Not entirely, of course. There was a lot more sucking and a lot more losing to be done after 2006 to form the current version of the Detroit Lions through high draft picks. The Lions will play the franchise’s first playoff game in 12 years tonight in New Orleans, and a win would be Detroit’s first playoff victory since 1991, and only its third post-season win in the last 55 years.
It takes true dedication to be atrociously awful for that long, especially in the modern NFL, a league where every possible measure has been taken to encourage parity, and terrible teams often bounce back quickly. But every year the basement dwellers become clear quickly, and by about Week 8 we know the fan bases that will be inventing some kind of clever rhyme to encourage losing and the pursuit of the first overall pick.
This year it was “Suck for Luck”, and past reincarnations have included such witty works of word wizardry like “Testaverde Tournament.” The words change, but the desperation remains the same. Fans need hope, and in the NFL hope is a commodity delivered by the highest possible draft choice.
Near the end of the 2006 season, the Lions were leading this quest for hope at the top of the draft, as they have in many recent seasons. They had just two wins heading into the final week, so all the Lions needed to do was lose to the Cowboys in Week 17, and they would have locked up the top pick in the 2007 draft.
When that game ended with a 39-31 Lions win (the most points for the Lions that year after they averaged 17.7 prior to their surprise win over Dallas), the frustration in Lions land was no doubt palpable and fiery. This team couldn’t win, and they couldn’t lose when they had to lose. This was a time when being a Lions fan was akin to supporting the Washington Generals.
You’re now forgiven for those thoughts, Lions fans. That needless win saved you from even more misery.
Had the Lions lost that day despite Dallas’ bumbling and fumbling that continued one week later on Wild Card Weekend against Seattle (especially the fumbling), they would have been heavily pressured to draft that year’s quarterback golden boy. The same fan base that wanted the No. 1 pick was tired of watching Jon Kitna, and an infusion of youth at the most important offensive position in football was seen as paramount.
The name of the 2007 draft golden boy? JaMarcus Russell. You may remember him as one of the worst draft busts in NFL history, and a connoisseur of fine purple drank products. The Raiders are still reeling at quarterback after Russell’s colossal failure to fulfill his upside, and they had to trade first- and second-round picks to acquire Carson Palmer this year.
So instead of walking down that road to quarterback hell and damnation, the Lions were able to make the easy decision with their second overall pick after beating Dallas in Week 17. They took Calvin Johnson, and all he’s done this year is average 105.1 receiving yards per game, lead the league in receiving yards with 1,681, and have only three games without a touchdown, scoring 16 times.
Johnson was the first vital piece in the Lions’ young core, and more depression in the form of just nine wins over the next three years after he was drafted led to the insertion of the next two pieces: Matthew Stafford and Ndamukong Suh. But we’ve witnessed the damaging, long-term effects of a massive misstep at quarterback. Even with Stafford and Suh, the crystal ball surely wouldn’t produce promising returns for a Lions roster that doesn’t include Johnson, and instead included Russell, at least briefly.
So thanks, Cowboys. With 21 seconds left in that game and Dallas on Detroit’s six yard-line down by eight, Tony Romo scrambled for the goal line, and came up two yards short. Two more yards, and the Cowboys could have scored and made a two-point conversion to force overtime, and possibly win.
Two more yards, and the Lions could have had JaMarcus Russell.