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Packers', Lions' Destinies Diverge

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Packers', Lions' Destinies Diverge

I really wanted to root for the Detroit Lions this year.  Really, I did.  They’ve been such lovable losers for so long, you wanted to see them and their fans have just a little bit of success.  I mean, come on.  This is over fifty years without a championship.  Packer fans bemoaned going not even thirty years between Super Bowls.

Just in the period of time I’ve been watching football, the highest stature I’ve ever seen the Lions reach was the first hurdle for the Homgren Era Packers to leap past on their five-year journey to a Super Bowl. You know, like when you played Mortal Kombat, and the first opponent you faced was some elderly geezer that was just there to show you the ropes on your way to bigger and better things.  That was Herman Moore and the Lions of the early 1990’s.

But I can’t support these Lions.  I can’t even gleefully cherish the rivalry as I do with the Bears or even the Vikings, the “love to hate them” mentality.  The actions of Ndamukong Suh on Thanksgiving, violently pushing the head down of Even Dietrich-Smith, then stomping on his arm, was far from an event in isolation.  It was a climax of many cheap, dirty plays on the part of Suh and his teammates since Jim Schwartz took over as coach, and now those cumulative actions have put an ugly magnifying glass over that team.

But, it isn’t just the actions of the players…the late hits, the ripping off of helmets, the stomping on arms…that are the most damning.  It is the excuse parade given by Suh, self-exoneration with every possible angle he can come up with.  If I had wanted to hurt him, I would….The man upstairs knows what I did….I was just trying to keep my balance… Such overt ridiculousness has gone on for more than just this one incident, as evidenced by the report by NFLN’s Jason Canafora that even his teammates are saying the Lions organization have “enabled” Suh.

Enabling? Certainly not a stretch for an organization that allowed Matt Millen to preside over perhaps the most embarrassing regime in NFL history.

I sympathize with those good-hearted Lions and their fans who recognize that the opportunities being presented to them by an influx of talent are being wasted with cheap, dirty play that ends up hurting you more in the long run.  It’s not too long ago that the Packers were in a similar situation.

By 1986, the latter part of the Forrest Gregg Era in Green Bay, expectations brought on by back-to-back 8-8 seasons in Gregg’s first two years were diminished.  The great veterans of the Starr years were gone…Lynn Dickey, Paul Coffmann, John Jefferson, Johnnie Gray, and Jan Stenerud.  The Packers were sinking, and the hits kept coming, on and off the field.

In Week 3, promising superstar safety Tim Lewis was lost to a neck injury that ended his career.   My personal childhood idol, James Lofton, was charged with second-degree sexual assault of a woman at a Green Bay nightclub, and was summarily shipped to the Raiders after the season.

While Lofton was eventually acquitted of those charges, but the same couldn’t be said for cornerback Mossy Cade, who was convicted of two charges of sexual assault of a woman he was related to through marriage, and served 15 months in jail.  How bad was it?  When the Vikings tried to sign Cade after his release, the Minnesota fans had to raise a public outcry against it. Kids, this is the “Love Boat” Minnesota Vikings we’re talking about here.

And the Gregg era was legendary for some of the worst drafts in franchise history.  You still want to bring up Mike Sherman’s drafts?  Go take a look at the drafts from 1984-1987.   The cabinet was becoming barer and barer, and the Packers were humiliated by the Super Bowl Shuffle 1985 Chicago Bears on national television, leading to further desperation on the part of Packer fans for any level of success.

And “any kind of success” could easily be the description of what happened.  As the Packers posted just thirteen wins over the final three years of Gregg’s tenure, Charles Martin delivered the “Body Slam Heard Round Mostly Wisconsin”.  Yes, with no chance to beat the Bears on the scoreboard late in 1986, Martin grabbed Punky QB Jim McMahon a full two seconds after the ball was away and threw him into the Solider Field artificial turf, separating his shoulder.  It was the beginning of a new approach for the “hard-nosed Packers and their hard-nosed coach”.  If you can’t beat them, beat them up.

