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It was yet another funereal post-game press conference for a Lions coach. The scene took place in Anaheim, with another sound defeat in the books.

The Lions had been manhandled by the Los Angeles Rams in 1983, dropping their record to 1-4.

The coach, Monte Clark, stepped up to the podium, ready to answer the usual “What happened?” questions.

Clark gave his version of what happened, trying to explain away the bloodletting on the gridiron. But just before stepping down and heading back to the locker room, Clark added one more comment.

“See you at the cemetery,” Clark told the media.

The inference was clear. Clark wouldn’t have been surprised if his firing was impending.

Clark wasn’t alone in that feeling.

The Lions were 9-7 in 1980 but missed the playoffs, despite a 4-0 start, which prompted some players to record a bastardized version of Queen’s hit song, “Another One Bites the Dust.”

The Lions went 8-8 in 1981, missing the playoffs on the final Sunday when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers handed Detroit its only home loss of the season to swipe the Central Division crown.

The Lions made the playoffs in 1982′s strike-shortened year, despite a 4-5 record. The Washington Redskins, eventual Super Bowl champs, demolished Clark’s team, showing what they thought of a team with a losing record making the postseason.

Then came 1983′s 1-4 start, which prompted Clark, in his sixth season as Lions coach, to make his ominous remark.

Clark survived the season, and in fact, the Lions won the division with a 9-7 record. They went 8-3 after the coach’s words of resignation.

Monte Clark’s “See you at the cemetery” line is just one of many defining moments of Lions coaches that have become iconic for all the wrong reasons.

Darryl Rogers, Clark’s successor, had his moment when he gazed up at the pigeons that had landed on the Silverdome’s roof during practice, circa 1988, with the Lions foundering as usual. Some writers were nearby, within earshot.

“What does a guy have to do to get fired around here?” was Rogers’ iconic moment.

Wayne Fontes said “I’m the big buck” as he talked about the criticism levied his way in the early-1990s.

Bobby Ross, Fontes’ successor,  in a fit of frustration and anger after a loss on the road, railed “I don’t coach that stuff!” as he agonized over yet another mistake-filled loss.

Marty Mornhinweg, the overmatched coach tabbed by rookie GM Matt Millen in 2001, said at his introductory press conference, “The bar is high.”

Twenty-seven losses in 32 games followed. Maybe Marty meant that the bar of embarrassment was high.

Steve Mariucci followed, and his introduction was over the top at Ford Field. There was a long walk to the stage and the whole thing was awash in pomp and circumstance.

“Wow,” Mooch said as he gazed at the press in 2003 as Millen and the Lions presented him as the savior.

A little more than two years later, Mariucci was fired after a cringe-inducing loss on Thanksgiving Day to the Atlanta Falcons.

Rod Marinelli, Mariucci’s successor, talked of “pounding the rock.” The Lions pounded it to the tune of a winless season in 2008.

Jim Schwartz came after Marinelli, and Schwartz was a hothead that couldn’t execute a post-game handshake without drama. His players got into trouble off the field a lot. Schwartz also gave it to the fans last year with a less-than-respectful gesture. The players, under Schwartz, took on his personality, which wasn’t necessarily a good thing.

Before all of the above, Harry Gilmer was pelted with snowballs as he jogged off the Tiger Stadium field after what would turn out to be his final game as Lions coach, in 1966.

All iconic moments and quotes from Lions coaches, and none of them good.

Jim Caldwell, the new head coach for 2014 and beyond, doesn’t seem to have that gene.

It’s hard to imagine Caldwell, a fine, experienced, intelligent man, sinking to the level of the aforementioned coaches by saying something untoward or doing something weird.

The Lions coach seems to have his act together.

There certainly won’t be any words or actions from the new coach that will induce eye-rolling and sighs. My opinion.

Caldwell, on the surface and beyond, seems to be the Lions’ most refined coach since George Wilson. And Wilson coached in Detroit some 50 years ago.

Joe Schmidt (1967-72) remains the last Lions coach to leave the franchise with a winning record in Detroit. But Schmidt had his moments of frustration, which culminated in him resigning in January 1973, the loser in a power struggle with GM Russ Thomas.

Jim Caldwell is a grounded, spiritual, experienced  coach who doesn’t have the “embarrassing” gene in him. His foot doesn’t seem destined for his mouth.

That’s not to say that Caldwell won’t eventually be fired by the Lions without achieving his goal of winning a Super Bowl in Detroit. But if that happens, it won’t be because of multiple losses of composure.

There doesn’t appear to be drama in the Lions’ future with Caldwell as coach. Even in this day of the NFL’s players on a string of bad behavior off the field, Caldwell exudes calm and control. You get the feeling that the ship is under a firm, experienced hand.

Again, whether that translates into wins and success remains to be seen.

The Lions are 1-0 at this writing, having summarily dismissed the considerably inferior New York Giants last Monday night.

But the Lions’ lack of discipline, a thorn in the team’s side for years, appeared to have reared its head against the Giants, with eight penalties for 85 yards in the first half.

It’s not clear what Caldwell said or did at halftime, but his team played a clean second half—zero penalties.

He even had a clean handshake after the game with Giants coach Tom Coughlin.

The coach can’t make his players write, “I will not commit a holding penalty” 100 times on the chalkboard. He can’t make them stand in the corner, facing the wall. It’s not even as simple as benching a guy in favor of his backup.

But I do know that football players often take on the personality and behavior of their coach, for good or for bad.

I won’t make any predictions about the Lions’ won/loss record this year.

I will, though, say that it doesn’t seem like Jim Caldwell is destined to say or do anything goofy that will become his defining moment as Lions coach.

That, in of itself, would seem to be an upgrade over coaches of the past.

Sep
11

It’s the Response, Stupid

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There’s some sad irony in the Ray Rice conundrum as far as the National Football League is concerned.

The NFL is a league that has a legacy of toughness and images of “real men” doing battle on mud-strewn gridirons, snow and other unfavorable elements.

It’s a league whose players like to throw around the word “respect,” whether it’s not getting enough or giving too much.

“Real men” and “respect” don’t fit Rice, the ex-Baltimore Ravens running back who was caught red-fisted via security camera, cold-cocking his fiancee in an elevator last February.

This blog is expressly for my non-sports rantings, but just because the first several paragraphs have been littered with NFL references, the Rice situation has nothing to do with pro football, per se.

Real men don’t hit women. And that’s not how you gain respect. It is, however, all about not having any of the R-word for your fellow human beings, let alone the woman to who you are now married.

