TRUTH ABOUT LIONS IS TOO, WELL, DEPRESSING

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Every now and then, someone asks how I come up with an angle for this column. And I tell them: Some days are harder than others.

Take Sunday, at the Meadowlands. The Lions lose again. They get shut out by the Giants, 20-0. This is hardly big news. The Giants are an awesome team. And the Lions? Well, you could say the Lions are in a different league than the Giants.

How’s that for being polite?

Which brings us to the original question: What’s the angle? What slant can you take on a game in which the Lions 1) score no points, 2) make no sacks, 3) have no excuses?

Let’s see. I could write about Barry Sanders, and his dwindling patience with the run ‘n’ shoot offense. I could write about how, after the loss, Sanders said he might eventually go to his coaches and “demand that some changes be made.”

Some people think this is news — “BARRY COMPLAINS!” — but the truth is, Barry has been saying this for weeks. All you had to do was ask. He might be quiet. He is not dumb. He knows the run ‘n’ shoot is not designed to feature him, which makes it the biggest waste of talent since Marlon Brando appeared in “Superman.”

So while Barry’s frustration — he says he’s not yet at the breaking point
— is interesting news, it’s also old news. Not to mention sad news. Which could depress you. And who wants to be depressed on a Monday morning?

How about the quarterback angle? I could write about that. But what’s new there? Sunday once again showed that 1) Bob Gagliano is only as good as his arm and his receivers, both of which have their limitations, 2) Andre Ware has plenty of promise, but thinks more of his progress than his coaches do, and 3) Rodney Peete looks nice in street clothes. Unfortunately, he can’t win many games in them.

So writing about the quarterbacks is also old news, and could depress you. And who needs that on a Monday morning? If you can’t write something nice . . .

The defense. I could write about the defense. Unfortunately, anything I say would be bad or a lie.

I could write about the third-down problem, and how the Lions’ defense acts as if third down is the one that comes before first.

Or I could write about the lack of a pass rush, and how the Lions on Sunday couldn’t get close enough to ask Phil Simms directions. But even Wayne Fontes said after the game: “Pass rush has been a problem since I’ve been here.”

He didn’t say why, then, he traded Eric Williams early in the season. But the answer would just depress you.

Same goes for Jim Arnold, our Pro Bowl punter, who actually kicked a punt nine yards Sunday — and it wasn’t blocked, and it wasn’t affected by wind. Arnold, who botched several others, was so upset after the game he said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if they asked me for my playbook tomorrow.”

I guess I could criticize him, but I figure Arnold has earned the occasional off day — considering how many Jerry Ball keeps taking.

Wait. How about Fontes? I could write about his postgame press conferences, and how they all sound alike — “We got beat by a better football team. . . . We need to improve. . . . We’re getting there. . . . ” But let’s be honest. You’re sick of that song and dance by now.

Which leaves the receivers (too many drops, depressing), the tackling (too many misses, depressing), or the remaining schedule (too many tough opponents, the Bears twice, the Raiders, the Broncos, depressing.)

I mean, let’s face it. By the time I’m done writing, you’ll be hiding under the bed. Singing a different tune

So, in search of a kinder, gentler angle, I left the steamy confines of the Lions’ locker room and wandered over to where the Giants were getting dressed. The tenor there was much different. So was the alto, and the bass.

Simms was talking about going undefeated this season. “It’s exciting. But we got to go one step at a time.”

Everson Walls was laughing about the Giants’ shutout defense. “When we had to stay out there for six plays today, we got tired. We said, why are we out here this long?”

Coach Bill Parcells was talking about his 10-0 record and his playoff-bound team. “We’re really coming together as a unit. I like our guys.”

It’s been a long time since I’ve heard this kind of optimism in a Sunday locker room. And I realize how lousy losing must be for the Lions players. After all, they all come out of college as success stories — or else they wouldn’t be drafted — and they all think they’ll be the ones to make a difference in Detroit. Chuck Long thought it. Lomas Brown thought it. Peete thought it. Ware thinks it.

And the same old story seems to swallow them up. Mediocrity. You go looking for an angle, and you find there is only one angle, the same old angle: The Lions are good enough to win a few, and bad enough to lose the rest.

As I was leaving the stadium, Dave Anderson, a Pulitzer prize-winning writer for the New York Times, tapped me on the shoulder and pointed in the Lions’ direction. “It must be a thrill watching this team every week,” he said.

You don’t know the half of it, Dave.

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