Once upon a time the Lions ruled. The fans roared with ecstasy. They packed the arena and loved watching a human being tortured to death. They celebrated when the blood flowed. They cheered when his body parts were torn apart, when his eyeballs rolled on the turf.
This was sports. Once.
It was in ancient Rome, but even then the mobs of spectators rooted for the Lions. They rooted for the destruction of a human being as he was fed to the Lions.
This is sports. Still.
This was my thought in the giddy aftermath of the firing of Matt Millen by the pro football version of the Lions the other day.
Every Lions spectator who chanted "Fire Millen" on Sunday afternoons -- every fan who participated in the "Millen Man March" designed to gore Matt Millen to death -- well, he or she, got their much sought pound of flesh.
Every professional journalist who danced in print or on those sports talk radio shows or on the Internet should be proud. Great -- journalists have forfeited their professional neutrality to masquerade as cheerleaders.
Across the country, sports journalists who never met Matt Millen, who never covered a Lions game, turned a sacking into an Internet joke.
Every disc jockey who chimed in managed to evoke giggles in their banal manner. According to reports, Detroit's WKQI-FM turned it all into jolly fun -- a mock funeral for Matt Millen.
And the laughter goes on while the body twitches and the fans -- that's what they call themselves -- roar for a football franchise that remains without direction. With no idea where it is going -- who is to be the next person to be hired and transformed into a victim.
The facts were glaring. The results were lousy during Matt Millen's seasons in Detroit. Millen himself admitted that. The Lions were terrible year after year in the draft, rotten season after season on the field. They went through a parade of head coaches -- more heads rolling.
Coaches were axed. Theories changed, systems were altered. Nothing worked. The coaches were forced to play the players Millen had plucked out of the draft -- Charles Rogers, Joey Harrington, Mike Williams, wasted picks.
All of that is true. The Lions' 31-84 record during Millen's seven-plus seasons is etched in block of cement. True.
But to rip and taunt and mock a man of character is, to me, brutality at is meanest.
For football followers to be driving past the Lions' facilities in Allen Park and honking their horns in celebration! To be waving signs of jubilation! To be comparing the firing of Millen to the eradication of Saddam Hussein! To be hooting! Sorry, it's bloodthirsty. It's sick.
And it's very sick at a time when our nation -- and much of the world -- is in a crisis to gore a decent fellow human being.
It so happens that Matt Millen is a decent human being
Once, before he was thrust into the mess that remains the Detroit Lions, Millen was congenial, humorous, bright. He arrived unqualified for the task -- a linebacker with four Super Bowl championships in his resume as a player and with popularity as a TV analyst.
Bill Ford Jr. coaxed his father into making Millen president of the Lions.
He was exactly what we all had said for years that the Lions needed on top.
"A FOOTBALL MAN!"
Millen was the quintessential football man -- a man who had worn the pads and endured the battles.
As a football man, he lacked the experience to serve as a football administrator.
The facts remain glaring, also, at the top. The Lions have had mostly lousy seasons during the 44-year ownership of William Clay Ford. One playoff victory since the last championship 51 years ago.
Bill Ford admits that, too.
He is the only constant throughout those 44 years.
It was early during his ownership that the Lions were stuck in a similar quagmire. Ford went from coach to coach -- from Joe Schmidt, who resigned; to Don McCafferty, who died; to Rick Forzano and Tommy Hudspeth and Monte Clark, who all ultimately were fired. All good men.
One day, back then, Ford asked me a simple question as I badgered him about a possible coaching change.
"Do you know what it's like to fire somebody?" he said.
Of course, I didn't know what it was like to fire a fellow human being, just as all the "Fire Millen" constituents do not know the pain of giving somebody the guillotine. I realized immediately that Bill Ford, more than anything, was a man of compassion, a man of decency. He has proven that he is a man of honor and loyalty.
Those are characteristics to be admired. To be admired so much more than giggling at a mock funeral for a man who has been fired. For supposed journalists celebrating during sports talk radio shows. To dish out weak, sick humor. The rich irony is that William Clay Ford rescued the Lions from similar anarchy when he became outright owner of the franchise 45 years ago. Back then, the Lions were owned by a consortium of litigious, fractious men. They were split into factions about the methods of managing the franchise in a period when the established NFL was challenged for athletes and TV viewers by the new American Football League.
Bill Ford yanked the Lions out of their chaotic situation by purchasing the franchise outright -- for what turned into a magnificent investment of $4.5 million.
If there is one flaw in Bill Ford's character, it is that he is too trusting. He seeks out advice from knowledgeable football people and trusts their opinions. He hired Rick Forzano as coach on the advice of Paul Brown. He sought out Don Shula for counsel and Monte Clark was the recommendation.
Both Forzano and Clark, fine coaches, were trapped because of the personnel the general manager, Russ Thomas, picked for them.
This time, it was Bill Ford Jr. again suggesting during a conversation with reporters that his handpicked football man, Matt Millen, be fired. Bill Ford Jr. again, in essence, coaxed his father to make a change.
The change might have been better made after the season -- this season, or last season. No matter, the fans have their wish -- to see a good man chewed up, just as victims were in ancient Rome in the Colosseum.
And what is the result of that wish?
A team operated by a lame-duck organization that still cannot win football games. http://www.detnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/ar ... SPORTS0101