Contributor's notes: Jeff Beresford-Howe
There ain't nothin' colder than the Detroit Lions, not even the frozen tundra at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, where the Lions will take the field next Sunday and attempt to avoid becoming the first team in the history of the National Football League to, uh, successfully complete an 0–16 season.
The game is meaningless in any practical sense — the team has already wrapped up the first pick in the NFL draft, and the organization is a smoking ruin whether the team finishes 1–15 or 0–16 — but it does represent some kind of milestone in the history of one of the most pathetic franchises in the history of professional sports:
• The Lions have never won or even played in the Super Bowl.
• The team has had a losing record eight years in a row — 31–96 over that time.
• The Lions have won three — three — divisional championships in the last fifty years. Keep in mind that this is a feat accomplished playing mostly in a division with only four or five teams.
• When the team has made the playoffs — one year they snuck in with an 8–8 record, another year 9–7 — they've lost six straight games. The team last won a playoff game during the Bush Administration -- the first one, not W's.
William Clay Ford has been sole owner of the team since 1963, when he bought the team for $4.5 million. Because of the NFL's revenue sharing program, the team is now conceivably worth more as a practical matter than the Ford Motor Co., even with Ford's thoroughly incompetent stewardship of the Lions factored in. By all accounts, Ford, 83, is in decent health and could continue to mismanage the team indefinitely.
What the Lions represent is the best argument for a European soccer-style relegation system, i.e., kicking the worst three teams out of the league every year and replacing them with the top three minor league teams. The system has its flaws, but one thing it does do is weed out bozos like Ford. If there was such a system in football, presumably Ford would have been forced to sell the team when it became a minor league outfit or at least be placed under intense pressure to bring in competent management, and Detroit fans wouldn't be facing an ignominious place in NFL history.