And, I am humbled to say that, like many Packer fans at the time, I didn’t completely decry the incident.  In fact, I kind of celebrated it.  I mean, the Bears were cocky, right?  And McMahon was a jerk, right?  He kind of deserved it.  You saw Martin’s face as he was ejected, and there wasn’t a look of outrage or contriteness on his face.  He looked almost bemused.  And so did many Packer fans, as we found ourselves face-to-face with Bear fans that week in our cubicle, our classes, or our local tavern and let them know we scored a point against them.

Then we discovered Ken Stills, the former Badger who was brought in to replace the loss of Tim Lewis, and the hits just kept coming.  Stills had a reputation as a big hitter, but under the guidance of Forrest Gregg, those hits kept coming, often several seconds after the whistle.  And so it went over the next few seasons, with the Packers often sinking down to the level of the cheap victory, the late hit, the trash talking and scuffling.

As Packers fans, mired in the midst of a twenty-year slump, we defended the Packers as much as we could.  In many ways, it was our only victory when your quarterback’s efficiency rating was less than half of what Aaron Rodgers’ is today.  It was the time in Packer history when Lambeau Field was barely half-full by the end of the game.  It was the time in my Packer fandom when I would turn the television off in the middle of the third or fourth quarter and find something else to do, rather than subject myself to further frustration.

Seeing Matt Suhey get leveled after the whistle was our treat.  Seeing Chuck Cecil wind up and deliver a running hit was our moment in the sun when we might actually see our team presented positively on ESPN that night.

Dave Duerson, the former Bear safety, summed up the Packers approach in those days succinctly.

"They have a talented club, a lot of athletes," Duerson said. "The problem is they don't play clean. When they decide to play professional football at a class level, they'll give a lot of teams trouble.

"There were a number of cheap shots.  When you go in to make a tackle, you have offensive linemen coming in from behind taking shots at your knees, at your back and ribs, basically away from the play. There`s no room for that kind of play.”

It was a loser’s mentality.  It was a fruitless existence that runs contrary to the point of why you play the game:  to win.  It was as if the Packers had knowingly sacrificed the win the felt they had little chance to achieve and decided to make up for it by getting the cheap, dirty wins.  And in the end, the right person was axed when Forrest Gregg was fired after the 1988 season.

I used to play flag football in the 1990’s with a bunch of my buddies from a camp we once worked at.  We were pretty good, not fantastic, but enjoyed heading to the old Air it Out competitions and winning a game or two.

One day, we went to a “tournament” at a bar in Appleton.  We weren’t used to playing in the sand, but once again, we just wanted to have some fun.  We also didn’t realize that, of the six teams in our bracket, five were regular teams in their bar league, and they had their own “rules”.

Thus began a day of frustration.  We were hampered by the sand, while the other teams were used to it.  The “referee” just stood there, and made calls based on who whined the loudest.  Regularly, a receiver would run directly at me, push me back three yards, make a catch, and then I’d get blocked from behind.  I would look at the “ref”, and bring up the “no contact” part of the rulebook, and he wouldn’t even make eye contact with me.

Near the end of one of our games, I made a great catch in the back of the end zone, which brought the score to 45-6.  One of the players on the other team started screaming loudly, “HE ONLY HAD ONE FOOT IN BOUNDS!  HE ONLY HAD ONE FOOT IN BOUNDS!”

I looked at him and, being the nerd that actually studies the competition rules, told him that you only had to have one foot in bounds, just like high school and college.  Immediately, he changed his story.  “HE DIDN’T HAVE EITHER FOOT IN BOUNDS!”

I turned to the “ref”, smug in my knowledge that the obvious change in story would result in the touchdown signal.  However, the “ref” looked at us blankly, waiting apparently for us to decide what the call would be.  I slammed the ball down and let him take the points off the board.  It had been fourth down.

On the next play, which ended up being the last play of the game, I lined up defensively against the guy who had argued my touchdown.  I took a running start before the ball was hiked, and right as the play started, I crossed the line and tackled the guy hard into the sand.  And I sat on him and held him down for the play, which ended up being a final touchdown anyway.

