Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Game Not Worth Watching

Hey NFL, I have an idea about how you can improve the Pro Bowl: END IT.

I just read that the NFL is dropping its current format of having the best players from each conference square off in to a draft format.  The way players will be selected to the Pro Bowl will remain the same, but each team will instead field a team by the junior high school method of taking turns and picking which side Peyton Manning and Tom Brady play for.

Yeah, that's great and all, but it's another gimmicky move by the NFL to draw up interest for a game that shouldn't even be played.  There's nothing at stake and players shouldn't risk an unnecessary injury that could end their careers prematurely.  Besides, you can't even play real football: offenses can't audible and defenses can't blitz.  So what are you watching?  It's basically Pop Warner on steroids.  Perhaps literally.

The NFL can't get people to watch its All Star game.  The idea isn't totally bad, except as the paragraph before explains it, there's nothing at stake.  It's like the NFL Preseason with the best of the best playing instead of watching the worst of the best try and make a squad.  The last thing the league tried was moving the game to the week prior to the Super Bowl in order to serve as an appetizer.  It didn't help much.

All Star games aren't what they once were.  Football and hockey games are exhibition matches that don't generate interest but do scare general managers and fans who can't stand the thought of losing a franchise player on a meaningless game.  When played properly, they're both extremely physical.  Thus, the risk of injury is greater.  It's not like you can tell the players to not play at full speed.  That's what happens a lot of times in the preseason, and there's always someone else trying to make a team that is going full speed and the next thing you know: injury.

Baseball and basketball are a little better, but both have seen better days as well.  The NBA All Star Game looks more like a pickup game with no real organization.  It's just lots of athleticism on display.  That's okay, but considering the quality of NBA talent has fallen off since the 1990s, it's not like you're watching Bird and Jordan take on Magic and (Karl) Malone.  Instead, you're stuck with Kobe and LeBron.

However, in baseball, the players still have something to play for.  Not the stupid rule that gives home field advantage in the World Series to the winning league's representative.  No, I mean the motivation for a batter to not be humiliated by striking out or a pitcher to not give up six runs or more in an inning.

The NFL should just nix the game altogether.  I get that it's Roger Goodell's job to squeeze every last dime out of fans, but there is an old but true cliche that less is more.  Keep the NFL Draft where it's at.  Keep the regular season at sixteen games.  Knock a game off the NFL Preseason schedule.  If nothing else, lose the Pro Bowl.

Detroit Lions' writer Tim Twentyman has more on the new rule changes here.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Ann Arbor Is the Place To Be

I'm in Ann Arbor right, at my old Starbucks hangout on the corner of State and E. Liberty.  I'm sitting right by where I used to plop down and read a book or write papers in college.  Ann Arbor is and always will be where it's at to me.

I lived here for two years, and a total of seven years in the Ypsilanti-Ann Arbor region as I attended Eastern Michigan.  Naturally I preferred the A-squared because it's a hip college town home to the greatest football program in all of college history. 

Actually, I don't care as much about college football as I do the NFL.  I have no idea what to expect of Michigan football heading in to each fall as I don't read the papers' articles about them too often.  That, and the fact that I like Michigan State as well as Michigan because I'm a "State of Michigan" fan rubs people the wrong way.

But I feel at home here.  I can walk the streets and feel like I blend right in.  There's no shortage of things to do either.  On the off chance I do get bored, Detroit isn't too far away.

The Oakland County suburbs just aren't the same.  Sure, I like them.  Novi is nice, Northville is pretty (the downtown part), and Birmingham is on the other side of the county.  Royal Oak comes the closest to being something like Ann Arbor, minus the big school.  If I had to pick a second favorite city in Michigan, Birmingham would be it, though.

If I could live closer to, but not quite in town, it'd be South Lyon.  It's an inviting town, quiet, great bikepaths, and all that.  South Lyon could be the setting of another Dawson's Creek, but I think one Detroit suburb already had its moment.  Plus, it's a straight shot to A2 from SL on Pontiac Trail.

I've made it my goal to one day get accepted to U-M, either to earn another Master's, or be accepted into a PhD program.  I'd like to go to the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and become a Political Science professor one day.  But I need to get my student loans down to a manageable level or completely paid off and need to re-learn some advance math courses in order to do statistics and calculus. (One of the many reasons why I wanted to join the USN so badly)

It would also be nice to work for the City of Ann Arbor, too, if I can't get into U-M.  Now, if only they'd offer me at least one interview for all the jobs I've applied for.

Why would I want to be anywhere else?

Until then, I'm stuck in Novi.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

I Guess I Didn't Want To Be a Millionaire After All

Friday morning I planned to audition for the gameshow Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? after coming across an article in the Detroit Free Press about two weeks ago.  I had always given it a passing thought; I've done pretty well when I watched the show when it was on ABC.

My aim wasn't to win $1 million, but to win about $125,000 - $250,000, enough to cover student loans + taxes and anything left over would be set aside for an IRA or 401k.  Had I won any more, that would have fast tracked me to earning a JD or PhD.  But I was being realistic.  $125,000 would have been plenty.

