THIS LIONS’ VICTORY WAS AS HOMELY AS THEY COME

CHICAGO — Some things you just can’t give away. Used Kleenex. Kato Kaelin books. And the football game played here Sunday.

Not that both teams didn’t try.

The Bears, who didn’t want to lose, and the Lions, who couldn’t afford to, managed to throw this affair back and forth like a live grenade, trading flags, trading turnovers, trading blocked kicks, trading defensive lapses. They even traded injuries, a quarterback for a defensive back. In the end, however, it was the Lions who rose to the occasion — which, on Sunday, meant stopping one more possession than the other guy — and pulled a victory from the muck of Soldier Field.

This, by the way, was the Lions’ first road win in nearly a year.

“I know it was ugly,” said Bennie Blades, after the 24-17 decision over Chicago, which moved the Lions — hold your breath — within one game of .500.
“But I’ll tell you what. Sometimes the ugly ones make the best wins. All that matters is how you finish.”

And here is how the Lions finished Sunday; on fourth down, with 54 seconds left, Henry Thomas charging in on quarterback Erik Kramer, forcing him to throw sooner than he wanted.

The ball sailed. Incomplete.

They call that “making a play,” which the Lions do about as often as Clinton and Gingrich do lunch.

“I got in on Kramer,” Thomas recalled, “and took him down. I wanted to see the ball in his hand. When I saw he didn’t have it, I jumped up, saw our offense running onto the field. And I just said, ‘Whew.’ “

One for the road. Do you believe in Majik? He does

For those of you who didn’t watch the game because you find watching Lions football too much like eating Mexican food when you have an ulcer, let me fill you in on what you missed: an interception in the end zone, a blocked field goal, a snap that Kevin Glover put into his leg, a game-ending injury to Scott Mitchell, a fumbled punt return and nine penalties, including back-to-back face-mask calls.

The Lions accomplished all this.

How’s that ulcer doing?

The good news? Things were no better for Chicago, another team coached by an ex-defensive assistant who seems to have forgotten how to coach defense.

The Bears had: an interception in the end zone, a blocked field goal, a missed field goal and umpteen dropped passes. Also, they showed one of the softest defensive secondaries I have ever seen.

I’ve heard of showing the receiver respect. But you at least ought to be able to read his number. The Bears allowed the Lions 422 yards of offense, and stopped just seven passes all day.

“After today, I see why they are one of the best teams in our division,” Wayne Fontes said.

Ha! Good one, Wayne!

What do you mean he wasn’t joking?

Never mind. Before we get back to some nice defensive plays made by the Lions’ front, let’s talk about the backup quarterback, Don Majkowski, who came in when Mitchell injured his ankle and completed 15 of 19 passes, including the winning TD to Herman Moore. This is pretty remarkable, considering the last time Majkowski took a snap in practice was in preseason.

“Scott gets all the reps during the week,” he said after the win. “But I’ve been taking mental reps.”

Mental reps?

Whatever. Majkowski reminds me of Robert Redford in “The Natural,” a guy with a brilliant past, a forgotten middle, and maybe, if he’s lucky, a heroic finish. I met Majkowski early in his career with Green Bay. He was hot stuff. We were at a golf tournament for Jim Everett — another guy hot at the time — and people swarmed Majkowski like he was a young Elvis.

Now here he was Sunday, the backup quarterback on a team that has been known to misjudge that position. He came trotting out. And true to his past — and his nickname of “Majik” — he had with Lomas Brown called “a swagger.”

He swaggers, and he hasn’t taken a snap all season?

Lomas shrugged. “That’s just the way he is.”

Personally, I like that kind of attitude in a quarterback. And you can’t argue with his results.

Of course he did have Barry Sanders, who scored two TDs. Even the defense didn’t rest

OK, let’s go back to the defense. We have taken them to task pretty severely in recent weeks. So this week, let us say that, while they often bent, they rarely broke. They got burnt on some long passes, but they also stopped nine plays for zero or negative yardage.

And Henry Thomas was a madman. He pressured Kramer, made seven solo tackles and blocked a fourth-quarter Kevin Butler field goal that would have given the Bears the lead.

“Got it with my elbow,” he said.

His elbow?

Well, it was that kind of game. The Lions will take it. Although the season appears doomed as far as playoffs are concerned — the standings don’t say that, but I do — the Lions did not give up, they maintained their energy, and put on some strong defense when they had to against one of the NFL’s most explosive offensive teams.

Was it art? Hardly. But, as Thomas points out: “The object is to hold them to less points than you have.”

Mission accomplished.

One for the road.

“Live Albom IV,” the latest collection by the nation’s No. 1 sports columnist, is on sale for $12.95 in bookstores or by phone (1-313-962-6657 or 1-800-245-5082).

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