Rice’s wife, Janay, has publicly asked to call off the dogs when it comes to the playing of the video that shows Rice punching her so hard that she was knocked out cold from slamming her head against a metal railing inside the elevator.

She could have been killed, had she hit her head on the rail in a different way.

Janay Rice, understandably, wants us to know that her life with Ray is theirs and this horrible incident is theirs to deal with, privately.

She’s right, of course, but good luck with that.

It’s not for any of us to judge Janay Rice on her decision to stand by her husband despite the disgusting act of violence he perpetrated against her for all the world (it turned out) to see.

She has her reasons and they ought to be respected. There’s that R-word again.

The most troublesome part of the Rice saga is not that Janay chose to stay with her fiance and marry him.

The focus right now, as it should be, is on the NFL and its handling of the Rice situation.

There have been several missteps along the way.

First was the ridiculously meager two-game suspension that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell levied on Rice, based (supposedly) on the original video, which showed Rice dragging an unconscious Janay out of the elevator.

Even without the much more damning second video, sitting Rice for two games based on the original video was even too lenient. A slap on the wrist for a direct punch to the face.

Then the second video emerged, courtesy of those busy beavers over at TMZ.

The second video shows the harrowing images of Rice as his fiancee approaches him in anger. He slugs her and she hits her head on the rail before collapsing, unconscious.

No one knows what goes on behind closed doors? Thanks to our “cameras are everywhere” society, not always.

The second league miscue, an unforced fumble, was Goodell’s office claiming that the league never saw the second video until last week, although a law enforcement person has proof (via a voicemail) that someone within the NFL received the video five months ago—a DVD copy that the law enforcement person sent, acting on his/her own sense of obligation.

This is where the NFL is going off the rails, potentially.

Ray and Janay Rice

If it is indeed proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the league viewed the second video before metering out the feeble suspension, then this moves directly to the “cover up” category without passing GO and without collecting $200.

The NFL seems to be riding a technicality already; in other words, it seems like their defense is going to be that, yes, we may have received a video a long time ago, but that doesn’t mean that anyone viewed it.

This is malarkey, of course, and it’s on its way to be proven false because the voicemail in question includes this comment from a female voice whoconfirmed the video’s receipt: “You’re right/ (The video)’s terrible.”

Why would you call a video terrible if you’d never viewed it?

Goodell switched Rice’s suspension from two games to indefinite after the second video came to light. A cynic would tell you that Goodell switched gears only after proof of the second video’s existence was revealed to everyone.

Big difference between the two sentences above this one.

In Watergate lexicon, “What did the commissioner know and when did he know it?”

That question—the one of what did a power-to-be know and when was it known—is the question that frequently is the first domino that leads to resignations or firings.

When will people of authority realize that it’s not the first act of misdeed that will bring your organization to its knees; it’s the attemped covering up of said act of misdeed that will do it.

Maybe the NFL is filled with real men of respect, after all. Quite a few of the league’s players have taken to social media to express their anger and disgust over Rice’s actions.

But let’s see how the players respond if it turns out that the league was derelict in its handling of this matter.

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The game was played the day after Christmas, a Saturday in 1970. The match still haunts the Lions franchise.

The National Football League, expanded in one season from 16 to 26 teams thanks to the merger with the American Football League, changed its playoff format for the 1970 campaign.

The league had split, like an amoeba, into two conferences with three divisions in each of the NFC and AFC. So Commissioner Pete Rozelle added a Wild Card in each conference. The Wild Cards would combine with the three divisional winners to form a Final Four in each conference.

The Lions, for all their ignominy, nonetheless have the distinction of being the NFC’s first-ever Wild Card team.

The Lions won the last five games of their 1970 schedule and finished the season 10-4, which was the best record of all the second place teams in the NFC. Hence the Wild Card berth.

A trip to Dallas awaited the Lions to play the franchise’s first post-season game in 13 years. The playoff game against the Cowboys would be contested in the old Cotton Bowl. It was December 26, 1970.

It turned out to be a bizarre, frustrating, horribly iconic afternoon in Texas. One that the franchise still hasn’t truly gotten over.

It would be the only playoff game for a host of great Lions players: Alex Karras (his final game played); Wayne Walker; Lem Barney; Charlie Sanders; and Dick LeBeau to name a few.

The Lions lost in Dallas in that playoff game of 1970 by the maddening score of 5-0, despite the Lions possessing one of the NFL’s most potent offenses that year.

Barney and Sanders are Hall of Fame Lions, and only Barry Sanders has joined them in Canton as representing Detroit since the aforementioned Lions careers’ ended in the late-1970s.

Barry Sanders, for his part, played in the Lions’ only playoff win since 1957—a busting up of Dallas in 1991-92. But Barry never saw any real team success as a Lion, despite a few other playoff appearances.

Lem Barney, Charlie Sanders and Barry Sanders—three Hall of Famers whose Lions careers all lacked any semblance of team success.

It would be a total shame if Calvin Johnson followed in that trio’s misfortune.

Johnson is the next Lions Hall of Fame player. With seven seasons under his belt and his eighth about to begin on Monday against the New York Football Giants, Johnson practically already possesses the individual stats needed to be inducted into the Hall.

In seven seasons, Johnson has played in one playoff game. In that respect, his career seems to be trending just like those of Barney and the two Sanders—heavy on personal greatness and light on the team’s.

But if you ask Johnson, that trend is about to turn the other way.

“I believe this is our best chance to win a championship.”

The speaker was Johnson earlier in the week and presumably he said it to the media with a straight face.

“I honestly believe that,” Johnson added about his heady prediction regarding the 2014 Lions.

Fair enough.

There’s nothing wrong with optimism on the eve of a new football season. After all, if you can’t look at things through rose-colored glasses when your record is 0-0, then when can you?

It’s difficult to tell, when simply reading Johnson’s remarks, whether he was trying to convince the press or himself of the Lions’ championship chances. But he did expound, apparently with conviction. And the man reverently called Megatron was heaping praise on his new head coach, Jim Caldwell.

“You’ve got to buy in. You’ve got to buy into the coaches’ philosophy, and we have. I believe that everybody is doing exactly what the coaches want us to do, and if we’re not, if something is not like he wants it, he’s going to tell us and we’re going to get better at it and he only has to tell us one time.”

That doesn’t necessarily explain the lack of success of everyone from Rick Forzano to Jim Schwartz, but there you have it.

Johnson is, literally and figuratively, head and shoulders above his league brethren at wide receiver. He is bound for Canton, wearing the mustard yellow blazer and giving an acceptance speech. Someday.