I forgot about it for about a week until I was reminded of it again on Monday.  It was only then that I began to serious contemplate auditioning for the show.  The night before I glanced the website over one more time and read the entire rules.  A snag was found.

The snag was that I would have to pay my way to New York City if I was cast as a contestant.  Everything before that: taking a quiz, interviewing, and just showing up were all things I could do.  Hell, the audition site was a 10-minute drive from where I lived which made it all the more tempting.

That morning I drove down to Walsh College in Novi.  I saw a guy waiting outside the doors who was with the show.  As I walked up, he said I just missed the cutoff and I'd have to wait there for 45 minutes.  It only took me a second to realize this wasn't for me.  

It wasn't for me because I don't want to be on TV.  I just don't care to be recognized.  Plus, I also had to realize that even if I got every answer right on the quiz I took, I could still be turned away in a couple of weeks.  Yet if I do get accepted, I'd have to drop $1,000 just to be on the show because I'd have to book a flight, get time off of work, and put myself up in a hotel.  God knows how expensive even a rundown hotel in New York goes for.  

I guess I'll stick to playing the MegaMillions.  Oh wait, I don't play that, either.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Finally, Two More Things...and It's Training Camp, Bitches!

I'm done.  I think.  Training Camp opens today for the Lions.  Let me throw down two more areas of concern, with No. 7 being probably the most psychologically satisfying were it to happen.

6. Offensive Line.  Once the season begins, the O-Line will have had the biggest makeover, with only two of five starters from 2012 returning.  Left tackle Jeff Backus retired, right guard Stephen Peterman was cut, and the other tackle, Gosder Cherilus left for greener pastures because he wasn't worth the money he was asking for.  Center Dominic Raiola had to take a pay cut in order to come back this season, otherwise he may not have had a job at all this year.

Last year's first round pick, Riley Reiff barely saw much of the field.  Taking Reiff in the first round hurt the Lions (not his fault), mostly because he was used as an extra blocking tight end.  That is until Backus went down with an injury, and Reiff filled in for two games.  Despite some struggles, Reiff showed he could replace him and I expect he will improve and be sufficient enough in protecting Matthew Stafford's blind side. 

The Lions took right guard Larry Warford in the third round to replace Peterman.  Warford is massive; he's a 6'5 guard who weighs 345 pounds.  Although he's facing competition for the spot with veteran Dylan Gandy, it's highly likely Warford will win out since they used such a high pick on him.

The right tackle position is by far, the most intriguing.  Veterans Jason Fox and Corey Hilliard are vying to replace Cherilus.  Hilliard has played in spurts for an injured Cherilus, while Fox is a former fourth round pick taken in 2010.  Fox has had to overcome injuries, but a lot of local beat writers give him a slight edge in the competition.

With Raiola's age and short contract, it's reasonable to expect that the Lions aren't done with remodeling that offensive line.  That leaves only left guard Rob Sims as the mainstay.  Sims has been the best offensive lineman on the team for the last three seasons and he provides solid leadership for the younger guys.  I'd say of all the free agent signings Mayhew has made during his tenure, the Sims signing is probably the most underrated.  Sims is only 29, so his age means he should remain the left guard for awhile.

7. Get the monkey(s) off your backs.  Win at Washington.  You've never done that.  Win at Green Bay.  You haven't done that since 1991.  Win the NFC North.  You haven't won a title in 20 years.  Yes, two decades!  Don't just "make" the playoffs, win a game!  You haven't done that since the same year you last won at Lambeau.

Part III: More Things To Watch

Apparently, I had a lot more to say than I thought I would.  Since training camp opens today, I felt compelled to post another couple of blogs and wrap this thing up.  I won't have a prediction for another month because I'd rather wait until before Opening Kickoff to post my prediction.  I predicted a 10-6 record; the Lions went 4-12.  Shows how much I know.

5. Coaching.  In 2011, the Lions were 10-6.  A year later, they fell to 4-12.  What happened?  Was Jim Schwartz to blame?

No matter which way you look at it, an ax should have dropped somewhere and it didn't.  Jim Schwartz, Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan, and Gunther Cunningham all kept their jobs at the end of the season.  The biggest name to leave the coaching staff was Special Teams Coordinator Danny Crossman, who took another job in Buffalo.

Crossman should have been fired after the 4th game against Minnesota where the Lions gave up a punt and kickoff return for the second straight week, an NFL first.  Where there's ignominy, it's a safe bet the Lions are on the wrong side of the moment: longest field goal kick in history, first team to go 0-16, longest road losing streak - owned twice, TWICE, by the Lions breaking their OWN RECORD (2001 - 2003 and then 2007-2010), and now this.  Giving up a punt and touchdown return two weeks in a row kind of set the tone for the rest of the season, even though they won three of their next four games (they lost the final eight).

Crossman was replaced by veteran Special Teams coach Jon Bonamego.  Bonamego will have an all new kicker, punter, and return man (or men) in 2013. Jason Hanson retired after twenty years with the team and the Lions signed aging veteran David Akers and Havard Rugland, aka "Kickalicous" to replace him. 

