With 23 seconds left in the game, Dallas Quarterback Tony Romo took the snap from center, took 3 steps back and fired a 23-yard touchdown pass to uncovered tight end Jason Witten. My 23-year-old son Danny (who is a sports broadcaster himself) was absolutely crushed. A promising season that started 6-2 was now ruined by this sixth loss in a row. My son was inconsolable.
To him this was personal. He had lived and died with the Lions and they let him down big time. To prove his devotion he had driven 120 miles from Kalamazoo for every Lions home game and now it was all for not. For the next few days he moped around the house.
He declined an invitation to a family function and snapped at me when I tried to make conversation. Now I was getting mad and about to lecture him on his crazy over the top sports priorities. My lecture had only lasted a few words when I was hit with a compelling realization. A decision I made in 1984 may have sealed his fate.
Let me explain.
1984 was a great year for a brand new father and fanatical sports fan. My first son was born in March, attended his first Tiger game in August and sat watching in his swing as my beloved Detroit Tigers won the world series in October.
Was this good karma or what? I had dreamed of raising a son sharing my passion for sports with a lifelong companion. My plan was simple. Teach him about our great Detroit sports history. Tell him about Gordie Howe and how powerful and smooth he was. Tell him about Piston Dave Bing’s speed and pinpoint passes. School him on tiger outfielder Al Kaline and his perfect, effortless throws to third base. Yes, I was prepared to enhance my son’s life by exposing him to the glory and honor of being a Detroit Sports fan.
Just when things seemed great it hit me. I had a monumental decision to make and I was conflicted. A father has obligations to protect a child. We are supposed to try and shield them from frustration, from grief, from disappointment, from anxiety. My dilemma – should I tell my son about the existence of the Detroit Lions? I didn't know much about the law but wondered if encouraging your son to follow the Lions could lead to a visit from Child Protective Services.
I did not take this problem lightly. Had the Lions hurt me over the years? Absolutely. Were there some good times? Sure. Do past failures always mean future failure? Not always, no.
I decided to use the Ben Franklin method. Go back to when I was a kid and document the good and the bad. Then I could make an objective decision. I felt I owed that to my son. You’ll excuse me if my memory is imperfect at my advanced age, but my lifelong immaturity should help.
Good: 1957. I'm five years old and the Lions win the NFL championship,
Bad: I'm too young to appreciate it.
Good: 1962, Thanksgiving. Lions put a whipping on the Vince Lombardi’s Packers.
Bad: That is the only game the Packers lost on their way to the NFL championship.
Good: 1964. Successful automobile mogul Bill Ford buys the Lions and vows to bring many championships to Detroit.
Bad: Since then.
Good: 1965. My neighbor hooks up an illegal antenna so we can watch the home games on a Toledo station.
Bad: My neighbor hooks up an illegal antenna so we can watch the home games on a Toledo station.
Good: 1965. UCLA star running back Mel Farr joins the Lions and hopes run high.
Bad: Injuries shorten his career and achieves superstar status only years later when he leads the Midwest in Pinto sales.
Good: 1970, New Orleans. Lions have a two-point lead with five seconds to go. Players laugh as out of shape place-kicker Tom Dempsey lines up for what would be the longest field goal in NFL history.
Bad: Not only does he make the kick but it is later revealed that Dempsey did it with a club foot.
Good: Lions overcome New Orleans loss and make playoffs.
Bad: Dallas. Lions enter their first big game in years with unwavering confidence, but leave without scoring a point.
GOOD: 1970-1979 Football fans witness decade of perhaps the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. Unitas, Bradshaw,, Brodie, Tarkenton, Namath, and Staubach.
Bad: Lions quareterbacked by Munson, Landry, Danielson and Komlo.
Good: 1981. Lions draft Billy Simms, win their first 4 games and adopt Queen song Another One Bites The Dust, as their battle cry.
Bad: After losing the next 6 out of 8 games, Lions tire of the Queen and return to old standby Barry McGuire's Eve Of Destruction.
Good: 1983, San Francisco. Sure-footed Eddie Murray lines up for a 42-yard field goal to put Detroit in the NFC championship game.
Bad: Lions fans watch as Coach Monte Clark is shown looking up to the sky for divine intervention. Lions fans, long since having been forced into atheism, cross their fingers. Murray misses wide right.
That brings us back to 1984. Well I guess you know what I did. With Billy Sims on the team and the Lions coming off a near championship season, I made my fateful decision. I needed to give my son the chance to be part of a new group of Lion faithful. Perhaps a new generation could help inspire this team to greatness.
Did I make the right decision? I don't know. My son did not come through this unscathed. Like his dad before him, his eyes have witnessed years of futility. He watched in disbelief as our coach inexplicably chose the wind over the ball in overtime, and as a general manager 45 games under .500 was rewarded with a 5-year extension.
My son has no Super Bowls, one playoff win. He witnessed a great runner play for ten years without victory and then retire unceremoniously without a word of explanation to his adoring fans.
Although being Lions fans has strained our relationship, my son has graciously agreed to try and work it out. We decided to meet Sunday at 1:00/12:00 Central somewhere in the vicinity of a television.