But it would be awfully nice if, in addition to all the personal accolades, Calvin Johnson turns out to be a Hall of Fame Detroit Lion who has more than just an impressive set of individual numbers on his resume.

Or, to put it more bluntly, it would be criminal if the Lions wasted yet another superstar career with zero team success.

It took Barney and Charlie Sanders several appearances on the ballot before they were finally elected to the Hall of Fame. I have no doubt that the Lions’ mostly losing ways contributed greatly to Lem and Charlie’s delayed inductions, given that they were each among the best of their respective positions for most of their careers.

Barry Sanders was a first-ballot inductee, but that was a no-brainer, no matter what team he played for. Think Gale Sayers and those awful Bears teams.

Now here we have Johnson, who is the Lions’ best player since Barry Sanders, and Calvin is eight years into a professional career that has seen as many winless seasons as playoff games.

But the rub is that Johnson, I believe, today plays on as good of a Lions team as Barry Sanders ever did, and there ought to be some multiple playoff appearances in the near future.

Johnson’s remarks certainly agree with my very non-expert opinion.

It all has to be proven on the field, of course. And the Lions traditionally don’t do that.

The Lions wasted the genius of Lem Barney, Charlie Sanders and Barry Sanders. They’d better not do so with Calvin Johnson, their next Hall of Famer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sep
02

Silver and Black and Blue

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With the pro football fan base ushering in new and younger members every autumn, it’s time to write this column, because we’re getting dangerously close to the point where the newest and the youngest may not know of what I am about to impart.

Gather ’round the keyboard and let me tell you of a time when the NFL was terrorized by the Silver and Black.

For those who remember it, the dominance of the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders occurred in a time that only exists in grainy NFL Films footage. It’s something you recall only with John Facenda’s voice narrating.

And any recollection surely must involve images of managing general partner Al Davis prowling the field before a game, donning sunglasses, wearing lots of jewelry and with his hands shoved into his polyester pants pockets. He looked like a disco owner.

The Raiders—or, more accurately, Da Raiduhs—were a collection of misfits and rough customers whose slogan was “Just Win, Baby” and whose theme was A Commitment to Excellence.

The Raiders didn’t just win football games, they beat the opponents into submission. Teams went into the Coliseum in Oakland and the first things they were offered were a blindfold and a cigarette. Before playing, the opposition asked that the game be commuted.

The Raiders glory days began in February, 1969 in the American Football League, when Davis—who once coached the team himself earlier in the decade—hired a little-known assistant named John Madden to take over the team from predecessor John Rauch. Madden, at age 32, became pro football’s youngest head coach.

In Madden’s ten years coaching the Raiders before switching headsets from the coaching ones to the broadcasting variety (1969-78), the team’s winning percentage was .763. The Raiders beat the Minnesota Vikings in January, 1977 to win Super Bowl XI.

The recipe for success was odd but effective.

Davis, an old AFL guy from the league’s gunslinging days, never met a forward pass he didn’t like. So in 1967 he traded for Daryle Lamonica, a quarterback from Notre Dame who’d been Jack Kemp’s backup in Buffalo, and Davis told Lamonica to let it fly.

The Raiders treated 3rd-and-four like it was 3rd-and-40. They stretched the field like a rubber band.

Eventually Lamonica would be tagged with the nickname “The Mad Bomber” for his propensity to try to move down the field in two or three plays, max.

The other oddly successful part of Davis’ recipe was his fascination with the ne’er-do-well.

Starting in earnest in the 1970s, the Raiders became a home for players who had been cast-offs by other teams in the NFL.

Some of the players were released or traded because their former teams didn’t think they were good enough to play in the league. Others rubbed their former bosses the wrong way. In both instances, the Raiders welcomed those ostracized players into the Silver and Black fold with open arms.

The eclectic blend of homegrown Raiders and guys plucked off the waiver wire, under Madden, ran roughshod over the NFL in the ’70s. Except in the playoffs.

To be a member of the Raiders was to have an annual sour taste in your mouth when the final gun sounded in the postseason.

Finally, in 1976, Madden’s guys went all the way, blasting the Minnesota Vikings out of the Rose Bowl in Super Bowl XI, 32-14.

Two more Super Bowl wins followed after the 1980 and 1983 seasons, both under coach Tom Flores (a former AFL quarterback) and quarterback Jim Plunkett, who was the epitome of the Rescued Raider.

Plunkett was a two-time loser with the New England Patriots and the San Francisco 49ers, the no. 1 overall draft pick out of Stanford in 1971. The words “draft bust” began to follow him around when Davis came calling in 1979.

Plunkett wasn’t even in the league when the Raiders signed him, having missed the 1978 season. And he was 33 years old when he led the Raiders over the Philadelphia Eagles in SB XV. Three years later, at 36, Plunkett did it again—beating the heavily favored Washington Redskins.

By this time the franchise had begun its 13-year stay (1982-94) in Los Angeles.

Those days of Silver and Black dominance are long gone. Today’s Raiders are dressed just like their brethren did in the salad days—the uniforms haven’t changed in almost 50 years—but they play like a bad Double-A affiliate. The colors are the same, but today they are silver and black, sans the capitalization.

Since playing (and losing) in Super Bowl XXXVII after the 2002 season, the Raiders are 53-123. A typical season is 4-12 or 5-11. The closest they came to a winning record was a pair of 8-8 seasons in 2010 and 2011.

Just Win One, Baby.

Al Davis is dead and so is the Raiders mystique.

Never have the Raiders, in their 54 year history (dating back to their AFL debut in 1960), gone through a dry spell anywhere near as long as this current 11-year sojourn in the desert.

Since the Super Bowl appearance in 2003, the Raiders have burned through six coaches. Their current, and seventh one is someone named Dennis Allen, who’s also the first of the bunch to start so much as a third season.

The Raiders used to intimidate. Their black jerseys with the silver numerals and their silver helmets with the dude with the eye patch used to define winning in an iconic way.

Not anymore.

The Raiders, with their nine seasons of double-digit losses in the past 11, are a laughing stock.

ESPN, to which I loathe to give too much credit, nonetheless released their Week 1 power rankings today.

The Worldwide Leader lists the Raiders 32nd—dead last—in the NFL.

Part of the reason why ESPN doesn’t like the Raiders all that much is that they don’t have a quarterback, among other things.

Coach Allen named Derek Carr as the starter last week. You’re excused if you don’t know who he is. Carr is the Raiders’ second round pick this past May, out of Fresno State. He beat out veteran Matt Schaub for the starting job.

Truth is, the Raiders haven’t had a quarterback for years. Or a running game. Or much of a defense.

