’ turn for embarrassment “I’m embarrassed for two people,” Bucs coach Ray Perkins said afterward, “myself and our fans.”

Well. So his addition is lousy. The point is, Ray, we in Detroit know all about it. We have been suffering that embarrassment all season.

And now, you can have it. You’re 4-9. Try again next week. Meanwhile, I vote the Lions check out, pay the bill, and give fans hope for next year.

Look. There were some high notes. Williams, the linebacker, played a hell of a game. Blocked a punt, made that interception, returned it 48 yards before running out of bounds (“my behind was tightening up,” he said — really).

And speaking of running, the Lions did some Sunday. The Jameses — Jones and Garry — were back from injuries, and gained 107 yards combined, along with 78 more from Butch Woolfolk and Gary Ellerson.

Sure, Detroit still had its share of mistakes. But it was that kind of game, and it was that kind of opponent. If it’s true that teams play to the level of their rivals, this one could have been held in the Tampa subway.

Now, true. I don’t see the Bucs every week. Thank God. On Sunday they played minor league football. No wonder they labor here, in the shadow of baseball’s spring training sites. I half expected the phone to ring and hear:
“Send that kid up on the bus. We need righties.” At least in spring training, they switch pitchers every three innings.

If it weren’t for the generosity of the Lions, the Bucs might have lost by 40 points. Another Testaverde interception was handed back when Jerry Ball roughed the quarterback. A fumble recovery was nullified when Detroit’s George Jamison was called for holding.

This is the sort of football we got to witness, and you, at home, got to watch, assuming you weren’t preoccupied with something important, like flossing your teeth.

Several players actually left the game with cramps — which is only fair, because Lions fans have been doing that all season. A moment to remember But here’s the point. A win is a win. So for once, Jones could answer questions without shaking his head. And Long didn’t have to begin by saying “It’s tough to take. . . . “

Give me a camera. Let me Polaroid the look of these smiles, the picture of some hope. And then let’s put it in the album and seal it up. This wasn’t great football we saw Sunday, but it was good enough for a memory.

Besides, if they end it now, the Lions are still in the running for the No. 1 draft pick next year. Not that it matters to us, you understand.

After the game, Rogers shook hands with all his players. One at a time.

“What did you say to them?” he was asked.

“I said, ‘See ya tomorrow.’ “

There’s no talking to these guys.


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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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