Thursday, September 25, 2008

"Millen Fired"

I woke up this morning...wait who am I kidding, I mean this afternoon and instinctively groped around for my cellphone. I found it twisted around in my bed sheet in some impossible fashion where I could feel it and make out its shape but I couldn't find a way to actually touch it. Frustrated I aired out the sheet and watched as my phone shot out as if it had been fired from a cannon and smack against the wall with enough force to knock the backing off of it. A year ago beginning a day like this would have led to me flying into a fit of rage and spewing so many curse words that I would have made Richard Pryor sound like Bill Cosby hosting "Kids Say the Darndest Things."

But today I just didn't care. Not because I was in some euphoric state or because I had just rolled out of a bed full of naked and satisfied Victoria's Secret models. Quite the opposite in fact. Not literally of course, I'm not saying I was depressed and rolled out of a bed full of Jockey Men's underwear models, (although I'm not NOT saying that either). No, it's just that for the past couple of weeks (months, years, decades really who's counting) I've been depressed after being hit with the harsh reality that faces thousands of people my age every year. Being diagnosed with gonorrhea. But I'm not talking about that, I really meant to say entering the real world after being babied through seven years of college (There, I think I covered that up nicely, now I just have to burn all these bills from the clinic and vow to never sleep with hookers or anyone from Baltimore ever again).

I was under the impression that graduating from law school included receiving a diploma, a monocle, leather driving gloves, a trophy wife, a 100k job offer and enough henchmen to help get my fledgling law/super-villain practice off of the ground. Instead I've got a diploma, student loan debt, no job, no girlfriend and worst of all I think the two henchmen I hired out of pocket are using me more for crashing on my futon and playing my Wii instead of arching my nemesis. In short the lack of job offers in Detroit is leading me back to my hometown to work with my Dad, a fate I thought the last seven years of school would help me avoid. The only intriguing advantage of moving back home is the chance to purchase a wardrobe of nothing but white suits and try to bring the wild Besaw Boys running shine from their uncle's farm out on Dodge road to justice through a series of arm wrestling matches over poisonous cacti. Only problem is that instead of trying to get with their hot cousin Daisy I'll have to settle for some 300 pound lady with curly, greasy hair who drives a Pontiac Sunbird with a decal that says "I Like Big Bucks and Big Trucks" on the back window. Gross.

So by the time I put the casing back on my phone and turned the power on I was thoroughly depressed and was surprised to see that I had missed a number of phone calls, text messages and voicemails from friends of mine. With my present state of mind my thoughts naturally turned to the idea that something terrible had happened. Something along the lines of Mickey Tettleton releasing a statement to the press saying how disappointed he was to find out a website in named in His honor was run by such an insufferable douchebag. When I finally dared to open my text message inbox I read in the subject heading of my friend T.J.'s message the most glorious and uplifting words I had laid my eyes upon since reading that Scott Mitchell was injured for the remainder of the 1994 season.

It simply and succinctly read, "Millen Fired"

I would be overstating things if I said this was some life altering moment and from that point on my fortunes turned around for the remainder of the day until everything culminated with a nude Kate Beckinsale crashing through my apartment window while riding a unicorn and offering to take me away to her English castle where she would allow me to be the fatherly leader of a gang of quickwitted cockney pickpocket children. However the Lions as a franchise had personified and paralleled the hopelessness I had been feeling through my life recently.

Having the privilege (disfavor?) of going to nearly every Lions home game since I was about ten years old I've seen first hand the damage Millen instilled on an already tortured and frustrated fan base. It's unfathomable to think now but in the first days of Matt Millen's reign things started out promisingly. The first season was a disaster record wise but everyone knew the Lions were in full-on rebuilding mode and there was excitement over first round draft choice Joey Harrington fresh of a dominating season at Oregon where he led them to the Rose Bowl. I saw the excitement on peoples faces when Harrington showed some pluck in battling Brett Favre and the Packers in his first start. During that offseason the Lions jettisoned overwhelmed position coach masquerading as a a head coach (hmm...that sounds awfully familiar) Marty Mornhinweg in favor of a proven and successful coach and Michigan native Steve Mariucci. Marriucci's hiring along with the drafting of Saginaw native and Michigan State star Charlie Rogers led to a great deal of excitement heading into the season. I watched as the line outside the Team Store in Ford Field ran the entire length of the concourse as people eagerly waited for a chance to purchase local hero Charlie Rogers jersey after his impressive two touchdown debut. Even I, already a cynical Lions fan at the age of 20, talked excitedly with my Dad as we left the season opener against the Cardinal about the beginning of a dynamic young quarterback-receiver combo that might one day rival Montana-Rice and Manning-Harrison as one of the greatest of all time. Sure that was short-sighted and little did I know at the time that Charlie Rogers was probably smoking himself retarded at the same time I was praising him, but the excitement I felt for the first time since Barry Sanders retired was genuine. This season also coincided with heady days from a personal standpoint. I was acing all of my classes at MSU, I had a great girlfriend who really cared about me, and I had just killed the LSAT. I felt that my future was as bright as the Lions. Unfortunately that statement still turned out to be true.