That’s why they go 4-12 every year.

So the Derek Carr Era begins.

Just try not to embarrass yourself, baby.

 

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He was a moon-faced behemoth of a defensive tackle out of Clemson, with a grin as wide as his generously-sized rear end. And he soon became a pawn between his head coach and his defensive coordinator.

They called William Perry “The Refrigerator” and not long after the Chicago Bears picked him in the first round (22nd overall) of the 1985 NFL Draft, the wisdom of his selection was bandied about between head coach Mike Ditka and defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan.

The coach and the DC didn’t get along, and since Perry was Ditka’s pick, naturally Ryan was against it.

Ryan reacted by refusing to play Perry on the Bears’ talented defensive line. Ditka responded by using Perry as an oversized fullback in short yardage situations.

All this drama played out during the Bears’ 15-1 season, which culminated in a blowout of the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX.

About mid-season, Ryan relented once he realized how talented Perry was, despite his extreme girth (Fridge weighed over 375 pounds).

Perry still carried the football on occasion and even caught a pass, but he was a defensive tackle by trade—and he proved to be a pretty good one.

Perry might have been great, but continuous battles with the scale torpedoed him and limited his career to good status.

Perry played 10 years in the NFL but he could have been so much more.

Fast forward to 2014. Another talented defensive tackle is finding that fast food and doughnuts are proving to be more challenging than offensive guards.

But it could be that it’s not just calories that are bedeviling Nick Fairley.

Fairley, the Lions’ DT who was the team’s first round pick in 2011, was supposed to be, by now, forming a ridiculous tandem with Ndamukong Suh on the defensive interior front for Detroit.

The two slabs of beef were supposed to make it damn near impossible for opponents to run against the Lions between the tackles. And as a bonus, the pass rush from the inside was to be terrifying.

After Fairley’s first three years in the league, the expectations have far exceeded reality.

Suh, for the most part, has (ahem) carried his weight.

Fairley has turned out to be one of the Lions’ most enigmatic players in memory, and considering the perplexing sorts who have worn the Honolulu Blue and Silver, that’s saying a lot.

It’s easy to look at Fairley’s spotty production and blame it on his weight. After all, the next time the Lions are flagged for too many men on the field on defense, two of them might be Fairley.

But as William Perry proved, you can play at a high level even when the scales are begging you to get off.

The trouble with Nick Fairley isn’t just what goes on between his hips. It’s what happens between his ears.

The Lions have tried to challenge Fairley to get better. So far the results have been sketchy at best.

They declined the option on the fifth year of his rookie contract, making this season a make-or-break year of sorts for Fairley.

The Lions demoted Fairley this training camp to second string.

Things have gotten so desperate that even Suh, not exactly known as a player who exhibits model behavior himself off the field, tried to motivate Fairley recently by declaring the Auburn grad more talented than Suh, a three-time Pro Bowler.

Nothing has really worked.

Fairley sank on the depth chart because he deserved it—not just as a way to light a fire under his big butt.

MLive.com reported that Fairley has isolated himself from teammates and his practice efforts leave a lot to be desired.

“I don’t know where his head’s at. I wish I knew,” d-line cohort C.J. Mosley was quoted by NFL.com last week.

“If I knew, man, I’d grab his head and bring it back to where it’s supposed to be. I just don’t know.”

I once wrote that Shaun Rogers, aka “Big Baby,” another supremely talented defensive tackle who played for the Lions in the mid-to-late 2000s, could have owned Detroit.

Rogers was big but he played big. He was an unmovable force at times and when he rambled some 50-plus yards for a touchdown after a fumble recovery against Denver in 2007, the Ford Field crowd roared. The score was a punctuation mark to a 44-7 Lions victory—and a 6-2 record.

But after that game, Rogers didn’t want to talk to the media. He didn’t seize his moment, which I found odd and disturbing.

Maybe Rogers knew something that we didn’t, because after that win, the Lions lost 24 of their next 25 games.

Regardless, Shaun Rogers played big but only when the spirit moved him, which wasn’t nearly often enough to achieve greatness.

Refrigerator Perry survived 10 NFL seasons and while he probably didn’t realize his potential, his effort was never questioned—especially at the buffet.

Nick Fairley is four years into a pro football career that has been pocked with head scratching, eye rolling and frustrated sighs—from fans, teammates and coaches alike.

So far, no one has been able to push the right buttons.

This may be it for Fairley—his last stab at the NFL in anything more than benchwarming capacity.  There’s a new coach, who seems to be more than willing to give Fairley the benefit of the doubt and who has almost gone out of his way to toss no. 98 a bone of praise that is quite possibly undeserving. Fairley, it seems, has a clean slate with Jim Caldwell.

But will it be enough?

Fairley showed up to camp weighing in at 305 pounds, but last week it was reported that the scales actually were tipping past 315.

“My eating habits have got in the way in the past two weeks,” Fairley told reporters as he tried to explain his pedestrian performances in practice and in the first two preseason games.

I don’t think the Lions should be worried about Fairley’s eating habits.

They should be worried about his thinking habits.

The scales that measure those are on the football field—if Fairley can ever get on it.

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Twenty years ago, Scott Mitchell was the NFL’s biggest winner. Two decades later, he’s trying to be the Biggest Loser.

Lions fans no doubt snickered upon the news this week that former quarterback Mitchell was going to be among the contestants on NBC’s “The Biggest Loser,” which is a competition show—in this case, to see who can lose the most weight.

And Mitchell has a lot to lose.

Mitchell, it was announced, checks in these days at 366 pounds. He is now as big as the behemoths assigned to protect him on the offensive line back in the day.

It’s fitting that Mitchell has a lot to lose, because never did an NFL quarterback gain as much as Mitchell did from someone else’s Achilles heel injury.

I have often wondered if Mitchell sends Dan Marino a Christmas card every year. Or maybe a check would be more appropriate.

In 1994, Mitchell was a free agent. He parlayed an injury to Marino’s Achilles in 1993 into big bucks with the Lions.

I remember watching the game where Miami’s Marino went down. It was in Cleveland. The play was innocuous. Marino, who was never much of a scrambler, got some happy feet in the pocket during a pass rush and in a freak way, landed funny on his Achilles.

He heard that dreadful “pop” sound and went down like a sack of doorknobs.

The date was October 10, 1993.

Mitchell was 25 years old at the time, a fourth round draft pick in 1990 out of Utah. In his first three seasons as a Dolphin, Mitchell threw eight NFL passes, completing two.

Now he was called upon to replace the greatest QB in Dolphins history and one of the best to ever play the position in NFL history.

