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

The ball came back. It just came back. It wasn’t supposed to come back. It never came back before. Usually, when a punter punts, the ball goes somewhere — anywhere — up, out, away, vertically, longitudinally. Somewhere.

This one came back.

“Has anything like that ever happened before?” someone asked Mike Black, after Houston’s Audrey McMillian slam-blocked his punt and it ricocheted off Black’s body, then off two Oilers defenders, and landed back in Black’s hands without ever touching the ground. “No way,” he said. “I watched it leave my foot then I heard it blocked and I looked up and there it was, in front of me, and I caught it and ran.”

“Have you ever caught your own punt before? Anywhere? Anytime? Anyhow?”

“Nuh-uh,” he said.

Nuh-uh. Of course not. How can you catch your own punt? You can’t. Go out in your yard and try it. It’s damn hard. And that’s without anyone blocking it down your throat.

But on Sunday — bing-bang-boom! — and Black’s punt, as the Supremes might sing it, was back in his arms again, right by his side. And suddenly he was charging downfield, doing his best impersonation of a running back, his arms pumping, his legs churning. The crowd roared, or maybe it was laughing, but Black passed the first-down marker and he was ahead of everyone but one Houston defender. . . .

“OH, MY GOD!” someone yelled. “HE’S GOING TO SCORE!” Hold on — it gets better Well, why not? Punters scoring? It would have fit perfectly in this Lions-Oilers contest. What a wackout! This was a normal football game? Sure. And elephants can fly.

What did we have? What didn’t we have? Outside of that punt — which we’ll return to in a second — there was a fumble overruled by a television set, unsportsmanlike conduct, roughing the passer, interceptions nullified, fumbles nullified, a 60- yard bomb from the end zone, an 81-yard touchdown pass.

Did I mention the defense-as-offense play?

Oh, hang on. You gotta hear this. Third quarter. Houston’s Warren Moon passes from his end zone and the ball is tipped by Jimmy Williams and intercepted by Keith Ferguson. Great break for Detroit, right? Only Ferguson, like most defensive linemen, carries the ball as he’d carry a pizza, and he fumbles it out of the end zone.

OK. Still Lions’ possession, right? Wrong. The officials give the ball back to the Oilers, because on such a play, thanks to a new rule, the defense becomes the offense as soon as it intercepts, and when the offense fumbles out of its opponent’s end zone, the opponents — in this case the Houston offense, which at the moment was masquerading as the Houston defense — gets the ball.

You getting all this? So, ta-da! In a single play, the Lions’ defense becomes its offense, and, true to the role, it screws up. Then it resumes being the defense.

By the way, the Lions won this game, 24-13. All the moves but one But let’s get back to this punt. When we left Mike Black, he had found the football in his hands, and, hey, his feet were moving, and he was running downfield, and there was (gasp) daylight and just one man to beat. . . .

Unfortunately, when you’re a punter, one is more than enough. Punters don’t have the cleanest uniforms on the team for nothing.

Black ran out of bounds at the Lions’ 41.

“All the guys were congratulating me on the sidelines,” Black said, “and then Eddie (Murray) came running up and said, ‘You idiot! If you just juked the guy, you could have had a touchdown!’ “

Juked him?

Do punters juke?

Well. Who knows? Anyhow, Black — who a few weeks ago against Dallas slipped and missed a punt altogether — got to wave to the cameras as both punter and punt returner. This way, he could say, “Hi, mom” twice. He was also credited with the Lions’ longest rush of the day (21 yards), which should tell you something, though at this point, I’m not sure what.

Weird? You bet. Repeatable? “Let’s hope not,” said Darryl Rogers. Somewhere in between the strangeness a football game was played. And suffice it to say the Lions (now 2-3) were happy to take the win, though they’re not quite sure which Oiler to send the thank-you notes to.

At one point, late in the game, a huge paper airplane floated down from the upper deck and landed on the field. Houston cornerback Patrick Allen picked it up and made as if he was going to throw it.

He should have. On a day when punts come back and fumbles don’t, the thing probably would have flown all the way to Houston.


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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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