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

I have found the answer to the Lions’ problems. He is a pass receiver. And he doubles as a defensive end. That’s right. He goes both ways. Just like the old days. Which, unfortunately, was the last time he played. The old days.

“We didn’t wear any darn face masks back then, either,” Ed Klewicki says with a snort. “You wanted to shoot your mouth off, you had to back it up.”

Today, the Lions are a sore spot, an irritation to some, an embarrassment to others. Fans are depressed. Players are disheartened. It has been this way for so long, people figure it was always so.

But back when Ed Klewicki played for the Lions, they were the toast of the town. People stopped for autographs. Restaurant owners opened their doors. On Sunday the players would ride to the game in a silver and blue bus with a huge lion painted on the side. As they rolled toward the stadium, their fight song would blare from speakers atop the bus.

It was 1935.

People did things like that.

“Did you have any controversies?” I ask.

“What kind of controversies?” asks Klewicki, 78. “You did what the coach told you to do. Nobody questioned that.”

“Did your first-round draft pick complain about his playing time?”

“I was the first-round draft pick.”

“You were?”

“Well, they told me I was.”

For $250 a game, Ed Klewicki caught passes on offense and rushed the quarterback on defense. In one game against the Chicago Cardinals, he batted down a pass on defense, picked up the ball and ran it in for a touchdown (you could do that back then). Later in that same game, he caught a pass from his own quarterback for another touchdown. So he had one on offense and one on defense.

Let’s see Lawrence Taylor try that.

“We won the NFL championship that year,” says Klewicki. “We went to Hawaii for an exhibition. We went by boat. Took five days to get there. We stayed for a month. Had a luau every night.”

“Who did you beat for the championship?”

“The Giants.”

The Giants? No quarterback controversies

I have found the answer to the Lions’ quarterback problems. And he doesn’t mind sharing the job. He wouldn’t mind playing the first quarter, skipping the second, returning for the third. Like they did in the old days. Which, unfortunately, is the last time he played. In the old days.

“I shared the quarterback position with Dutch Clark,” says Glenn Presnell, 85. “Back then, the Lions were known for a being a quick team. And Dutch was a great runner. I would start, and he would study their defense. Then he would come in and I would sit. We took turns.”

“No quarterback controversies?”

“Oh, heavens no. We were like family. We lived together. We ate together. We used to play cards in the basement. We called it the ‘Lions’ Den.’ “

On the day of the championship, there was a terrible blizzard. The stands were half empty. On the first play of the game, Presnell threw a quick pass to a receiver who took it to the 5-yard line. The Lions scored quickly; they were on their way to the title.

No quarterback controversies.

No second-guessing.

“How was your defense?” I ask.

“Our defense was excellent,” says Presnell. “In fact, the year before, nobody scored a point on the Detroit Lions until the eighth game.”

The eighth game? Remember the good times

How times have changed. These days, both Presnell and Klewicki have a hard time when they hear the Lions’ scores. Presnell, who lives in Ohio, was golfing Sunday. He came into the clubhouse, saw a couple of guys around the TV set.

“How’d the Lions do today?” he asked.

“They lost, as usual,” came the answer.

Meanwhile, Klewicki watched the game at his home in East Lansing. He was
“embarrassed” for his old franchise.

“I have to ask a question,” he says. “How come they don’t give the ball more to this Barry Sanders guy? He’s the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen.

“If he were playing back with our team, I’d give it to him 50 times a game.”

Sound familiar? Let’s face it. The problem with Detroit football is not a lousy season. It’s the length of time since the last great season. Fans have such a hard time remembering when things were good, they feel like things will always be bad.

And so they kick the TV set. They wave hands in disgust. And a couple of elderly gentlemen, who played the game in leather helmets with no face masks, try to remember when it all worked so well. A great team. A great city. A football honeymoon.

“I have the 1935 team picture on my bedroom dresser,” says Klewicki. “I look at it a lot lately. There was this one guy on the team, a halfback — man, he was a specimen! Blond hair. Went to Stanford. He was probably the fastest in the league.

“And today he has Alzheimer’s disease. He doesn’t even know his name. You think about that, and you try to reminisce on the more pleasant times. That’s what old people do, you know. That’s all they can do is reminisce on the more pleasant times.”

Not just old people.


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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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