The Dolphins had a bye week after Marino’s injury, which put him out for the rest of the season. In a panic, the Dolphins signed 39 year-old Steve DeBerg as insurance.

But DeBerg didn’t know the Dolphins’ offense. Mitchell did. Three seasons plus five games holding a clipboard teaches you something, I suppose.

Mitchell won his first start, a 41-27 win over the dreadful (at the time) Indianapolis Colts. Mitchell completed 12 of 19 passes for 190 yards and a touchdown.

The next week, Mitchell was much better, against a much better opponent.

Going up against the Kansas City Chiefs and Joe Montana, Mitchell went 22-for-33 for 344 yards and three touchdowns. The Dolphins won, 30-10 to improve to 6-1 on the season.

Then, a loss to the New York Jets. Mitchell was 23/44 for 297 yards with a TD and an interception. A dose of reality struck.

The following week, Mitchell was bad before an injury put him out of the game. Miami coach Don Shula turned to DeBerg as the Dolphins season was teetering.

DeBerg went 2-2 as the starter before he relinquished the job back to Mitchell, who was now healed.

The Dolphins’ 7-2 start spiraled into a 9-7 finish, which put them out of the playoffs.

But it was Mitchell’s personal performance in relief of Marino that made him a hot commodity as the 1994 free agent season beckoned, despite the team’s decline toward the end of the season.

His numbers as Marino’s replacement weren’t gaudy but they weren’t bad, either: 133/233 (57.1); 1,773 yards; 12 TD; 8 interceptions. His record was 3-4.

It wasn’t Johnny Unitas stuff, but the Lions, as usual, were desperate for a quarterback.

They had tried a triumvirate of Rodney Peete, Erik Kramer and Andre Ware in 1993, and even though the team went 10-6 and made the playoffs, that three-headed monster wasn’t going to be the answer at the game’s most important position.

So the Lions gave Mitchell’s agent a ring in early 1994.

If Mitchell was good enough for Shula to make do with, then who were the Lions to question?

Mitchell signed a fat contract with Detroit. The Lions finally found their quarterback!

There was a lot to like about Scott Mitchell in 1994. He was 6-foot-6. He was agile. He had learned the position at the feet of Marino and Shula, two Hall of Famers. And he had been pressed into action in 1993 and while the results weren’t overwhelming, nor were they atrocious.

Mitchell struggled to start the 1994 season before he went down with an injury about halfway through the season. The injury was well-timed, because the fans were well on their way to dismembering Mitchell on sports talk radio and around the water cooler—and at the Silverdome.

He completed less than 50 percent of his passes, which in the era of rules designed to punish defensive backs, was shockingly bad.

Veteran Dave Krieg took over for Mitchell and led the Lions to the playoffs. But Krieg split as a free agent after the season.

Mitchell, healed, set records for the Lions in 1995 in completions, attempts, yards and touchdowns. The Lions made the playoffs for the third year in a row, with three different starting quarterbacks, which is just like them.

But under the postseason spotlight in Philadelphia, Mitchell laid one of the biggest eggs of any quarterback in league playoff history.

Mitchell was 13/29 with a TD and four interceptions—all in the first half, after which the Eagles led the Lions, 38-7. One of the four picks was returned for a touchdown.

Two years later, the Lions made the playoffs again and Mitchell pulled another infamous postseason stunt.

In Tampa, running a sneak play, the players all got up from the turf accept for one: Scott Mitchell.

Mitchell was down and he stayed down for several minutes. It was a stinking sneak play but Mitchell acted like he had been shot.

He was carted off the field on a stretcher.  The Lions lost.

Whatever doubts Lions fans—and teammates—had about Mitchell’s durability and, frankly, courage, were confirmed on the field at Tampa in that playoff game.

Two games into the 1998 season, after throwing a pick-six in overtime at home against Cincinnati, Mitchell was demoted to being rookie Charlie Batch’s backup.

Three years later, Mitchell was out of the league.

He coached some high school football at his alma mater (2008-2012) before resigning to spend more time at his software business.

Now he’s 366 pounds and wants to be the Biggest Loser.

Mitchell turned his good fortune due to Marino’s injury into two bad (for the Lions) contracts—his original one signed in 1994 and an extension a couple years later. Marino’s popped Achilles made Scott Mitchell millions.

According to Mitchell’s bio on “The Biggest Loser” website, the former QB suffers from sleep apnea and high blood pressure. He blames poor diet choices and a busy lifestyle for the startling weight gain.

Mitchell’s era at quarterback is one of many dark spots in Lions history. But his father died earlier this year from obesity-related issues and if there’s anytime to root for Scott Mitchell to lose, it’s now.

The irony is that, 20 years ago, when he came to Detroit, Mitchell had nothing to lose and everything to gain.

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If they wanted to put a punter into the Pro Football Hall of Fame long before now, I have one for you.

Of course, they didn’t call Sammy Baugh “Slingin’ Sammy” because of his foot.

Baugh isn’t famously known as “Bootin’ Sammy.” I get it.

But Baugh, the Washington Redskins Hall of Fame quarterback/defensive back (he intercepted 31 passes) from 1937-51, did triple duty from 1939-47, functioning as the team’s punter as well. And his numbers booting the ball for the Skins are eye-popping.

Baugh’s career punting average was 45.1 yards per kick, and Sammy wasn’t kicking the harder, lighter, more tightly-sewn pigskin that is used in the more modern era. The footballs Baugh punted were sort of like kicking sacks of flour.

In 1940, Baugh punted 35 times to the tune of a 51.4 yard average.

In Baugh’s day, “hang time” referred to public executions. But the grainy film footage that still exists shows Baugh’s kicks weren’t just long, they were high and majestic.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame inducted its 2014 class over the weekend, and one of the new members is Ray Guy.

You could hear the snickers from Maine to California when the Oakland Raiders made Guy, from Southern Mississippi, their first round pick (23rd overall) in the 1973 draft.

To that point, no NFL team had selected a pure punter in the first round. In fact, punters weren’t picked in the second, third, or fourth rounds all that much, either.

There were a few reasons for this.

One, Guy came along at a time when NFL rosters began to expand, giving teams the luxury of having foot specialists of sorts on board. In the days of the 40-man roster, anyone who could rear a leg back and boot a ball doubled as punter. Quarterbacks punted. Linebackers punted. Defensive backs punted (as Lem Barney did for the Lions in his first two years in the league, and as Yale Lary did before Barney). Placekickers punted.

Two, the strategy of playing for field position was a foreign concept before Ray Guy started booming footballs into the sky.