Akers was one of the NFL's premier kickers before falling off with the San Francisco 49ers last year, where he made only 69% of his field goal attempts.  Akers is 36, so even if he wins the job in camp, it's unlikely he'll be around for a long time.  Rugland has never played football, but achieved notoriety for a YouTube video he posted where he demonstrated his football kicking abilities.  After getting tryouts for the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns, the Lions offered him a contract in the hopes he could succeed Hanson.

The Lions also spent a fifth round draft pick on Punter Sam Martin.  Normally, teams don't use a draft pick on a punter unless he's available in the seventh round.  Okay, the L.A. Raiders did in the 1980s with Ray Guy, and even if he was the best punter to have ever played in the NFL, you still don't use a first round pick on them!  But given the Lions' needs and the fact another punter was taken before him, Martin may end up being well worth the pick.

(Ahem, it behooves me to point out Hanson was a second round pick in 1992.  But at least kickers score points.)

If Crossman should have been the first to be fired, then OC Linehan was a close second.  Linehan, who is entirely in charge of the offense, seemed to be outcoached by the opposing teams' defensive coordinators.  His play calling was stale.  68% of Stafford's pass attempts in 2012 were out of the shotgun formation.  Whether it was Stafford's poor performance or there was poor execution by the rest of the offense, that should have fallen on him.

I have to give Gunther Cunningham a pass.  Linehan has been given a lot of help from Martin Mayhew with draft picks, trades, and free agent pickups.  Linehan was given Stafford (who has taken it upon himself to develop the franchise QB), Brandon Pettigrew, Jahvid Best, Nate Burleson, Tony Scheffler, Mikel Leshoure, Titus Young, and Ryan Broyles.  On top of the fact they already had Calvin Johnson.

Cunningham's defense hasn't been given the same amount of attention as the offense.  He has a defensive line with a couple of linebackers.  Not bad, considering they have Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, and Stephen Tulloch.  But Cliff Avril left for greener pastures, and who knows how well he'll play when he's not next to Suh.  Kyle Vanden Bosch and Corey Williams were both a little long in the tooth, and neither are with the team anymore.  Mayhew drafted Ziggy Ansah with the number 5 overall pick and signed veteran defensive end Jason Jones.  Ansah is a project who will take a year or two to development while Jones may only be a stop gap at this point.

With the exception of Stephen Tulloch, Cunningham's linebackers have been somewhat disappointing.  Tulloch played under Schwartz's system in Tennessee, so he was already familiar with the scheme.  DeAndre Levy hasn't taken the next step many thought he would. By the end of his rookie year, a lot of NFL analysts thought he should've gone in the first round instead of the third that year.  Yet as of late, he seems to have missed lots of tackles and hasn't distinguished himself as a premier linebacker. 

Justin Durant is now gone, due to cap restraints, so it's up to veteran backups Ashlee Palmer and second year players Tahir Whitehead and Travis Lewis to win his spot.  Cunningham should be under a lot of pressure to push Levy and develop the other linebacker starting opposite him.

Finally, there's Coach Schwartz himself.  This is a make-or-break year for him.  If Schwartz is under the gun, Mayhew should be as well.  We're in Year 5 of the rebuilding process, but the Lions right now look to be competing for third place in the NFC North with Minnesota when they should be contending with Green Bay for the title.

Schwartz is an emotional guy and it rubs off on his players.  The past couple of years, the Lions have (unfairly) developed a reputation as an undisciplined team.  Whether it's Ndamukong Suh's personal fouls on the field, or the offseason arrests of four players in 2012 and two this past offseason, much of the sports media has put the blame on Schwartz for not reigning his players.  Whether it's fair or not, Schwartz has taken steps to address the problem in order to avoid further off field distractions.

He too will have to assert some self-control.  He's been known to pump his fist after winning games, talk trash at the other coaches, and last Thanksgiving, he allowed his team to give up a touchdown because he threw a flag to challenge play that would have been under review anyway.  Schwartz admitted the mistake after the Houston Texans' Justin Forsett scored a touchdown, despite replay showing Forsett's knee being down.  The Texans kept the touchdown and went on to win the game. 

If the team matches Schwartz's optimism (which is pretty high going into camp), the Lions should be about 10-6.  It's within the bell curve of realistic expectations.  It's more likely this team will be somewhere between 6-10 and 8-8. 

If the Lions don't make the playoffs, Schwartz should be fired, but Mayhew should be fired as well.  Schwartz is playing with Mayhew's players and both managed to take a team that went 0-16 five years ago and turn them into a playoff team in three years.  The question is now, is Schwartz the coach that took the 0-16 team to the playoffs, or is he the guy who coached the team to 4-12? (The very same question Pat Caputo and Dennis Fithian asked on last night's show on 97.1 The Ticket)

Monday, July 22, 2013

More Thoughts About the Upcoming NFL Season

I wrote in yesterday's blog entry about some of my questions about the Lions going forward into the 2013 NFL Season.  The two biggest concerns for me are the tight salary cap and QB Matthew Stafford.  Today, I look at the secondary and the tight ends.