No call.  We lost 51-0 and we walked off the field, with my only sense of victory not being that great touchdown catch where I deftly kept one foot in bounds, but making a clearly illegal and unsportsmanlike play.  We were outmatched in sand football skills, and we weren’t going to get a call our way.  So, what did I do?   I went for the cheap hit.

That was all I had.

The difference between the 1987 Packers (or the 1996 “Simply En Fuego” Sand Flag Football Team) and the 2011 Detroit Lions is that the Lions have considerably more talent, and therein lies the problems with the coach.  Suh is a perennial Pro Bowl talent, while Charles Martin may not have started on any other NFL team besides the Packers.  The Lions’ wide receivers earn their nicknames (“Megatron”) while the old Packers receivers invented their own (you don’t remember Walter Stanley asking everyone to call him “Mr. Excitement”?).  The Lions are 7-4 and still have an inside track on a wild card that would bring them their first playoff appearance since 1999.

The Lions don’t have to play dirty to win.  But, at this point, they have a loser’s mentality, and slowly, they and their fans are  realizing it.  There’s no reason Suh needs to resort to pulling off the helmet of a helpless quarterback or stomp on a players’ arm.   He is a dominant player on the field…and a really useless player sitting on the sideline after being ejected from a game.

And the problem is, it isn’t just Suh.  Matt Stafford tossed Bear cornerback DJ Smith to the ground by his helmet at the end of a play.  Nick Fairly got a fine for a late hit on Jay Cutler.  Kyle Vanden Bosch and Rob Sims have also gotten fined for late hits and fights.  And the Lions lead the division in penalties called, accepted, and yards lost.

A few weeks ago, Stafford ended a practice breakdown with “[explicative] them!”…directed at the Lions fans who he interpreted as " jumping off the bandwagon".

While the differences in talent are glaring, the similarities between Gregg and Jim Schwartz are just as poignant.  Repeated questions regarding the sportsmanship and integrity of the team have been brushed away by the coach, one time casually redirecting a question about the composure of the team into a “turnover issue”.  And as the permissive, “look-the-other-way” attitude of the guy at the top continues to fester, it will be negative leaders like Suh who create the environment of the team.

If you want a great read on what a positive leader is, look no further than Lori Nickel’s piece on Aaron Rodgers and his 52 ways he motivates his teammates.  Note:  chanting for your fans to go [explicative] themselves is not on the list.

There came a point when the Packers (and Packer fans) slowly realized the impact of the dirty play and the cheap hit.  It came early in the Holmgren Era, when Gregg holdover Chuck Cecil had concussed himself out of the lineup with all of his heavily-fined helmet-first hits.  The Packers had been famous under the previous regime for giving up the big pass play, often laying the blame at the feet of cornerback Jerry Holmes.  As Holmgren and defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes installed a more team-oriented defense, it became obvious that Cecil had been shirking his coverage duties while trying to build up momentum for a big hit, biting on play-action and pass fakes.

I remember actually wanting to write Holmes a letter, apologizing for jumping on the bandwagon running him out of town with pitchforks and torches.  He may not have been the best corner in the world anyway, but it was the choice to make the cheap hit that left him exposed and vulnerable.

And this is what the Lions are doing today:  leaving themselves vulnerable.  I predicted a tough game for the Packers on Thanksgiving, but the Packers, once again, demoralized the other team.  While other teams have been able to mount comebacks against the Packers this season, the Lions could not.  They went out with a whimper with their best defensive player sitting in the locker room.

Abraham Lincoln once said, “Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”  I am thankful that Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson preside over a team that is thoughtful enough to protect both.

And, as the shadow of the Lions’ reputation gets longer and longer, you only need to follow it to the source…and that is the character of Jim Schwartz.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (37) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

MarkinMadison's picture

I married into Packer fandom in the early 90s. So this is a great history lesson for me. Nicely done. I just hope that A.R. doesn't go the way of McMahon on New Year's Day.

tundravision's picture

What I neglected to put in the post was how much Dave Duerson's comments sound exactly like what we would expect a Packer player to say about today's Lions. Kind of hard to look at yesterday's Packers with that kind of a mirror.

redlights's picture

Thanks! After 88 comments on Walden, a new post is a welcome site.

