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

I hate to get serious on a Monday morning, but I think some people have got this “Lions Lose Anthony Carter” drama a little mucked up.

If you listened to all the theories floating around out there, you’d believe that:

A) Lions GM Russ Thomas was shanghaied by Don Shula, who backed out on a deal, or . . .

B) The Lions were too cheap, too incompetent, too dunderheaded to make a deal, or . . .

C) The Dolphins were about to deal Carter’s rights to the Lions, when the ghost of Monte Clark reached out and touched someone — in this case, old buddy Shula — and made him turn away and deal Carter to Minnesota.


This stuff reminds me of an old movie — “Murder By Death” I think — in which a group of detectives tries to figure out how a woman got stabbed to death when apparently no one was around.

One detective says he’s got it. The murderers rigged up a machine, filled it with knives, and at a precise moment, at a precise angle, the machine activated and did the good lady in.

And a Charlie Chan type says, “Hmm. Very interesting theory. Only one thing wrong.”

“What’s that?” says the detective.

“Is stupid. Is most stupid theory I ever hear.”Missed deal for the details

So are the above theories. Stupid.

First of all, anyone who has dealt with Shula over time — and I had the chance for several years — knows he doesn’t make deals from his emotional scrapbook. Never. It’d be fun to think he felt so much for old buddy Monte and the way the Lions treated him that he nixed a transaction.

It would also be a lie. And any journalist who tells you otherwise is making it up.

Second point. Thomas was not shanghaied. He got caught napping. He misread the cues, thought he had a deal going, then Shula made another one.

Do you want the facts?

OK. The Dolphins wanted Cobb, the Lions wanted Carter. They allowed the players’ agents to begin negotiations. Thomas saw this as meaning a deal was all but done — otherwise why let the agents in? Shula didn’t see it that way.

That was the first cue Thomas misread.

Next they started dickering over the rest of the compensation. Thomas wasn’t willing to give up the players Shula wanted, and the ones he was willing to give up, Shula didn’t want any part of.

The key became a 1986 second-round draft choice. Word is Shula would have accepted Cobb and a No. 2. But Thomas wouldn’t surrender a No. 2 easily. He kept talking other players.

So Shula went back to the films, and decided that, hey, this Robin Sendlein from Minnesota looks like a better player for the Dolphins anyhow.

Meanwhile, Thomas was busy with details on Anthony Carter. Could he get out of the USFL? Could the Lions sign him? How much?

And all the while, Miami was slip-sliding away.

A final call from Shula came last Thursday morning. Nothing was resolved. Thomas saw it as just one more call. Shula saw it as the end.

That afternoon, Shula got what he wanted from Minnesota — a linebacker and a No. 2.

And that was that. Boring, maybe. But true.Shula went about his business

Should it have happened? I don’t think so.

Look, on the one hand you have Carter, who would have meant loads to the Lions, both talent-wise and public relations-wise.

(By the way, some folks say, “Why get Carter, when the Lions don’t have a quarterback who can reach him on a long pass?” Come on. You don’t bypass talent because you may lack it elsewhere. Is stupid. Is most stupid theory I ever hear.)

On the other hand, what are you giving up? Cobb — who isn’t going to play for the Lions this year anyway — and, let’s say, a No. 2 pick.

For a home-town receiver who ought to have “See Ya Later” stitched on the back of his jersey?

I’d say it’s a great deal. So make it. Thomas gripes that Shula “never told him” he was about to go elsewhere with Carter. Hey, that’s not Shula’s obligation. This is business, daddy. If you want a guy as badly as the Lions should have wanted Carter, you make sure he doesn’t slip away.

Too much time was spent on Carter and the USFL, and not enough on consummating the trade. Minnesota didn’t worry too much about the USFL business. They acted. Now Carter is a Viking.

Ah, hindsight. Remember the 1983 draft, when the Dolphins picked Carter on the 12th round? Who did the Lions take that same round? Jim Lane, from Idaho State. Never played a down.

That was their first mistake. This was No. 2. Bad news? Sure. But the facts are tough enough without stupid theories about Monte’s ghost.

No, the bodies involved in this deal are all still warm. Contrary to what some folks will tell you.


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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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