3. The secondary.  The one area that the Lions have not done a very good job at addressed is finally getting some attention.  While the Lions were busy building up their defensive line, the hope was that the front seven would help with the deficiencies in the back end of the defense.  The addition of Suh, Nick Fairley, Kyle Vanden Bosch, and Stephen Tulloch in 2010 and 2011 meant the team had to rely on signing free agent cast offs like Chris Houston and Alphonso Smith and address the secondary later down the road.  Over the course of the 2011, when the Lions made the playoffs, the need to address the back end became crystallized as the secondary didn't have sufficient players to stop the opposing teams' passing attack.

The little help the secondary has gotten has come in the form of drafting safety Louis Delmas, converted safety Amari Spievey, and cornerback Chris Houston.  Delmas, who despite the energy he brings, seems to find himself injured when they need him most.  Spievey was drafted as a cornerback to be converted into a safety hasn't panned out due to lingering concussion issues and off the field distractions.  Houston is a former second round pick out of Atlanta who was cast off and the Lions were lucky to have signed.  He is however, at best a No. 2 corner when the Lions really need a sold No. 1

The 2012 draft had a lot of us shaking our heads as the Lions waited until the third round to draft another corner in Bill Bentley.  I think a lot of this had to do with the fact they were hoping to get Patrick Peterson out of LSU, but couldn't make a deal with Arizona, who ended up taking him before the Lions could.  They did manage, however, to pick up two more in the fifth round (Chris Greenwood) and sixth round (Jonte Green).

In April, the Lions drafted Darius Slay in the second round and expect him to compete for a starting spot opposite Houston with Bentley, Greenwood, and Green all in the mix.  As of now, the hope is that Slay can fill an immediate hole.  Bentley has shown flashes but needs to remain healthy.  Greenwood may have the most upside as he has the size and the athleticism, but the downside is that he played at Albion, which is why he went in the fifth round instead of earlier.  Green is also in the running, as he has the most experience of all them due to Bentley and Greenwood's injuries last year, but he will require another year or two of development before he can be a full time starter.

Before I close out my thoughts on the secondary, I think one of the reasons why Martin Mayhew hasn't addressed the need for new defensive backs has been because of the learning curve that most CBs and Safeties go through in order to be effective.  That, and it's one of the positions with the most injuries over the course of a season.  Perhaps Mayhew doesn't take corners in the first round is because he knows it's too high a risk to take one that early.  Mayhew himself played CB for the Atlanta Falcons, so if anyone would know something about the position, it's him.

4.  Tight Ends.  If you ask me, the most overlooked and underrated reason the Lions fell off so dramatically in 2012 was because of the disappearance of their tight ends, because they're suppose to be the safety net when the receivers aren't open.  The Lions have invested heavily on receivers, led by Calvin Johnson.  They signed Nate Burleson, and drafted Titus Young and Ryan Broyles in the second round two years in a row.  All were meant to take more defenders off of Johnson, and all three ended up on injured reserve, making him the only viable weapon.

Yet the tight ends, who were a big part of the team's success in 2011 were nowhere to be found in 2012.  Brandon Pettigrew, the team's other first round pick in 2009, dropped critical passes at the worst moment, and his total number of receptions dropped from 83 to 59.  Tony Scheffler, despite having sixteen more receptions, had only one touchdown after scoring six the year before (and I missed the dances in the endzone).

The Lions shouldn't have fallen to 4-12.  With the exception of Pettigrew, the other tight ends have escaped criticism for their disappearance in 2012.  While Scheffler is back, Will Heller, the third tight end is primarily a blocker and no so much a pass catcher.  Expect both to be challenged this summer in training camp by rookies Justin Fioria and Mike Williams.  I think Scheffler will remain, but Heller's spot is definitely in question.  The Lions need to get younger and healthier.

Bottom line, tight ends will be the difference makers in the receiving game. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Training Camp 2013; Here's Some Thoughts

I had only planned to write four or five things, but as the subjects got longer and more thoughts entered my mind and found its way to the keyboard, I felt compelled to divide it into separate posts.  It makes it look like I'm adding content on a more frequent basis.

With training camp less than a week away, the Lions are at a critical juncture in their turnaround.  If they can't win more than six games this year, it may be time for Tom Lewand to make the necessary move and replace both GM Martin Mayhew and Coach Jim Schwartz.  Here's where I think the biggest areas of concern heading in to the 2013 season are.

1. The salary cap.  Since the new collective bargaining agreement took effect in 2011, the NFL has imposed a tight salary cap at $120 million.  In the third year of the new CBA, the cap has only risen to just over $4 million.

Every year since, the Lions have had to wage two different battles: restructuring the existing contracts of the players they have and making just enough room to add new free agents where necessary.  This constant shifting on the fly does short term good, but makes it more difficult to field a team in the following years because the players on the higher end of the salary spectrum are converting all their salary to a signing bonus and playing under a minimum salary.  Where you save in cap room now costs you in the long run because that bonus money gets prorated and becomes dead money against the final years of the contract, pushing you closer to the cap limit.

Because the Lions had top two draft picks in three out of four years between 2007 and 2010, they had to commit large sums of money to three players: Calvin Johnson, Matthew Stafford, and Ndamukong Suh.  This was before the new CBA instituted a rookie salary cap.  Prior to restructuring their contracts over the summer, the Lions were looking at committing close to $60 million, about half the total salary cap.  Yet with Johnson's new deal, Suh converting his salary to a bonus, and Stafford's extension, the Lions have managed to put themselves in a position to make a significant addition if a key player gets released before the start of the season.