No offense to Nagler and Carriveau as they work hard.

This fed my craving!

Ruppert's picture

This is great.

After living in SE Michigan for almost 10 years, I think it should also be mentioned that Lions fans, in general, are very good fans. Generally, they are knowledgeable and realistic. I guess the only ones left after this long are the good ones.

Look at some of the message boards that follow the recent Suh articles in the Michigan media. There are very, very few Lions fans defending this guy now, and rightfully so. Imagine some Vikings and Bears blogs if the same thing was going on with one of THEIR guys. I think there would be a lot more idiots defending it.

And this really isn't standard procedure for the Lions organization, either. The Ford family is regarded very highly in the community and there is really no history of this kind of stuff. I'm very curious to see where it all leads for the Lions.

I think the biggest problem is Jim Schwartz. It's rather obvious (to Jim Harbaugh, anyway) that he leads by the example of totally losing his self control. Who was the dirtiest player in the league before Suh? IMO, it was Cortland Finnegan. Schwartz was his D coordinator for his first 3 years in the league. Coincidence? Yes, but...

Anyway, Lions fans deserve better than this. It will end eventually. It's just not certain how.

PackersRS's picture

If it wasn't Finnegan it was Haynesworth.

Ruppert's picture

You are right. Can't believe I forgot that. But I think Finnegan was 2nd. And Finnegan, Haynesworth and Suh are all products of Schwartz's coaching. Point made even more clearly.

tundravision's picture

And seriously, I do want to root for Detroit and their fans. They've suffered enough. My father grew up in Iron River as a Lions fan, and trust me, there isn't a city in America that desperately needs something positive like Detroit does right now.

In so many ways, that's the responsibility teams have to the communities they represent, and the Lions aren't fulfilling their end of the bargain.

Bohj's picture

I'm not so sure I agree with your sentiments on Lions fans of the past few decades. I was at a Silver dome Packers game in the past and their fans were pretty rude. They threatened my girlfriend and I and went as far as throwing a beer on us for no reason other than cheering for the Green and Gold.

And that would have been chalked up to a few annoying individuals, but what appalled me the most was when Charlie Batch got injured, the fans cheered with excitement. And whatever.... that's fine... but then when he got up off the field to walk off under his own power after being down for several minutes, the crowd then began to boo. I couldn't believe it. My fellow friend lions fans sitting with us were embarrassed.

fish/crane's picture

I plead guilty to actually getting some satsifaction out of those awful plays by Gregg's Packers. Having started rooting the '72 season- 17 years of losing can warp any organization and their fans.

It's where we were, and hope to never return again. This fan says sorry again, Jim McMahon, you were a fine QB for a v.good football team...and in jealous brother fashion, those Packers couldn't face it.

As usual- excellent article.

Nerdmann's picture

I was disgusted at the Charles Martin play at the time. A few years ago some people on timesfour changed my perspective on it. The Bears were cocky and were a little too "in your face." Somebody had to do something about it. Granted, it was a cheap shot on a guy who already had an injured shoulder. (Then again, why was he playing with an injured shoulder?) But the Bears were never the same again after that play. Pretty much shut them up for good.
The Packers aren't like that at all. We've got some players who like to talk like Jmike, but as a team we're not brash, we're not sticking it in peoples faces and we're not making obnoxious videos.
I'm not saying it was right, and I'm not saying McMahon deserved it. I just look at it as a slightly different scenario.

Jonny's picture

Best article I have read on the Packers in a long time. Keep up the good work!

FITZCORE1252's picture

Very good read CD. And there sure are a lot of similarities there, never thought about it.


DrewTheDraftGuru's picture

You should be ashamed of your journalism in the way that you quoted Suh. You quoted him as this: "If I had wanted to hurt him, I would…."

When you fill in the rest of the sentence it looks a lot worse: "If I want to hurt him, I'm going to hit his quarterback, as I did throughout the game."

