TIME FOR FORD TO GET MAD OVER INEPT LIONS

While many people were happy to see the Carolina Panthers make the Super Bowl, Lions owner William Clay Ford should not be one of them.

In fact, he should be mad as heck.

He should be mad that a team like the Carolina Panthers, a virtual baby in NFL history, will play the first weekend in February, while the Lions, who have never seen a Super Bowl, again went home in December.

He should be mad that John Fox, Carolina’s coach, is in only his second year on the job, yet is the last man standing in the NFC. He should be mad that Fox inherited a team that had — if this is possible — a worse record than the Lions’. The Panthers were 1-15. Yet in Fox’s first year, they improved to 7-9
— a record the Lions haven’t seen since 2000, when their coach walked out during a 9-7 season.

Ford should get mad that Fox was plenty available a few years ago, when Matt Millen instead hired the great Marty Mornhinweg. Insiders knew Fox was a bright defensive mind as an assistant with the Giants. But did the Lions pick him?

No. They chose Marty, who came here, lost 27 of 32 games, inspired laughter during news conferences and was gone like a comic who bombed.

Ford should get mad at that.

Does he?

He should get mad that Mornhinweg is now on the staff of the Philadelphia Eagles, a charitable move by Marty’s friend Andy Reid. Reid was asked recently about Mornhinweg, and the way I read it, the most shining thing he said was
“he’s another pair of eyes for us.”

Great. In Philly, he’s a pair of eyes. In Detroit, he was the man to lead the team?

We’re waiting for some anger.

Where is it?

For starters, Davis instead of Stewart

Ford should get mad that the Panthers signed running back Stephen Davis after the Redskins dumped him. The Lions spent all year looking for a running back after James Stewart went out. Sure, no one could predict Stewart’s injury, but wouldn’t you rather have Davis, who is two years younger, as your running back
— even if it meant losing Stewart? Especially since Davis signed for less per season than the Lions pay Stewart?

Of course it’s not just the Panthers’ success that should leave Ford fuming. Shouldn’t he be bothered that the Dallas Cowboys, in one year, went from also-ran to the playoffs? Does anyone have any doubt these Cowboys will see a Super Bowl long before the Lions?

Shouldn’t he be bothered that perpetual also-ran Cincinnati now seems more together — in one season with Marvin Lewis as coach — than the Lions do?

Shouldn’t Ford be bothered that eight teams made the playoffs this season that didn’t make them last season? Eight new slots — and the Lions were never in contention?

Shouldn’t Ford be bothered that for two years now, he has had a top-three draft pick — and this year he’ll have No. 6 — yet nobody is picking the Lions as a team of the future?

Shouldn’t Ford be bothered that the star of Sunday’s NFC championship was a Carolina rookie named Ricky Manning, a defensive back — the Lions’ weakest area — who wasn’t chosen until the third round, with the 82nd pick? The Lions could have taken him with their third-round pick. Instead they took defensive lineman Cory Redding (who played in only half of the games this season), and signed and cut one cornerback after another.

Ford could get mad at all that. He could really get steamed.

Well?

At the bottom of division

Or, if he wanted, the owner could get mad at this: The balance of power in his division has changed for everyone but him.

Despite the inevitable lift and sink of franchises, the Lions are perpetually behind Green Bay or Minnesota, and in recent years, even Chicago and Tampa Bay. Since 1999, every team in the Lions’ division has made the playoffs — except the Lions. Every team in their conference — except Arizona and Washington — has made the playoffs since then, too.

How can Detroit possibly hope to win a Super Bowl when it can’t even master its own backyard?

Now. Is it any one of these things that, all by itself, ruined the Lions? No. Do some of these things ever happen to other teams? Of course.

But they don’t all happen. They don’t all keep happening. Yes, the Lions, under coach Steve Mariucci, are trying new things — hiring Dick Jauron as defensive coordinator is one of them. But for now their pathetic tradition continues. And their owner ought to be sick of it.

He ought to be watching these playoffs and saying: “The Carolina (bleeping) Panthers? Why them and not us?”

Sadly, I doubt he is saying that. Sadly, let’s be honest, how many of us are sure he’s even watching these playoffs? You have to get mad before you get even. And if the owner of our sadly predictable football franchise isn’t angry over what’s happening everywhere in the NFL but here — well, I can point him to a million fans who are.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).

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