2. Matthew Stafford.  Simply put, the Lions' fortunes will rise and fall with their franchise quarterback.  You could argue that Stafford is the most important concern the Lions have, as good quarterbacks can mask deficiencies in other areas.  I tend to think that they still need more help on the defensive side of the ball and that requires more money and cap space.

Whatever the case may be, he's outplayed every other quarterback on this team since Greg Landry, the last Lions' quarterback who went to the Pro Bowl in 1971.  After an injury plagued first couple of years, Stafford made a huge step forward in 2011, becoming only the fourth quarterback in history to throw for over 5,000 yards and 41 touchdowns while leading the team to its first playoff appearance since 1999.

In 2012, he regressed, while coming close to 5,000 yards again, most of those were simply playing catch up as the Lions fell to 4-12, losing all eight of their second half games.  Some say it was his mechanics, mainly his throwing motion and poor footwork (which according to some, will cause poor throws), while others think he might have been injured, forcing him to throw a lot of sidearm passes.

Whatever the case may be, the Lions have a lot riding on Stafford.  So much so that he was given a 3-year, $43 million contract extension.  His detractors will point to his 1-21 record against winning teams, but I still think the Lions had no other choice.  The salary of players like Stafford are determined by one of two metrics: merit or market.  He's clearly in the latter, having a starting record of just 17-28.  But letting Stafford hit the market would mean that he would have about 24 suitors, regardless of the fact he hasn't won anything in four years.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

There's Detroit...and Then There's the Lions

As I was thinking over what topic I should write about next, Detroit’s financial crisis or the start of the Lions’ training camp, it kind of hit me right then and there how much of a parallel history the city and the team have shared in the last six decades.  We’re only a week away from the start of training camp, which is the unofficial start to the 2013 NFL season.  This will be less than ten days after the City of Detroit filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection, the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history.

If you drew a decade-by-decade comparison between the city and team, the similarities would be uncanny if not bizarrely symmetrical.  Just a brief scan reveals a city and team both in their heydays in the 1950s, followed by a protracted period of marked declines in jobs and population for the city and winning seasons for the other, a slight uptick in the 1990s, followed by a disastrous 2000s with the bottom seemingly dropping out simultaneously around 2008.

In the 1950s, the city’s population reached its peak at 1.8 million and was the 4th largest city in America.  The city’s growth was the result of the birth of the auto industry which led to the development of the modern middle class.  Having weathered the Great Depression and a sudden conversion to a war-time economy, the city became the “Arsenal of Democracy” that provided armaments for the Allied forces in World War II.  As the war concluded, the city like the rest of the country reverted back to a prewar economy, having turned into an affluent metropolis.  The apex of the city's prosperity coincided with the Lions' fortunes, who would go on to win 3 of four NFL championship games between 1952 and 1957.

Following the 1950s, Detroit and the Lions entered the next decade unaware of what was about to happen next.  The Lions traded away Bobby Layne in 1958, which as legend has it, began the infamous curse where he vowed the team wouldn't win for 50 years.  Five years later, the Lions were bought by current owner, William Clay Ford, Sr. (Interestingly enough, the day Ford bought the team was on November 22, the same day President Kennedy was assassinated in Texas).  Under his ownership, the Lions would go on to win only one playoff game, and being only one of two pre-merger teams to never make it to a Super Bowl (the other being the Cleveland Browns).

That same decade, the city experienced upheaval that marked a turning point in its existence and relationship with the suburbs.  As the city began to grow, racial tensions began to mount, culminating in the riots in the summer of 1967.  Despite having gone on for years prior, the aftermath of the riots exacerbated the white flight to the suburbs.

Both the city's and the team's fortunes continued to decline leading into the 1970s and 1980s.  The Lions had brief periods of success in between long playoff droughts.  As people were leaving the city, so did the Lions as they played their last game at Tiger Stadium in 1974 and made their way to a new home at the Silverdome in Pontiac. 

Meanwhile the auto industry began to languish against competition from Japanese automakers.  The continual loss of market share, coupled with a growing crime epidemic tainted the city's reputation for years to come.  Progress was fleeting for the city as investment slowly moved away from the city and into the suburbs and in some cases, out of state.  The city seemed to leapfrog other cities like Gary, Indiana and Washington D.C. in the number of homicides each year, but it was always Detroit that came to mind first when people thought of unsafe cities.

It wasn't until the 1990s when Detroit and the Lions saw some recovery, although it was by-and-large mediocre.  The decade was the longest period of economic expansion in the country's history, where over 20 million new jobs were created.  Although most of the growth occurred outside the city's limits, the election of Mayor Dennis Archer in 1993 was a change from the more confrontational years under Coleman Young.