The end results of those two quotes are completely different, and this is coming from a Packer fan that thought what Suh did was pretty bad.

I just don't get why you did what you did. You didn't have to. Suh's comments were bad enough. When you messed with Suh's quote, you just lost credibility. Had you used the quote as it was people would have thought they were plenty bad enough. Lesson learned...hopefully.

foundinidaho's picture

CD has a great deal of integrity in his writing. Everyone should be as accurate as he is. It sounds bad no matter what, you're right. I don't think using part of the quote makes it sound any worse, or inaccurate, IMHO.

packeraaron's picture

Um, DrewTheDraftGuru? He was paraphrasing.

tundravision's picture

You know what, Drew? If you have an issue with something that I write, feel free to express it. I'm always open to criticism and, in fact, welcome it.

However, there was no reason to call me the crappiest journalist in America.

What's that? You never said that? You're right. If you notice, I did not use "quotations" around those words. If I had, that would be considered a "quote".

What I used was known as paraphrasing. Note there are no "quotations" around the word paraphrasing. It was a series of excuses that captures the essence of his litany of excuses the protruded from his piehole during my Thanksgiving dinner. Did he say those exact words? Of course not. If he had, I would have put them in quotes and cited my source, as I always do.

However, my shame at the loss of my credibility in your eyes is pretty monumental. I hope that in the future I can strive to recapture your respect.

Bob's picture

I think it was Harry Truman (most of you probably don't remember him) that said "The buck stops here". If the Commissioner is really serious about cleaning up the sport. He will continue to suspend players and call Head coaches and owners into his office to explain to them that this crap is going to stop.

CLGreg's picture

Interesting read, albeit long and a bit rambling. C.D., as a writer, my advise is to get to the point more quickly or you lose readers. I agree with you on the Lion comparison to our 1980's Packer teams. The stands were still filled, though, and it was frustrating for us who went to the games. I was at that "cheap shot" game with my dad when Stills hit Suhey and Lee rode Payton to the Bear bench. It was embarrassing and hard to watch. I live in Bear country and had to endure the rips on the team I grew up to love. Thanks for your work.

packeraaron's picture

<em> a writer, my advise is to get to the point more quickly or you lose readers.</em>

C.D., as your boss, my advice to you is to write whatever the hell you want.

Austin Auch's picture

I just don't get why people rip on C.D. for his long articles? As a reader it is nice to read stories. Being born in 1985, it is also nice getting a history lesson once a week.

Also, I would love to put up 51 on your Flag Football team.

fish/crane's picture

He expresses by reaching back. That takes time.

tundravision's picture

CL, thanks for the feedback. I've gotten the "too long" criticism before, and I appreciate it. However, this is what I do. If you are looking for someone to give you quick, efficient summaries, look no further than the other fantastic writers on this website. Brian, in particular, is journalism at its best...he says a lot with a little, while I (admittedly) use a lot to say a little.

I'm offering feature pieces, the kind that you might find on a Sports Illustrated cover story. I don't fool myself into think I'm that good yet, but I'm trying. I have started putting in the Packer bullets to split it up, but quite frankly, I take a lot of pride in taking an idea and painting a complete, vivid picture of it. If that takes 1,500 words, or 2,000 words, or 2,500 words, that's what it takes.

But don't think for a moment I didn't spend as much time planning that piece as I did writing it (both of which you can measure in hours). I totally understand if my work is too long for you to digest, and have no problem with you electing to pass it by for more fast-food fare. But I know there are folks out there who like to take the time to read something that is a little more divergent, and I love to provide it.

FITZCORE1252&#039;s EVO's picture

Wow, well played sir. I'd of went the Dick'ish route (something along the lines of "shove these 2,000 words up your ...") but you come away looking better for not taking that approach. Kudos.

bomdad's picture

I've always thought Delmas is a headhunter too. Any safety who has a reputation as a "big hitter" these days is either going to hurt his team with penalties or end up injured himself.

