This series of articles will celebrate (or laugh at) some of the worst professional sports teams of all time. I will focus on teams within my lifetime so expect the worst from the 1970s to present day.
This one hurts. It hurts real bad. But I have to do it because this team definitely belongs as one of the worst teams ever. As most of my faithful readers know, I love the Detroit Lions with a passion! They are my favourite team in the NFL. Barry Sanders is my all time favourite player. I loved this team since 1981 when Billy Sims was doing the highstep at the Pontiac Silverdome. But, the 2008 Lions brought me no joy.
The crazy thing is, the Lions came into the season with high expectations. After 6 straight years of 10 or more losses, the Lions got off to a great start in 2007, going 6-2 in their first eight games. However, the Lions only won once in their final eight games, thus missing the playoffs. GM Matt Millen was confident the team was close to a breakthrough. The Lions had a great preseason, going 4-0. Then the roof caved in. They broke through and hit rock bottom!
Believe it or not, the Lions were actually favoured in their Week 1 contest against the Atlanta Falcons. Many observers had pegged the Falcons to finish with the worst record in 2008. Some even went so far to say that it would be the Falcons going 0-16 instead of the Lions. Oh how wrong they were. Atlanta jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter and cruised to a 34-21 win which began the Lions season from hell.
Ownership had enough. In Week 4, which was the Lions bye week, they finally fired Millen from his GM duties. Millen is simply put, the worst general manager in the history of sports. No argument! During his reign of error, the Lions went 31-84, the worst record over that span. His draft choices were bigger flops than Battlefield Earth. Joey Harrington, Roy Williams, Mike Williams, Ernie Sims. All were disappointing first round picks under the skewed eye of Millen. The most baffling pick was Mike Williams, who was forced to sit out the season before he drafted, because of eligibility issues at USC. Clearly Matt Millen did not know what he was doing. His dealings with players were pathetic. Using a homophobic term to describe former Lions receiver Johnnie Morton was sad and deplorable. Millen tried to convince Barry Sanders to come out of retirement. But Sanders knew better and declined, saying later, he knew not to trust Millen from the beginning. The Lions would go nowhere with him. Always listen to Barry.
The closest the Lions came to actually winning a game was in Week 6 against the Minnesota Vikings. That game is infamous for Lions quarterback Dan Orlovsky ran out of the end zone, while trying to escape the pass rush. Sadly Orlovsky still had the football, so the Vikings were rewarded with a safety. That play was the difference in the game, as the Lions lost 12-10, and they never got close to winning again in 2008.
After the Vikings game, new GM Martin Mayhew made a bold move. Knowing that this season was lost, Mayhew traded former first round pick Roy Williams to the Dallas Cowboys in exchange for 3 draft picks in the 2009 draft, including a first rounder.
The Lions woes continued as the losses kept piling up. Game after game. Loss after loss. Even though Millen was gone, his stench remained in the Motor City. The fans tried to make the best of it, with homemade shirts such as 0-16 Yes We Can, in a play on US President Barack Obama’s campaign theme.
The worst defeat for the Lions was on Thanksgiving, a traditional home game for the Lions since 1934. In front of a national television audience, the Lions were blasted 47-10 by the Tennessee Titans. The NFL was considering removing the Lions from the Thanksgiving game from the schedule. However, the league changed its mind, and the Lions still host games on Thanksgiving in the US.
The last game of the year was in Lambeau Field against the Green Bay Packers. The Lions had lost 16 straight at the Frozen Tundra dating back to 1991. So it was typical that the Lions torturous season would be completed here. Another loss. The Packers defeated the Lions 31-21 to finally put the Lions out of their misery. Here’s what Lions play-by-play man Dan Miller said after the Packers game.
“Clock ticks down here in Green Bay. The Lions find themselves in a very familiar position. For 16 weeks, starting in Atlanta back in September, they took the field thinking this was gonna be their day. Sixteen times they were wrong, and now there are no Sundays left. By record, they are the worst team in league history. Zero and 16, those are the numbers that will forever be associated with the Detroit Lions.”
How bad was it? The Lions finished 30th in total offence, averaging a meagre 268.2 yards of offence per game. They were dead last in team defence, giving up 404.4 yards per game. The Lions got scored on more often than Kim Kardashian in an NBA locker room, giving up a total of 517 points. That averaged to 32.3 points per game the Lions conceded. They were dead last against the run giving up 172.1 yards per game. They were like a gopher getting run over by a speeding fire truck.
The only bright spot in the Lions season was receiver Calvin Johnson. The man known as Megatron rose above the grime, making 78 receptions for 1,331 yards and 12 touchdowns. Putting up these numbers despite having 4 different quarterbacks throwing to him. Orlovsky, Drew Stanton, Daunte Culpepper, and Drew Henson all took turns behind centre and all of them were putrid. Yet Megatron continued to be an outstanding football player with a great attitude throughout the mess. The Lions are very fortunate to still have him on their roster.
When the season ended, Mayhew wasted no time in firing head coach Rod Marinelli and most of his assistants. Marinelli was another Matt Millen hire, preaching toughness and determination. Sadly Marinelli was a complete idiot when it came to game planning and game management. He looked lost on the sidelines 95% of the time, and simply had no clue on how to motivate players.
Since 2008, the Lions have slowly rebuilt themselves into a fine football team. Mayhew’s first ever draft pick was quarterback Matthew Stafford from the University of Georgia. Despite some injury problems, Stafford has improved every season, and is looking like a bona fide star. The trading of Roy Williams worked out for the Lions. While Williams was a bust in Dallas, the Lions used that first round pick to select tight end Brandon Pettigrew, who has developed into a solid receiving tight end, relieving some of the pressure from Megatron. Detroit actually made the playoffs for the first time in 12 years back in 2011. Optimism is rising in Detroit when it comes to the Lions. But every Lion fan, (myself included) will never forget the pain and horror of 2008.
You can follow me on Twitter @jstar1973