Three, the concept of hang time was also mostly disregarded until teams saw that when Guy punted, the Raiders coverage team arrived at the same time as the ball did into the return man’s hands.

Guy’s leg, when fully extended after a boot, turned his body into the letter “E” with the top and bottom missing.

Guy punted, and the football would stay in the air forever. You could watch Guy catch the snap, and you could then go to the bathroom, and come out in time to see the return.

Around the time Guy entered the league, another term started cropping up. It was called the “coffin corner,” and it referred to punts that would be buried deep in the opponents’ zone, out of bounds, usually inside the ten yard line.

Guy was a master of the coffin corner kick as well.

But it was the hang time, those often five-plus seconds that the football was in the air, that made Guy a consistent Pro Bowl and All-Pro punter.

Guy punted. That’s all he did. He didn’t place kick. He didn’t hold. He wasn’t the Raiders’ backup quarterback.

But Guy was a weapon for the Raiders, and leave it to maverick owner Al Davis to envision how valuable a leg like Guy’s could be to his team’s well-being.

Guy changed field position to the Raiders’ advantage on a consistent basis. His punting wasn’t just long and high, it was precise and strategic. Guy was like the champion golfer who could back spin an approach shot onto the green from 175 yards out of the rough, over trees and in front of the bunkers, and have it land six feet from the pin.

With Guy as their punter, the Raiders weren’t playing football on a gridiron like the other teams; they were playing on a battlefield and Guy’s kicks were like grenades landing in the opponents’ soft underbelly.

But despite Guy’s success, no other NFL team could pull the trigger on drafting a punter in the first round.

But again, here’s where Guy’s influence comes into play.

Thanks to Guy, the Godfather of Punting, the game of football from head to, um, toe, began grooming punting specialists, starting at the high school level. The result was that the lot of pure punters increased exponentially, so there wasn’t as much urgency to grab a punter in the early rounds of the draft.

At the 1973 draft, Raiders owner Davis had a decision to make.

Guy was available, but so was a brute of a guard out of Michigan State named Joe DeLamielleure. And though the Raiders prided themselves on many things, a stellar offensive line was high on the list.

DeLamielleure would go on to a Hall of Fame career, but even he acknowledged that Davis made the right choice in selecting Guy over the guard from MSU.

“Mr. Davis, you are a smart man,” DeLamielleure said he told Davis in 1976 at the Pro Bowl in New Orleans. “I’ve never seen a right guard win a game, but I’ve seen Ray Guy win them. You made the right choice.”

When news broke early this year that Guy would be part of the Hall’s Class of 2014, a couple members of his football fraternity got an idea.

Former NFL punters Greg Coleman and Bryan Barker burned up the phone lines, inviting as many fellow punters as they could to induction weekend at Canton, Ohio.

The result was a gathering of 18 punters whose careers spanned nearly five decades.

“He put us on the map,” Coleman said of Guy. “There weren’t too many punters who had a five-second hang time in the league.”

Because of Guy, the TV networks started superimposing hang times on the screen on Sundays. Punters started being graded on how many seconds the football was in the air and where the ball landed, in addition to sheer length of kick.

It’s not bluster to say that Ray Guy, in his way, changed the game of football.

Fittingly, he has three Super Bowl rings for his work, to boot (sorry).

It was Guy’s first pro coach, John Madden, who perhaps summed it up best, from the Raiders perspective. He spoke of Guy before the enshrinement on Saturday.

“When we got Ray Guy, fourth down wasn’t as bad as it used to be.”

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The National Football League’s roots in the 1920s were planted in sleepy burgs across the Midwest. It was a small town league, offering the curious something to follow until the next baseball season.

The franchises were located in such dazzling metropolises as Canton, OH; Racine, WI; Akron, OH; and Rock Island, IL. The locations were fitting, when you consider that the league itself was founded in an automobile showroom in Canton, on August 20, 1920.

In 1921, the Akron franchise (the Pros) was one of several which had one of its players double up as the coach.

Fritz Pollard, who stood 5’9″ and who was listed as weighing all of 165 pounds, coached the Pros. Mainly a running back, Pollard’s tremendous speed and elusiveness as a player caused legendary sportswriter Walter Camp to remark that Pollard was “one of the greatest runners these eyes have ever seen.”

Pollard coached Akron in 1921—the league was known as the American Professional Football Association (APFA) back then—to an impressive 8-3-1 record, all while maintaining his roster spot as a running back, scoring seven touchdowns on the season.

But Fritz Pollard wasn’t just any coach in the APFA—he was the only African-American one in the league.

Pollard lasted just one season as a coach, and in 1926 he was dismissed as a player as well, when the NFL (name changed in 1922) booted Pollard and the other eight black players at the time out of the league, permanently.

Pollard wasn’t just a footnote in pro football history. After being kicked out of the NFL, Pollard organized all-black barnstorming teams, playing under names such as the Harlem Brown Bombers. This barnstorming continued into the 1930s.

The NFL didn’t go the black head coaching route again until 68 years after Pollard coached the Akron Pros, when Art Shell became coach of the Los Angeles Raiders in 1989.

While Fritz Pollard should be lauded for his stature as a league pioneer, it would be disingenuous to say that he paved the way for Shell to coach the Raiders. Nearly seven decades kind of dilutes Pollard’s participation toward Shell’s hiring.

But Shell, who played for the Raiders to the tune of a Hall of Fame career as an offensive tackle, is rightly recognized as the modern game’s first black head coach, and thus was indeed a trail blazer of sorts for those  of color who followed him on the sidelines over the past 25 years.

The Lions’ Jim Caldwell is one who should give a nod of appreciation to Shell—and, maybe more so, to late Raiders managing general partner Al Davis, who hired Shell after firing Mike Shanahan.

It took the Lions a little bit longer than some franchises—but quicker than others—to hire an African-American head coach. Caldwell became the first on January 15, 2014.

Many Lions fans, if they had their druthers in January, envisioned Ken Whisenhunt as the one who would open training camp on Monday in Allen Park. Whisenhunt, who is white, was seen as the Lions’ first choice after firing Jim Schwartz.

But Whisenhunt spurned the Lions and never got on the private plane that was famously waiting for him in San Diego, ready to jet the Chargers’ offensive coordinator across the country where he would, presumably, get a contract offer in Detroit.

I am not, for a moment, suggesting that the popularity of Whisenhunt over Caldwell, in the fans’ eyes, had anything to do with race. For whatever reason, Whisenhunt’s resume excited the Lions fan base more than did Caldwell’s.