The Lions managed to make the playoffs in six of the ten years, including two NFC Central Division Championships, and a playoff victory over the Dallas Cowboys in January of 1992.  That victory sent them to the NFC Championship game where they were routed by the Washington Redskins, 41-10.  After posting a team best 12-4 season and winning the NFC Central, the rest of the decade was an up-and-down yo-yo of winning and losing seasons, where in most cases the Lions were finishing strong to win a Wild Card berth, only to exit the playoffs early.  They did however manage to win another NFC Central title in 1993, but in typical Lions fashion, they stumbled in the middle of the season and won three of their final four games to finish 10-6.

Then came the 2000s.  The economic expansion ended in March of 2001, the same year William Clay Ford, Sr. hired Matt Millen to be the Lions' new President and GM.  As the recession took hold, more and more manufacturing jobs began to leave the state.  Detroit, for the first time, saw its population numbers fall below 1 million.  The same year Millen was hired to run the Lions, Detroiters elected Kwame Kilpatrick as its next mayor.  What started out as a promising future, quickly turned into a nightmare for both.

Kilpatrick was the city's youngest Mayor ever elected at age 31, its first "hip hop Mayor," and a former Minority Leader in the Michigan State House of Representatives. Millen had no personnel experience, but was an engaging color commentator for Fox Network's NFL Football broadcasts.  Both were gifted communicators, but neither were suited for the jobs they took on.

Under Millen's tenure, the Lions posted a 31-84 record, and if you were like me and wanted to include the remaining thirteen games of the 2008 season after he was fired, he'd be 31-97.  That means he had a winning percentage under 25%.  While I don't blame him entirely for the first year debacle of the team going 2-14 in 2001, the hiring of a new coach every 2-3 years combined with multiple high 1st round draft busts, bad free agent signings, and an overall lack of a blueprint made him the worst GM in all of the four major sports and probably the worst ever.

Meanwhile, the Kilpatrick administration was wrought with corruption and negligence of an unprecedented scale for the city.  It seemed it was always one scandal after another.  There was the alleged Manoogian Mansion party, even though it was never proven, which led to the investigation and possible cover up of the murder of Tamara Greene.  Then came the whistle blower lawsuit by two Internal Affairs investigators from the Detroit Police Department who charged the mayor fired them for attempting to expose the story. 

There was also the Lincoln Navigator scandal.  Then came the text messaging scandal which ultimately led to Kilpatrick's resignation in 2008.   Were there more scandals?  Yes, sludge deal, tax evasion, and assaulting a police officer.  The Kilpatrick administration had so many scandals that investigators wound up uncovering even more after he left office and eventually led to his conviction earlier this year.

Kilpatrick's resignation coincided the same year with the Lions' infamous 0-16 season.  For the last seven years, Matt Millen had put together sub par teams built around the likes of Joey Harrington, Charles Rogers, and Mike Williams.  Even after those spectacular failures, Ford allowed Millen to remain as GM and team President after the 2005 season.  Once again, we saw promise with the drafting of Calvin Johnson in 2007, a 6-2 start that year that fizzled into a 7-9 season, and no playoffs. 

It was after the 6-2 start that the team began to hit rock bottom.  They finished the second half with a 1-7 record, but fans were still anticipating a breakthrough 2008 season.  Our hopes were up when the Lions finished the preseason 4-0, but by Week 1, the Lions were shredded by the Atlanta Falcons and their rookie quarterback, Matt Ryan.  Speculation began after a third straight routing that Millen could be fired and the Lions could be the first team to go 0-16.  Both came true as Millen was fired later that week and the Lions eventually made history with a loss at Green Bay in Week 17.

In the years since 2008, the city's and the team's fortunes have become somewhat less intertwined.  Kilpatrick was replaced by Ken Cockrel, Jr., and then Dave Bing in 2009.  Despite the promise of Bing's new administration, the dysfunction that has plagued city politics for decades eventually got the best of him, too, even though his administration was a stark contrast to the corruption from his predecessors.  Eventually, the city's poor economic standing and mismanaged finances forced the state of Michigan to take action, leading to the appointment of an Emergency Manager and subsequent filing for bankruptcy protection.

Meanwhile, the Lions have made some breakthrough, albeit with a serious step backward last season.  In 2009, they selected Matthew Stafford as their franchise quarterback with the number one overall pick and attempted in the years since to build the team around him.  They finished his rookie season 2-14.  The next year they drafted Ndamukong Suh with the number two overall pick, and began to build a competitive team as they finished 6-10, but were closer to winning more games than previously.

By 2011, the Lions had built a playoff contender and the team finished 10-6 and earned its first Wild Card berth in twelve years.  It was also its first 10-win season since 1995.  Although they were quickly shown the door in New Orleans, Lions fans were given reasons to believe.  

Even though 2012 proved to be a colossal failure, 2013 will probably be the year the team finds its level.  This team will probably be competitive for years to come, as long as Stafford takes a major step forward in his development, and the Lions continue to find good players in the draft.

As for the city, bankruptcy may end up being the best thing that has happened to it in a long time.  Decades of mismanagement, corruption, and economic decline pushed the city to a point where it couldn't get any worse.  Just as I watched the Lions go through a painful couple of seasons after 2008, the city is going to have to endure some painful years in order to recover.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Another Thing I Should Say

This will probably be the last full column I dedicate to the whole George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin controversy, but I feel compelled to add something to what I wrote yesterday.

