Can the Lions do it

From the Sidelines

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This weekend is the second biggest  weekend in the National Football League.  It is Divisional Championship week. In the AFC it is the Baltimore Ravens vs. the Kansas City Chiefs at Baltimore. In the NFC it is the San Francisco Forty Niner’s vs. the surprising Detroit Lions in San Francisco.  Both games should be entertaining as all the teams represented have very good offenses.  The Defenses for the Forty Niner’s, Ravens and Chiefs are all pretty good, and the Lions defense is hot and cold, good against the run, average at best against the pass.

This entire season comes down to this, as all playoff games do; win or go home.  Three of the clubs have been here before…..for the Lions, this is rarified air. The Lions have not won an NFL championship since 1957.  Their last NFC Championship playoff game was in 1991, most of their players weren’t even born yet! Yet, here they are in their third year under coach Dan Campbell making waves in the playoffs. For a lot of people, me included, I couldn’t be happier for this long time downtrodden franchise.

I was 3 years old when the Lions won their 4th and final NFL championship. Those four were won between1935 and 1957.  It has been a loooong dry spell for the Lions. Now, here we are, and the Lions can break that long losing spell.  Can they do it, or is the genie about to go back in the bottle?

The Lions seem to be this year’s Cinderella story for sure.  Nobody expected this team, although it was improving a little bit under Dan Campbell each year, to get this far. Just making the playoffs was a major win for this team. Now, they can be NFC Champions, as improbable as that seems. What has caused this rebirth of the franchise?

I do believe it is all because of their head coach.  Dan Campbell was a tight end for the New York Giants from 1999-2002, the Dallas Cowboys from 2003-2005, and the Lions from 2006 to 2008, and the New Orleans Saints in 2009.  Tiki Barber, a former teammate of Dan in New Orleans called him a “grimy” tight end, meaning he would do the dirty work.  He was tough and could catch the ball having 11 touchdowns in 102 games.

From 2011 to 2015 he was coach with the Dolphins, and was interim head coach for a while in 2015. From 2016 to 2020, he was tight ends coach and assistant coach for the New Orleans Saints.  In 2021, the Lions chose him as their head coach.  He is the perfect fit for this mostly blue-collar town!  His initial press conference is legendary for his bluntness and promising to never quit when they get knocked down, the Lions will “get up and bite they’re knee cap off on the way up!”  Tough, hardnosed, and blunt was just what the doctor ordered for Detroit.

A lot of people didn’t think this method of coaching would work with the player of today, most think they have to be, uh……”gentler” with today’s athlete, but the players bought in full force. Why?  Because he is straight with them, doesn’t lie, and let’s them have fun.  He is your typical old school coach that everyone thought was out of style.

If you watched the playoff game with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, you heard what the players think of him.  Their all-pro Center Frank Ragnow was beat up with injuries before the game, then got his ankle rolled up on during the game.  You could see his pain on the sidelines, he was hurting! He refused to come out.  According to the sideline reporter, several Lions were hurting, but Dan went to them one at a time, including Ragnow, and all he said was “ARE YOU GOOD?’’

Rather than sit out the rest of the game, all said “Yeah, we’re good!” They love the guy, and that is why the Lions are where they are now.  They have that never-say-quit attitude like their coach.  They play hard, group tackle, run the ball, and their offensive line is one of the best in the NFL.  Jared Goff, the quarterback, never seems to lose his cool and is the perfect leader for them. The Lions are on the rise.

The question is: is this the year? Nobody thought they would get this far, but it seems whenever they need a big play, they get it, either from a fairly below average secondary, or a 4th round draft pick at receiver, Amon Ra St. Brown. They don’t think they can be beat, and in any sport, if you think you can, your chance of success increases 10 fold.  You have to believe…..the Lions believe!

Will the Lions beat the Forty Niner’s?  I don’t know, the statistics say no. However, statistics don’t play the game, men do, and the Lions pay no attention to records or superstars they face…..they just play hard, and never quit.  Will the Cinderella story end this weekend?  Can Dan Campbell will his team to another unlikely victory?  Who knows? I want them to win badly in my heart, but my head says the Forty Niner’s in a close one.  I hope my head is wrong, and my heart will be happy. Weekends like this are why you play the game!  That’s the way I see it, from the sidelines.