by | Nov 6, 2000 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

MY CAR ran out of gas on the way to Sunday’s game, so in the middle of Telegraph Road, I had to dash across the street, buy a gallon, dash back, and pour it in my tank. Naturally, the gas got all over me. When I arrived at the Silverdome, I was a disaster — plus, I stunk.

Who knew I was mimicking the team I was about to cover?

You think I had a bad opening? The Lions, against Miami, surrendered half the field on their opening kickoff, and the rest on the first play from scrimmage.

One play. Down 7-0.

Then they fell for an onside kick. The Dolphins recovered and, a few plays later, rammed it into the end zone for touchdown No. 2.

Down 14-0 — before the offense touched the ball.

Not that we were in a hurry for that. When Charlie Batch and Co. finally took the field it was a comedy of arrears. Batch made what is coming to be known as a very foolish play — throwing the ball into the hands of tight end David Sloan — and Sloan dropped two passes on the first series.

The Lions punted. The crowd booed.

Bad openings? The only difference between the Lions’ pathetic start and mine was that if this game had been covered in gas, the fans would have thrown a match.

“One of the most embarrassing losses I’ve ever had,” Bobby Ross would say when this was over. The sad part is, he could have said it after the Lions’ first possession.

His team didn’t score until the fourth quarter. Batch never hit a wide receiver in 16 attempts. Special teams gave up huge yardage, fumbled, and allowed a blocked punt. Nobody tackled.

I don’t want to say the fans bailed early, but just before halftime, defensive end Luther Elliss turned to the crowd and windmilled his arms.

Dead silence.

Elliss to crowd: “MAKE NOISE!”

Crowd to Elliss: “You must be joking.”

Whom to blame? Take your pick

If the Lions were a proposal, they’d be voted down Tuesday. They lost, 23-8, and it wasn’t that close. They have lost two in a row and, worse, treat the first half like a morning yawn.

Maybe the saddest part is the continued slide of Batch. He is clearly not himself. Then again, whoever he is, he isn’t going out in public. The most common play for Charlie these days is the pump fake, the pump run, the pump fake, the sack. Good for “Dance Fever.” Bad for Sundays.

You watch him in the pocket, searching for receivers, dodging linemen, and find yourself yelling, “OK, Charlie, run it then! …All right, PASS it then!
…OK, RUN it then — AHHHHH, NUTS!

Batch threw for fewer than 100 yards Sunday, no touchdowns and three sacks. On his final play, two Miami tacklers slammed his head so hard it finished him for the day.

I consider that an act of mercy.

Not that he was alone. There wasn’t one part of this game worth saving.

Turnovers: Larry Foster fumbled at Miami’s 3.

Return game: Terry Fair fumbled the second-half kickoff.

Punting: John Jett had another one blocked — by a guy who simply beat his man one on one.

After the game, Ross was crestfallen. His voice was choked. His jowls were lower than a bloodhound’s.

“Right from the beginning it was obvious we weren’t ready to play, OK? And that’s in the preparation, OK? It was a total lack of poise and self-discipline. It bothers me that we were so careless, so indifferent, OK? Very embarrassing. But that’s my responsibility, OK?”

Gee. What can you say to that except …OK?

Lions head for comfort of middle ground

Still, the Lions should be ashamed if they let Ross hang in the wind. He didn’t drop easy passes. He didn’t overthrow receivers. He didn’t miss tackles
— or not bother to tackle at all.

At one point, Ross was so down, he said he needed to evaluate things and “talk to my wife.” Some took that as a sign of surrender. I don’t know. Maybe his wife knows a few players who set their alarms before 2:30 p.m. on Sundays.

The shame of this debacle is that it comes when the Lions were being picked by some pundits as “a team to watch for the postseason.” Maybe that should read
“a team that will watch the postseason.”

For the Lions, no matter how many good breaks they get, seem determined to scamper to the middle of the standings. They took a 5-2 record to Indianapolis last week and had every chance to leap into the upper echelon of the league. Instead, they hemorrhaged early points and couldn’t catch up.

Then Sunday, at home, with a chance to go 6-3, they collapsed completely, returning to the familiar land of 5-4, where they can say things like “We’re still in it” while playing as if they couldn’t find “it” with a shovel and a blowtorch.

It’s one thing to fight against the odds. It’s another to stack those odds against yourself. Right now, the Lions’ problem can be found in the mirror. And I don’t mean their haircuts.

By the way, despite my numerous visits to the bathroom sink, on my way out Sunday, someone sniffed and said, “Pyew! What happened to you?”

I stunk coming in, I stunk going out.

Never let it be said I don’t empathize with the home team.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or Listen to his radio show, “Albom in the Afternoon,” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).


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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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