Trayvon Martin shouldn't have died.  I know it's the easiest thing to say, but it's so true.  Zimmerman saw this young man, thought he was suspicious, and given his lack of training combined with an exaggerated sense of danger, didn't use common sense to determine whether or not Martin should be there.

I don't know George Zimmerman, but I know a lot of what he's like, because having done the security thing before, I know different types of wannabe cops.  He worked as a neighborhood watch volunteer in the hopes of one day getting accepted into a police academy and doing the real thing.  Zimmerman fits the description of the overzealous, hardcore, ax-to-grind-with-the world type of wannabes. Everyone they see is suspicious, every situation gets ratcheted up to a 9 or 10 on the "threat meter" when it's at worst a 4, and because they have cry wolf so frequently, they've exhausted others' alertness to their warnings.

If I were there and I saw Martin walking late at night, the first thing I'd do might be to keep an eye on him.  If he noticed me, I would have introduced and identified myself as a neighborhood watch volunteer and asked if everything was alright.  It would have been up to Martin to respond any way he chose.  He may have replied in kind exactly what he was doing and went about his way.  If Martin had rudely replied (or just plain ignored him), it may have given Zimmerman reasonable suspicion, regardless if Martin had no ill intention.  Remember, Martin wasn't doing anything wrong.

Most reasonable people would have exchanged a couple of friendly words and gone about their business.  If Zimmerman wasn't buying his story, he could have driven away far enough to not stalk Martin, but at least keep an eye out if he was someone with nefarious intentions.

However, if Martin viewed Zimmerman as antagonistic, he may well have just ignored him or told him to get lost.  Zimmerman at that point could have kept a watchful eye on him from his car and called 911 to report a suspicious male in the community.  The 911 dispatcher would have at least dispatched a unit to the complex and the officer would have patrolled the area until he or she determined if their was the possibility of a crime happening.

Zimmerman should have listened to the dispatcher's "advice" and stayed in his car, keeping a watch from a distance.  He was not "told" to stay in his vehicle as his critics repeat; he was "advised."  The dispatcher testified at the trial that they don't tell people what to do because it will incur a liability if something goes terribly wrong.  She could have been fired or the department could have been sued, etc.

It behooves me to say that Zimmerman's fault begins there, not when he began following Martin.  It's expected that everyone out in public is being watched by someone at any given time.  Almost all the time it's harmless observation whether it's by a cop or just another random civilian.  That Zimmerman targeted Martin because he was a Black male is troubling and is reasonable to suspect race was the biggest factor in him being followed.

Yet, it's important to remember Caucasians can be looked at suspiciously.  The key difference between the former and the latter is that the former is almost always viewed with some suspicion (especially males), that latter is not.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Zimmerman's Life: Over As He Knows It

A couple of hours ago I watched CNN's live coverage of the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial.  Zimmerman was found not guilty and subsequently released from state custody. 

As expected, a wave of status updates appeared in my Twitter and Facebook feeds.  Most of my friends condemned the verdict, a couple were happy, and one felt the need to remind us all of the beauty of an impartial judicial system, just as the founding fathers of America had intended.

Before the verdict, I expected Zimmerman to be found guilty of killing Trayvon Martin.  I didn't watch the trial, but I did manage to listen to the nightly talk shows recap the day's events in the trial and came away convinced the prosecution did a poor job in making its case and that Zimmerman would be acquitted.  That was until I learned that the judge would allow for the lesser charge of Manslaughter (he was originally charged with 2nd Degree Murder).  Whether fair or unfair, I thought he'd be on the hook for at least the lesser charge.

To my shock, he was acquitted.  Zimmerman sat their emotionless and didn't move until his lawyer shook his hand and he half-smiled.  There was no celebration; it was tamped down for fear of rioting that could occur outside the courthouse and in the adjacent communities.

A couple of minutes after the verdict was read, it occurred to me then and there: Zimmerman may be acquitted, but his life's over.  The first thing that hit me was is that he will have a massive legal bill on his hands.  Whether or not he'll be able to pay it off with his parent's help remains to be seen. 

The reason I thought of that is because it lead me to believe that two more things are going to happen as well.  One is, he'll never get a real job, as in he'll never be hired as a police officer anywhere.  No department would want to have that albatross around their neck.  And what employer is going to want to be associated with him.  Guilty or not, Zimmerman has very few friends these days.

The second thing is, he's going to be sued by Trayvon Martin's parents, and they're going to win.  In addition to his criminal attorney's fees, he's going to have to relive the case in the civil courts where it isn't guilty beyond reasonable doubt, but preponderance of the evidence.  I don't know if his family has money or not, but it seems to me Zimmerman and/or his parents are going to have a mountain of legal fees from the criminal and civil trials, and whatever judgment is rendered onto him.

I should add that not only does he have few friends, but from observing some of the photos outside the courthouse, he may want to consider a relocation.  Maybe even a name change.  The leader of the New Black Panther Party, James Evan Muhammad, was pictured holding newspaper he published with Zimmerman's mugshot in the middle of cross hairs with the headline: "Wanted...For the cold blooded murder of Trayvon Martin, 17 years old."