Shortly after that game Rogers broke his clavicle in a bye week practice collision with cornerback Dre Bly. The team floundered and finished a disappointing 5-11 and the development of Harrington seemed to have stalled. Millen made what was arguably his only good draft decision swapping spots with the Browns to pick up two 1st round picks which he used on Roy Williams and Kevin Jones in an effort to create what many believed to be the makings of the most exciting young offense in the league. However, the season started off ominously when Rogers once again was lost for the year after breaking his clavicle for a second time on the seasons opening drive. Even though the team started 4-2 it quickly fell apart as the Lions lost 8 of their last ten games to finish a disappointing 6-10. I sat and watched as the fan base grew increasingly and justifiably frustrated as they watched a seemingly talented and expensive young team flounder under the leadership of an expensive veteran coach. (That's right when I go to games I sit and watch everything but the game, namely the expressions on peoples faces and the line to the team store. I'm just not a very good writer).

2005 was a crossroads year for many people in Detroit. Marriucci was feeling the pressure to win and live up to the money he was being paid and the excitement that surrounded his hiring. Jeff Garcia was brought in to challenge a stagnant Joey Harrington for the starters job. Chuck Rogers was trying to prove he wasn't injury prone and resurrect his dying career, Matt Millen was supposedly fighting for his own job and I was moving to the city to start law school. By December everything had fallen apart for all parties involved. Mooch was made the scapegoat and fired after an embarrassing Thanksgiving Day loss to the Falcons. Harrington was hated so venomously and vociferously that I took five seconds out of booing and cursing him from my seat to actually feel sorry for him. Rogers was suspended for drug abuse and watched as his NFL career flamed out. Millen made national news by ordering a fan with a Fire Millen sign to be physically kicked out of a game and watched as fans organized a march advocating his dismissal and I found out that I was unprepared and in over my head with my classes, essentially becoming the Marty Mornhinweg of law students. The fans were angry and frustrated with the franchise and voicing their opinion to any outlet available and I was overwhelmed and angry with my decision threatening to quit school at the next available opportunity.

After the season and my first semester I expected Millen to be fired and for me to have the courage to quit something I felt I hated deep down inside. Instead to the shock and dismay of the entire fanbase Millen received a five year extension and I begrudgingly decided to give class one more semester (nobody was shocked and dismayed by my decision...maybe my cat). During the next season Harrington and Rogers were unceremoniously dumped and the last remnants of all that excitement that I had felt just a view years earlier had faded away entirely. I watched as apathy set in among the fanbase and in my own personal life. The distinguishing moment for me as a fan came late in that season during another Lions home loss. During the game a fan in our section tried to start a "Fire Millen" chant and nobody joined in. He was persistent though, standing up and yelling it at the top of his lungs trying to encourage others to join him but was rewarded with silence. After another minute or so a second person yelled, "Stop chanting. The Ford's never listen to us anyways!" and the man who had been trying so valiantly to start this Fire Millen chant just stopped trying and sat down defeated. No truer words had ever been spoken at Ford Field. During this same time I had begun withdrawing from school, missing classes at an alarming rate receiving bad grades and feeling despondent.

As both the losses and poor grades mounted and the future that had once been so bright and promising became darker and more disenchanted a sense of abject hopelessness began to settle in the fanbase and in myself. Matt Millen would always be in charge of the hapless Lions and my destiny would be to remain in my hometown, take over the family business and watch dreams die. But maybe that changed today. Maybe things that seem to be written in stone can be changed. Sure the Lions may still suck for this year but maybe they'll finally hire the right person, draft the right players, sign the right free agents and a few years from now my Dad and I will be able to go to Ford Field and watch them win a home playoff game. Sure, I might have to go back home and work but maybe after a couple of years I'll make a name for myself, meet the right people, find the ambition and drive that propelled me through my first few years of college and get the hell out of there. Maybe I'll finally have the courage to abandon this whole lawyer thing and do something I really love. Or maybe nothing will ever change. Who knows but now there seems to be hope, for the first time in the last five years there seems to be a little bit of light peeking through the darkness. (Editor's note: I'm not some emotional douchebag who talks like this all the time. It's only like this 6 times a week or so.)

Also, I know some people have compared this to the French Revolution and credited Millen's firing to the fan's revolt of not buying tickets and vociferously denouncing the team. The parallel to the French Revolution would have been if the Millen Man March in 2005 would have been rolling around a portable guillotine and successfully captured and beheaded Millen and the Ford family as they tried to escape in a carriage in the shape of the Lombardi trophy. Then the fans went on to run the team as a democracy before being overun by a tiny man with an unquenchable thirst for Dan Snyder or Mark Cuban or someone. I think this feels more like a liberation. I feel like someone who has been beaten by and toiled for an oppressive, cruel and tyrannical despot only to be saved by a spoiled great-grandson of a billionaire bigot riding in on his white Mercury Mariner and begging his dad to listen to him for once. It's not really iconic imagery but it's still liberating nonetheless.

Finally, I may be in the minority here but I don't hate Matt Millen. As an executive yes but as a person he seemed likable. He kind of reminded me of a guy my Dad would be friends with, and I honestly believe he was trying as hard as he could to build a winner. A lot of people would have swallowed their pride and quit 3 or 4 years ago but Millen was willing to see this thing through until they drug him out of his office kicking and screaming and a part of me admires that. Ah what am I saying. Fuck Millen. Amen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

great concept and the good idea.

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