By Ken De Laat
The Lions have not won a divisional title since 1993. Tampa Bay has won the title in the Central/North Division more recently than Detroit and they haven't even been in our division since 2001.
Then there are the playoffs where they haven’t posted a win since 1991. In fact their playoff record in the Super Bowl era is 1-12. They have lost playoff games to no fewer than 8 teams and none of those teams went on to win it all that year. In fact only 4 teams have never made an appearance at the Big Game with Roman Numerals (to make sure everyone knows its importance) and the Lions are one. They are also the only non expansion team in the group meaning the other four missed out on the first 25-30 SB’s because the teams didn’t exist as yet.
The Lions were the sweethearts of the league last year with a fiery coach, some budding stars, an Offensive Coordinator with some uncanny moves and some impressive come from behind wins. They came on strong and even knocked the uber-obnoxious Aaron Rodgers and his Packers out of the playoffs with a season finale win in Lambeau.
And with a spot in the season opener on national TV against the Super Bowl Champion Chiefs, those who schedule such things must be confident about their chances for success this year. And while I hope they do well and will certainly celebrate any success they have this year will seem more than a little different to me.
A longtime near and dear friend of mine passed away earlier this summer. Don was the most faithful Lion fan one could ever hope to pity. He lived and breathed the Honolulu Blue and Silver, convinced each year they had gotten the right coach, the right QB, the right players to win it all.
And year after year they broke his heart but never his spirit. Guys would get on him about his dedication to the Lions. He knew fans of the Bears and Packers who would chide him about his team, as did the frontrunner followers, those fair weather fans who follow the top teams as if they grew up in New England, Pittsburgh or Dallas.
But Don was undeterred. He once said to me, “They can talk all they want but one of these years the Lions are going to put it all together and I’ll be able to say I was with them all the way.”
And now he won’t.
He never got to see them play in a Super Bowl. Heck, he was 4 when they last won a championship and one playoff win over the 66 years since isn’t exactly a proud legacy for your favorite footballers.
Don’s loyalty to the team may have seemed fruitless and futile to many, but win or lose, his team was his team. He was steadfast and unwavering in his support of the much beleaguered Lions. When others gave up on them and railed on their propensity to turn losing into an art form, he would gather whatever positives could be gathered and embrace hope.
Last place? Well, we’ll get a good draft pick. Yet another Coaching change? Maybe this is the guy to do it. Trade the star quarterback who later that year won a Super Bowl? Well, this will give us a lot of picks next year.
Hope. Always hope.
And maybe, just maybe this truly is a turning point for the eternally dormant franchise.
My late friend may not be in attendance for his annual visit to Ford to watch his guys play and he may not be sitting in front of his big screen TV on Sunday afternoons.
But I will never be able to watch another Detroit game without thinking about Don and his passion for his perpetually underperforming team.
And should they find the measure of success many are predicting?
I will raise a glass to his memory and say, ”You were right all along. They finally got there.
“Just wish you were here to see it.”
In memory of Don Longcore. Friend, golf trip roomie, all around good guy…
And one helluva Lion fan.
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