JoePackersNYC's picture

I mentioned this in the comments on Aaron's Gut Reactions for the Detroit game. CD this was a great read. Nice work.

Jim Schwartz is a hothead. The Lions play is a direct representation of their coach.

The rematch at Lambeau will be a good litmus test for these dirty shenanigans, especially if the Lions are out of the playoff hunt.

Richard's picture

I grew up a Packer fan in a household of Packer fans, and have remained one as well.
This post was a nice history lesson. Well done. Keep up the good work...and go Pack!

thedon's picture

CD, great article, but you need to work on focusing your articles a little better. Some paragraphs just don't belong or are clunky. Try outlining your articles after you write them. I found this really helps me a lot. I work off the originally outline then I try to outline my paper that I wrote, it really helps in creating clarity and reducing redundancy.

tundravision's picture

Thanks much, Don. I will endeavor to improve in the future.

thedon's picture

Definitely keep it up CD. I love reading your articles, they're already better than a peter king feature, which is why I was commenting cause you obviously can write.

FITZCORE1252&#039;s EVO's picture

"I work off the originally outline"? What exactly is an originally outline, Professor? And you're telling people how to write? Unreal. If you're gonna critique somebody on their writing at least proof read your critique before posting, and subsequently losing any glimmer of credibility. If CD is already better than Peter King, perhaps you should take King under your wing and leave CD alone to do what he do (intentional).

Prof. Fitz
Eat It University

packeraaron's picture

Dying laughing here Fitz. Dy-ing.

thedon's picture

The intent was obvious even if the words were out of order. I don't know if you notice but there is no requirement to be meticulous when commenting on a site and notice I was not bashing CD in any way nor was I being a grammar nazi. I was looking at bigger picture with flow and the structure of the piece so failed grammar is not hypocritical of me, but your inability to fix your comma splice does tell me you have nothing to say when critiquing my misplaced word.

Also, I think we can all agree that Peter King is a lost cause when it comes to writing.

Steve's picture

CD, I agree with Aaron, write whatever you want. For those folks that find it necessary to criticize the writing, give it a rest.

FITZCORE1252&#039;s EVO's picture

No shit! Or at least start posting your credentials... Who made you king of the written word? Geez.

LionInChicago's picture

I found your post pretty entertaining and a good history lesson for someone who is probably a lot younger than you. And I'm a Lion's fan!

But I have to ask one question: on what foundation are you, and the rest of the NFL and it's fans, basing Suh's dirty reputation on? The "helmet torn off" incident? The horse collar? If I look at either of those plays, I don't see a dirty player, I see an enthusiastic player making plays and unfortunate things happening. Suh didn't tear that helmet off. That helmet came off in the course of play because Dalton didn't fasten it properly. Suh didn't horse collar Barber. Suh got Barber by the hair, which is completely legal in the NFL.

I just don't see it.

Now the play on Turkey day? That was dirty. That was inexcusable. That was a player losing control and costing himself and his team dearly. But Suh's reputation was built long before that play. And, as a Lion's fan, I'm left scratching my head as to why.

After all, Suh hasn't kicked anyone in the groin. Intentionally. In front of a ref. That kind of thing is far dirtier than anything Suh has pulled, including his terrible turkey day tantrum.

CSS's picture

He's already been fined 3 times for his 'style' of play and he has 8 personal foul penalties over 2 years, most in the league.

He's consistently toed the line of 'aggressive' and 'dirty'. Problem is, it's been escalating, not declining or stabilizing.

The only thing you wrote above that's utter crap is the line about Dalton not properly strapping his headgear. Really, really lame.

LionInChicago's picture

Whether you think it is "utter crap" or not, it is the truth.

Watch the play again. The first, and most important, point to look for as you watch it is that Suh doesn't "rip" anything off. The helmet came off during the play, not because Suh took him by the helmet and ripped it off of his head. The second point is that it really doesn't appear Dalton had his helmet properly secured.

Was it a late hit? Yeah. Was it an intentional, dirty play. Not in my opinion. To say that he "ripped off his helmet" is to me,= complete and utter crap.

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