I'll never know the whole truth of the night Trayvon Martin was killed, and neither will anyone else except Zimmerman.  Maybe I should feel ashamed for not following the trial that closely.  But there were 1,008 murders in Florida last year, and there's 1,007 of them I know nothing about. 

I don't feel sorry for Zimmerman.  I don't know the man, and I didn't know Trayvon.  But I don't feel sympathy either, because Trayvon Martin shouldn't be dead.  The only thing I can be sorry about is knowing that this will happen again.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Dude! I Need My Space!

I'm a big guy.  Not overweight.  Well, I could stand to lose another 15-20 pounds.  But I'm 6'3" and my weight yo-yos between 220-230 because of my love for the sugary goodness of things like my Starbucks coffee.  So I'm more vertically big than horizontally.  But I like space between me and the next person. 

When I go to the gym, I try to go when the fewest people are there.  I try to pick a cardio machine that is either on the end, or in the middle of ones being unused.  If I go to a ball game, I'll try for the aisle seat.  Same thing for theaters.  I'm not a total assbag; I understand if all seats or machines are taken that people have to use the ones next to me.  I don't have a problem with those people.  It's the people who aren't mindful enough not to crowd me.

Speaking of Starbucks, I need my space. See, I have this hangout spot where I go to on my time off.  I go there to go online, send e-mails, look for jobs, and apply for them.  I also waste a lot of time like everyone else does going to YouTube, eBay, and reading newspapers til my heart's content.  I like the high tables or the bar where I can sit down, plug in my computer and do the online thing.  But me being me, I don't mind sharing as long as I have my space. 

Which brings me to idiot.  Idiot is a well-intentioned young man, about my age.  He's got a good heart, but he annoys the piss out of me.  I almost always have my headphones on, blasting music to give people a sign that I don't want to be bothered, and I try to avoid making eye contact, especially when idiot enters my periphery. 

Whenever he talks to me, he wants to shake my hand.  He tries to do it the way young black males do it, which on him, a morbidly obese Caucasian who wears a lot of Hawaiian shirts, gives off a signal to bullies that here's a guy we can ridicule.  Sometimes he'll mention a recent trip he took to Northern Michigan (because I'm from there, we apparently "relate"), and will ask me a handful of questions before going about his merry way. 

I come to sit at the bar, two chairs away from the other guy sitting there (who frequents the place as much as I do).  Idiot is a friend of other guy who happened to show up tonight.  I try not to mind other guy much; I don't make much contact with him because he doesn't give off a good vibe, although I'm sure he's okay.  But as I'm sitting, idiot comes and plops down on the stool in between other guy and me.  And I don't like that.

Idiot seems undisturbed by the fact that he's in my space, which makes my blood pressure rise.  He carries on with his conversation, mainly because I'm too nice and don't wish to cause a scene.  He's done this before with other guy.  The worst part is, my noise-cancelling headphones from Bose can't seem to cancel out the noise coming from them talking! 

There was even an instance where idiot sat down next to me, pulled out his cell phone, and had a 30-minute conversation in Mandarin Chinese with the person on the other line.  It's bad enough I don't want to hear your conversation, now I know I don't want to hear it regardless of what language you're speaking in.  Makes me want to ask Bose for my money back.

This story ends the same way all my other ones do when being inconvenienced by others; I simply grin and bear it.  It's not worth causing a scene and the immediate regret I'll feel right after. 

God, I'm such a nice, f***ing guy.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Terry Foster Got Me Writing Again

I got to thinking about this blog again.  I've decided I'm going to steal someone's format.  Lemme explain.

About two months ago, I met Terry Foster, a sports writer for the Detroit News. He's also the co-host of the Valenti and Foster show (sports radio) on 971 The Ticket in Detroit. 

I met him at the Hygrade Deli in Detroit.  He had started a mini-campaign to get people into this old-fashioned Deli that's on Michigan Avenue, about a mile west of Corktown.  He learned through Crain's that the place wasn't doing well and wanted to get people in there to get some business. 

So I took him up on his offer.  I went down there on a Wednesday afternoon, grabbed a table, and about five minutes later, he came in and sat down.  We talked a little about sports and about his family.  I ordered a corned beef sandwich (very good), and we went back and forth for about an hour.  I still kick myself for not bringing anything up about the Lions.  God knows I can go on for hours talking about them.  But I was too caught up in the moment and learning other things about baseball, Jim Leyland.

The place was packed, and the owner came over to our table and told us the meal was on the house for all he had done.  I hadn't done a thing.  So I ordered some takeout.

In the weeks following, I began to read his blog.  His format is similar to mine.  He talks sports, but he mixes in life, politics, and family.  I say mine is just a clumsy, disorganized blog.  I'm a wanna be political scientist, but until I 1) establish a respectable career, and 2) pay down my student loans to a manageable level, PhD school is out of the question.

Basically, it's hard to blog.  I've never looked into making this blog a widely read site that people have to come to.  But I enjoy writing.  There's just very little reward in managing a blog from my perspective.  But T-Fos got me excited again.

So here goes nothing.  Again.