NFL: Large crowd shows to watch Lions
DETROIT ó The Detroit Lions set a record for futility last year in compiling the NFL’s first 0-16 season. The team hasn’t reached the playoffs in a decade, and has won just once in the postseason since 1957. But their fans still love them.
More than 15,000 fans stood in persistent rain at Ford Field on Saturday to watch a team that can only improve on last year’s dismal season. More than half the players are new, as is the coaching staff and front office. Small numbers fans have attended practices at the team’s training facility, but Saturday’s two-hour open practice offered fans their first long look at the team.
“I’ve got hope,” said fan Greg Kowaleski, of Southgate. “There’s a new coach and a lot of new players. Things are pretty bad around here so maybe they’ll entertain us.”
Before practice, coach Jim Schwartz spoke with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who stopped by on his way to Canton, Ohio, for Saturday night’s Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
Schwartz said he hoped the fans’ show of support made an impression.
“Anytime I hear someone around the country talking about taking (the annual Thanksgiving) game away from Detroit, I want to remind the commissioner of 15,000 people standing in the rain for two hours to watch a practice,” Schwartz said. “It says something about our fans.”
Goodell said he didn’t think Detroit was in danger of losing the Thanksgiving game. He did say the league will not alter its blackout policy. Five Lions games were not broadcast on local television last season because tickets to those games did not sell out. They were the first blacked out Lions games since the team moved to Ford Field in 2002.
The team’s horrid season last year led to wholesale changes on the staff and roster.
Owner William Clay Ford fired president Matt Millen three games into last season and sacked coach Rod Marinelli a day after the team finished with the league’s first-ever 0-16 record. Tom Lewand was promoted to Millen’s position, Martin Mayhew became the general manager and Schwartz, the Tennessee Titans’ former defensive coordinator, was hired to replace Marinelli.
The winless season also added to the woes of the Detroit area, which has taken a beating in the economic downturn and has the nation’s highest unemployment rate.
A winning season this year wouldn’t solve all of the region’s problems, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt, said fan Chris Moody.
“The product on the field has been so bad the last several seasons, but the fans are so passionate,” he said. “If they get something worth cheering for, at the very least I think people will feel a little better,” said Moody, who began following the team five years ago.
The Lions’ last playoff appearance came after the 1999 season and their last winning campaign was a year later. They’ve won just one postseason game since winning the 1957 NFL championship.
The Lions play the Atlanta Falcons at Ford Field on Aug. 15 in both teams’ preseason opener.