WELCOME TO A NEW INFERNO, DAUNTE

America gets a new president. The Lions get a new quarterback. Quick. Which of these events happens every other week?

Right you are! The Lions’ new quarterback is 31-year-old Daunte Culpepper, who, simply by signing a contract just became the most famous player on the team.

That’s sad enough. He also became the biggest attraction on the team, the most recognizable name on the team and, to hear some people tell it, the best player on the team.

He also may start Sunday’s game. Heck. By Monday, he could own Ford Field.

“Any time you can really add a really good football playerÂ…” coach Rod Marinelli has told the media, “I don’t know how you close your eyes to a player like that.”

Well. That would beg the question of why every other team in the NFL closed its eyes to him. And why the Lions, who could have signed Culpepper at the start of the season, closed their eyes to him until they were 0-8.

And if the answer is, “The Lions had Jon Kitna at the start of the season,” well, last time I talked to Kitna, he was ready and willing to keep playing. It was the Lions who seemed anxious to get him off to the side to try someone new.

And now they will.

Again. Trying to save face and jobs

This doesn’t mean Culpepper can’t win a game or two with the Lions. It just means when you’re begging, you can’t be choosing. There are few “name” quarterbacks available in November. And throwing Culpepper into the starting lineup Sunday – if that is indeed what happens – only shows you how desperate the Lions have become.

They are desperate to win a game. Any game. They are desperate to halt the march of fans to the exits. They are desperate to give NFL viewers some reason to watch them on Thanksgiving.

And they are desperate to save their jobs. The coaches, the front office, everyone. They know standing pat with Dan Orlovsky as quarterback is a road to nowhere. No offense to Orlovsky, who has done what he could, but is anybody going to keep a job thanks to him?

Staying the course will win no points with fans or ownership. But something new? Who knows? They’re praying for a surprise.

And with Culpepper, everything is a surprise. From Pro Bowl to retirement

What would be most surprising is if he’s ready to play Sunday. The man hasn’t taken a snap all year. Yes, he’s a three-time Pro Bowler. The last time was 2004. His numbers back then were amazing.

Then he suffered the knee injury equivalent of carpet bombing: all three major ligaments ripped. He has never been the same.

To give you a small statistical example, when healthy, you could count on Culpepper to rush for 400 yards a season. The last two years? A total of 60 yards.

He has bounced from Minnesota to Oakland to Miami. This summer, he was rumored to be ready to play back-up for Pittsburgh, Green Bay and New England, yet didn’t sign with any of them. He retired instead.

Now he comes to Detroit because, let’s be honest, he can showcase himself quickly. How many other franchises give you a jersey Wednesday and the ball Sunday?

Culpepper will reportedly play for the league minimum the rest of this season. If he comes back next year, he’ll make lots more, but coming back next year is not promised to him or any of the people hiring him – except William Clay Ford Sr.

So for now, Daunte is a curiosity, a drawing card (admit it, you might even come out Sunday!) and when you can’t get any worse, drawing cards are good.

We hope it works. But let’s not kid ourselves. This is two desperate parties doing something they wouldn’t do if things were going better for either of them.

It’s funny. Allen Iverson and Daunte Culpepper now play in Detroit. If this were five years ago, we’d be jumping up and down. Today, we sit and wait for results.

Kind of like election returns.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).

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