The game was about over, the Lions had won, and here came the ice water, over Rod Marinelli’s neck and shoulders.
“How many times,” someone asked him after the game, “have you had one of those buckets dumped on you?”
“This was the first one,” he said.
The first one? Well. A coach’s first ice water bath is a momentous occasion, so hold your cynicism for a moment, while we acknowledge that, while he often talks funny and he is totally consumed by the game, Marinelli has worked damn hard with this Lions team. They do have a winning record. And beating his old boss, Jon Gruden, and his old franchise, Tampa Bay, and getting the ice water treatment from his appreciative players, was a nice moment. It was a notch on Marinelli’s belt, the shedding of a ghost.
And ghosts were all over Ford Field on Sunday.
Or didn’t you notice the opposing team’s redheaded quarterback? Dink. Dink. Dink. That was old friend Jeff Garcia picking away at the Detroit defense, with endless flicking-over-the-middle pass, five yards, seven yards, six yards, nine yards. Dink. Dink. Dink. At one point he hit 18 of these passes in a row, 18 successful ax chops at a tree. Garcia used to work here, but he was never this efficient. He usually did things like spin, run, then throw an unwise heave into the arms of the other team.
On Sunday, he didn’t do that, but the ball ended up in the other team’s hands anyhow. Twice on exchanges involving Garcia – one a handoff to his running back and one a snap from center – the ball bobbled free and the Lions recovered. Both fumbles ended Tampa scoring threats and shifted the momentum.
“We were our own worst enemy today,” Garcia said. And despite completing 37 of 45 passes, he walked off defeated.
That ghost must have felt familiar.
Jones finally puts injury behind him
Then there was ghost that Kevin Jones sent packing. Just a few months ago, Jones was still coming back from a serious foot injury, and he would fight the pain and stand up straight when the coaches walked past, hoping they wouldn’t put him on the physically unable to perform list.
Privately, he wondered if his NFL career was done. “A running back’s lifespan in this league is what, three years?” he observed after the game Sunday. “For me, that would have been it.”
Instead, the Lions took a chance and kept him off that list. And Sunday, finally – after weeks of kid-glove treatment – they let him run free, and he looked like his old self. Jones was the workhorse of the offense, getting 15 handoffs for 76 yards and catching six passes for 34 more. He scampered. He dodged. He looked ready.
“As a player, you get frustrated because you want to play, but when I look back on” the way the team brought him along slowly. “I’m really grateful. I’m healthy now.”
It didn’t hurt that he got plenty of rest Sunday. The Lions’ offense only had the ball for about 24 minutes. At one point, Jones sat and watched as Garcia led the Bucs on a nine-minute drive. Nine minutes?
“It’s long ” he said. “But at least you get your wind back and you get your legs back.”
Nine minutes? You could get your childhood back.
This time, Lions always had the response
The thing is, that nine-minute drive ended in no Buccaneers points (a missed field goal). And the game, one of those bend-but-don’t-break defensive jobs, is the kind the Lions usually lose – but they won this one. They won with a brilliant end-around touchdown run by Calvin Johnson and three timely sacks and those fumble recoveries.
And if you point to the 316 passing yards they gave up, you have to point to their blocked punt, and if you point to the onside kick they didn’t recover, you must point to the one they did.
Winning is winning. And the Lions have four wins after six games, and Marinelli has his first wet head.
“Will you now admit how important this game was for you personally?” he was asked.
“No,” he said, hiding a grin.
His shirt was wet. The ice had melted. And as certain ghosts are banished from Ford Field, the ice is melting a little around here, too.
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).