by | Feb 25, 2009 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

As I watched Daunte Culpepper get sacked, miss receivers, bump into teammates and hear boos from fans, I was hit with the following thought: Nobody needs the NFL this badly.

Culpepper, who came out of retirement for Sunday’s game, began the first quarter with an incompletion and an interception. He ended the second quarter by banging into his running back. He got three snaps in the third quarter.

And he sat for the fourth.

Hey. What did you expect? The last football action Culpepper saw was his son’s pee-wee team in Florida. Which, from what I hear, has a better defense than the Lions’.

Culpepper was a sideshow curiosity, a retired former Pro Bowler hired a few days earlier and thrown into the starting lineup the way college kids throw clothes into a washing machine or Army cooks throw ingredients into a stew. You know. What the heck? What difference does it make?

And from a results standpoint, it made none. The Lions got clobbered again, 38-14. They remain winless. What’s worse, they still don’t know how to hold an audience. All week they kept fans guessing whether Culpepper would start, then, once the game began, the defense was so bad, and was on the field so long, you barely got a chance to see him.

“Was it what you expected?” Daunte was asked.

“I expect to win.”

He clearly hasn’t been here long enough. One, brief shining moment

Now, let’s admit that Culpepper was, at times, impressive. For a man who hasn’t taken an NFL snap, or an NFL hit, since last November, he not only looked in shape, he didn’t fumble, he didn’t take too long, and he uncorked one long bomb to Calvin Johnson that actually got your heart beating. Especially since I figure his huddle conversation consisted of three sentences:

“What’s your name again?”

“OK, you be the bottle cap …”

“Johnson, go long.”

Honestly, how much can a guy learn in three days of practice? But let’s face it. This is a guy who wanted a return to the league. No one else was going to give him the reins, not midseason. Here, he’s like Gulliver meeting the Lilliputians.

“Did you know everybody’s names?

“I knew the receivers, yes.”

“Will you be sore tomorrow?”

“If you’re not sore, you didn’t do anything.”

Hmm. A lot of Lions must be feeling fine today. At last, it’s Stanton’s turn

By the way, with Dan Orlovsky out (remember he was last month’s sideshow?), we also got our first look at backup Drew Stanton, once of Michigan State. Drew came in briefly and threw a 1-yard touchdown. He also handled the fourth quarter. He finished with six completions and five sacks, which is not your ideal ratio, but, hey, he’s alive.

He also had the sense not to stick around for any embarrassing media sessions – and there I go using the word “embarrassing.” It became infamous after offensive coordinator Jim Colletto said he didn’t want to use Stanton yet because “I’m not going to embarrass the kid just to prove a point.”

People, including Stanton, took this the wrong way. Colletto didn’t mean Stanton was embarrassing. He meant Stanton playing for this team at this time could be embarrassing. Heck, I sit in the press box and I’M embarrassed.

So, instead, they threw Culpepper out there. He’s older. He can take it. And the grand publicity moment of the year is now over.

The whole thing reminds me of an old TV sitcom in which two aged parents announce they’re getting a divorce, prompting their kids to come flying home from around the country to talk them out of it. When the kids return to their lives, the mother turns to the father and says, “OK, what do we do next year to get them to come?”

The Lions have played their show card. They still got hammered, still got booed and, by the end of the game, Ford Field was near-empty. Someone asked coach Rod Marinelli how much game plan they gave Culpepper.

“Limited,” he said. “It was limited.”

With this team, what isn’t?


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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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