Frankly, the fact that Caldwell is the Lions’ first black head coach kind of slipped my mind until it was brought to the fore on Saturday, when the coach was honored by the Detroit Historical Society’s Black Historic Sites Committee for the distinction.

The celebration of Caldwell’s status was nice, but it was low-key and it should have been. For despite the fact that Caldwell is the Lions’ first black head coach, thankfully those of Caldwell’s ilk aren’t a novelty anymore in the NFL.

Not that the league couldn’t do a little better in that regard, as Caldwell pointed out on Saturday, but in his usual classy way.

“It’s (black head coaches) come a long way because of the fact that I think now there might have been 47 (African-American coaches) that have gotten that opportunity (in NCAA Division I football), if I’m not mistaken,” Caldwell told the Detroit Free Press.

“And in the National Football League there’s 17, I think, that have gotten that opportunity, even some of those that have been interim. So there’s been quite a few guys.

“I think it’s changed quite a bit in my lifetime. You can see some progress in that area, but certainly a long way to go.”

The Lions are the only team in the NFL with a black head coach and a black general manager, something that has happened just once prior in league history. That, too, should be celebrated, but not without some concern.

The NFL has always been a little slow on the uptake when it comes to minorities holding positions of power and influence, though progress is indeed being made.

But I don’t believe the fans in Detroit care if the football coach is white, black, blue or purple. The Lions haven’t won a league championship in 57 years. To give that perspective, remember when the Red Wings finally ended their Stanley Cup drought in 1997? That was a mere 42 years between Cups at the time.

Caldwell was not quite three years old when the Lions beat the Cleveland Browns to capture the 1957 NFL championship.

Now he is set to open his first training camp as the first black head coach in Lions history—and the team still hasn’t won it all since ’57.

Jim Caldwell was properly honored on Saturday night, but that distinction should lose its luster pronto. The Lions were hardly on the cusp in this regard, as Caldwell followed Shell in Oakland by a quarter century.

Since Shell in 1989, the Lions have gone through eight head coaches before hiring Caldwell (including interim coaches). Three of those guys were assistants who’d never been a head coach in the NFL prior to Detroit—hired when there were eminently more qualified black men available at the time.

But that’s all ancient history now, right?

Caldwell’s being black won’t shield him from criticism when the Lions falter, and it won’t help give him accolades when times are good.

He will be judged solely on his win/loss record.

I think even Fritz Pollard would agree with that notion.

It’s an old line, written by an ink-stained wretch sometime in the early-1960s, when the Yankees were continuing to dominate Major League Baseball.

“When the New York Yankees go out to dinner together, they sit at 25 different tables,” the line went.

The implication was clear. Togetherness and camaraderie, those feel-good words, were overblown.

The Oakland A’s of the early-1970s were a mustache-wearing, raucous group that disliked their owner slightly more than they disliked each other. Yet they managed to win three straight World Series.

During the “Bronx Zoo” Yankees years, circa 1977-78, one of the zoo’s animals said that losing streaks weren’t necessarily a bad thing, because “the more we lose, the more (owner George) Steinbrenner flies around the country to watch us play. And the more he flies, the greater chance that his plane will crash.”

The Yankees won the World Series in both ’77 and ’78—with a group that battled the owner and the manager, Billy Martin, with the same ferocity with which they battled the Orioles and the Red Sox and the Royals.

There are two C-words that are mightily overblown in the world of sports: camaraderie and chemistry.

The former is at least somewhat easy to define. The latter, not so much.

But neither word has as much to do with winning as the users of the words like to think.

Chemistry is the worst word in sports.

It is undefinable, overused and is trumped by the king of all words, which is TALENT.

Give me talent over goodwill any day of the week.

Long ago, we should have added the L-word to the list of offensive utterances in pro sports.

Leadership.

It’s another word that is hard to define, overused and is most certainly trumped by talent, which is the Godfather of words in the sports lexicon.

Nice guys don’t necessarily finish last, but their niceness alone won’t win any brass rings, either.

This isn’t to say that talented groups don’t need leaders, because they do. But not every talented guy can be a “leader,” however you choose to define that.

The Lions’ Ndamukong Suh seems to find himself swimming in the 24-hour news cycle, often not by his own choosing.

Suh, the fifth-year defensive tackle, is immeasurably talented, gifted and strong. He can be a game changer at a position that can change games.

So why can’t we just let him play football?

There seems to be an obsession in Detroit with making Suh a “leader”—that obtuse, undefinable noun that nonetheless makes sports fans and analysts salivate.

Why do a team’s best players all have to exhibit model behavior and all be chiefs?

You need to have some pretty damn good Indians to win, as well.

Let’s talk about some of the so-called “leaders” in Detroit sports history.

There was the Red Wings’ Steve Yzerman, who was the strong, silent type. I maintain that one of the most brilliant moves ever made by any coach/manager in Detroit was when Jacques Demers bestowed the team’s captaincy on Yzerman, who was a 21-year-old entering just his fourth NHL season.

Demers was crazy like a fox when he put the “C” on Yzerman’s jersey.

At the time (1986), Yzerman was the captain of a fledgling team coming off a 57-loss season. Nearly 20 years later, the Red Wings had won three Stanley Cups and were constantly in the mix for more titles when Yzerman hung up his skates as one of the most-respected captains in league history.

Yzerman played hurt, he played hard and his teammates followed suit, yet Stevie did so without raising his voice much above a whisper.

Yzerman was perhaps the quintessential captain of anyone who pulled on a uniform in the Motor City.

Isiah Thomas, pound-for-pound the toughest player in NBA history, led the Pistons by example while also functioning as a de facto coach on the floor.

Thomas’ performance in the 1988 NBA Finals, when he played the last 72 minutes of that series on one leg, will never be forgotten in Detroit, nor should it.

The Pistons lost that series, but rebounded to capture the next two NBA championships with Thomas’ on-court presence leading the way.

I will give you Yzerman and Thomas as the two greatest, measurable leaders in Detroit sports history.

I will even give you Bobby Layne of the Lions, who was the unquestioned Chief of the Lions in the championship days of the 1950s. Bobby led on the field and he led in the saloons. His teammates followed him in both environs.

Now, back to Suh.

The Lions, and their fans, should toss away this misrepresentation of Suh as a so-called leader, forthwith.

They should leave him alone and let him play football, for crying out loud.

So Suh doesn’t show up to voluntary camps. He is absent at teammates’ charity events. He prefers to be left alone and work out on his own.

He is the Garbo of the Lions. He is enigmatic, like DiMaggio of the old Yankees and Jeter of today’s.

He can also be one of the most dominant players in the NFL. He has the potential to be the best football lineman in Detroit. Ever.

But it says here that we may never see how close Suh can come to reaching his ridiculously high ceiling if the yoke of leadership and being an extrovert continues to be placed on him.

Suh didn’t enter the NFL with a reputation of being a leader in college, if you recall.

He was known for tossing blockers around like rag dolls and for busting heads. That, presumably, is why the Lions drafted him second overall in the 2010 NFL Draft.

This is the perfect time to leave Suh alone and let him play football.

The Lions have a new coach, Jim Caldwell. This, naturally, ushers in new systems on both sides of the ball. There are new assistants and new philosophies and new playbooks.

There ought to be a new approach when it comes to engaging Ndamukong Suh, as well.

He doesn’t have to be well-liked by teammates, contrary to popular belief. He doesn’t have to show up at voluntary camps. He doesn’t have to walk around with a smile on his big face.

Suh isn’t Steve Yzerman, and he sure as hell isn’t Isiah Thomas.

But that’s OK.

One of the greatest of all the Lions, running back Barry Sanders, was an Indian. He didn’t have a Chief’s bone in his elusive body. You didn’t hear what Barry said on Wednesday—you heard what he did on Sunday.

Yet I don’t recall anyone in the Lions organization, or within his adoring fan base, trying to make Barry Sanders a leader. He was accepted for what he was—the best runner in the NFL who made our jaws drop every week.

Why can’t we accept Ndamukong Suh for what he is—which is a beast of a defensive lineman who can change games in the blink of an eye?

Why does he need to be a leader, if it’s not in his DNA?

If you want to dog Suh because he doesn’t attend voluntary camps and he prefers to be introverted, fine.

I happen to believe that you win football games with talented, dominating players—whether they get along with each other or not.

The Lions should strip Suh of his captaincy, but not to be punitive—to be realistic.

Square pegs never did do very well with round holes.

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Someday it won’t be big news that an NFL team drafted an openly gay college player.

Someday that player’s name won’t be prefaced with a designation of sexual orientation, just like we no longer use the word “Negro” to describe black players, like the newspapers and magazines did some 50 years ago.

Someday the drafting team won’t have to go out of its way to say how honored it is to be selecting the openly gay player.

How far we are from that “someday” is anyone’s guess. Mine is that we’re not on the precipice.

But that’s OK. Any journey, no matter how long, needs that first step.

The St. Louis Rams selected Missouri defensive end Michael Sam in the seventh round of the 2014 Draft—the 249th overall pick.

This isn’t quite Jackie Robinson jogging onto the field, along with eight white guys, back in 1947 for the Brooklyn Dodgers, but it’s not insignificant.

The key word is “openly.”

You’d have to be ridiculously naïve to think that Sam, should he make the Rams (which he almost certainly will), is the lone ranger when it comes to gay NFL players today.

And you’d have to be almost as naïve to think that those gay players’ sexual orientation is unknown to all of their teammates.

There are certainly NFL players in 2014 who know damn well that they are lining up with and against gay men.

But Sam is the first to make no bones about it. He came out on ESPN just prior to the scouting combine in Indianapolis in February.

There is one comparison to Robinson, however.

Michael Sam can play football. Like Robinson, Sam is hardly a benchwarmer.

Sam was the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2013 while playing for the Tigers. He was credited with 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss.

So barring injury or something catastrophic, Sam will indeed become the NFL’s first openly gay player. He may even start for the Rams—if not right away, then soon.

This isn’t a huge day for just the LGBT community—it’s huge day, period.

This is America, where we pride ourselves on our diversity.

But until today in pro sports, that diversity has never really included sexual orientation.

Sam isn’t just the first openly gay man to be drafted into the NFL, he’s the first to be drafted into any of the four major sports.

MLB recently celebrated Jackie Robinson Day, and while we should never forget Robinson’s courage and significance in history, it does seem kind of silly that we once made such a big deal about a black guy taking the field in a big league game.

Someday we won’t make such a big deal about a gay man or woman suiting up in a major sports league contest.

But that day, clearly, is not today.

I hope Michael Sam knows what he’s up against, and I’m sure he does. If he doesn’t, that would be naivety to the max.

But let’s keep things in perspective.

No matter what Sam may go through, from his first day at training camp to the first scrimmage play in which he assumes the three-point stance, it will pale in comparison to what Jackie Robinson endured.

The fans are a million miles away in an NFL stadium, compared to big league baseball games, where you can almost reach out and touch the guy in the on-deck circle.

Sam won’t even hear much of the vile, disgusting words that are sure to be hurled his way.

Robinson’s appearance in big league games was fought tooth and nail by team owners and players. It wasn’t just the fans who spewed their hate. Some players in 1947 initially refused to take the field in any game in which Robinson was scheduled to play.

And, of course, there were the death threats.

Michael Sam will get some static, for sure. But I doubt that the brotherhood of NFL players will be anything more than a tiny source of that static. The owners, I believe, won’t provide any resistance. They know better.

What Sam will have to deal with that Robinson didn’t, is the venom from social media.

His Twitter account exploded after the Rams’ announcement. Sam gained 20 percent more followers within two hours of his being drafted.

But as we all know, the Internet is the ultimate double-edged sword.

Sam may have gained followers, but he will also be vilified and filleted on his Twitter account. The Internet will be filled with words of hatred about a gay man playing in the NFL.

This is actually kind of hilarious.

One of Sam’s new teammates with the Rams, defensive lineman Chris Long, told ESPN.com, “Obviously people are going to make something out of it. He’s not the first gay player to ever play football. He might be the first openly gay professional football player, but there’s all types of people from all over in an NFL locker room; it really is a melting pot and it never ceases to amaze me how a locker room can just mesh, people from all different walks of life, so I don’t think it’s an issue. He’s coming to a really good D-line room.”

Rams coach Jeff Fisher said he was honored to be part of the Sam pick, and reiterated that the team is getting a good football player, not a gay one.

It seems Sam will have acceptance within his own locker room, and I suspect throughout the league, for the most part.

So he’s one up on Robinson in that respect.

This openly gay stuff really shouldn’t be a big deal, but that can only be assured as the years go by and we look back at the 2014 Draft and kind of chuckle at Michael Sam’s drafting being a sensation.

It will be, “Jeez, can you believe we made such a thing over that?”

But we’re not there yet.

When the St. Louis Rams picked Sam on Saturday, they didn’t just take a football player. They took the first step on a journey that, with any luck, will be anti-climactic in reaching its destination.

 

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