The Detroit Lions are off to an 0 – 3 start which, in case you’re wondering, is not exactly an uncommon occurrence. As I continue to compile material for my 21 Sundays of Fantastic Football Food cookbook, I have a Football Flashback from Week 4 of the 2008 season. The Lions were 0 – 3 then too, and trying hard to turn the page on one of the darkest chapters in franchise history.
My Loser of the Week is Matt Millen, and the only real surprise there is that we got a full month into the season before it happened. Until recently, Millen was president of the Detroit Lions. Some of you may remember him better from his playing days. He was a Pro Bowl linebacker for the Redskins, Raiders and 49ers, earning a Super Bowl ring everywhere he played. He then spent time as an analyst for Fox Television. That makes for an impressive resume, unless you’re applying for a job as president and CEO of an NFL franchise. Despite having no executive experience whatsoever, the Lions granted Millen near total control of the team. Not since Sarah Palin has anyone been offered a job they were so obviously unqualified for. The results were… predictable. I call it the Motor City Meltdown. Millen took a pretty average football team and single-handedly turned it into one of the worst clubs in the history of the NFL. The Lions started the season 0 – 3. That’s just a small sample of Millen’s fine work.
In 7+ years under Matt Millen, the Lions were an utterly uninspiring 31 and 84. That’s pretty dismal, especially when you consider the fact that nearly a third of those wins came last season, the only season in which the Lions finished with a winning record. So, if things were that bad in Detroit, why was Millen able to hang onto his job for so long? Good question. I don’t have an answer for that one. I don’t even have a guess. Lions fans have been trying to get rid of the guy for years. In 2005, Millen was given a five-year contract extension. That’s when fans organized the Millen Man March in protest. These same fans organized an Orange Out, and everyone wore orange when the Bengals came to town. When the Bears visited, it was a halftime walkout. A number of fans left the game at halftime. It was a game the Lions ultimately lost. Someone started a firemillen website; several similar sites soon followed. And “Fire Millen” chants could frequently be heard at Lions home games. It wasn’t uncommon to hear those same chants at games hosted by the Detroit Pistons, Tigers and Red Wings, three teams Millen has absolutely no association with. You can even purchase custom made Fire Millen signs, hats, t-shirts, sweatshirts and other goodies. In case you’re wondering, I’m not making this stuff up. Every word is true… at least so far.
Okay, so I know things have been a bit rough for the Lions. Did Matt Millen really deserve to get fired? YES! The team went three full seasons without winning a road game. That is, by the way, an NFL record. They had the lowest winning percentage in the league, never qualified for the playoffs and never finished higher than third in their division. Of course, thanks to things like the salary cap and the draft, every team has a chance to get better, right? Being given the opportunity to improve and then actually doing it can be two very different things. Millen’s biggest failures may have come in the draft room. He was responsible for some of the biggest draft busts in recent memory. Millen wasted high first round picks on the likes of Joey Harrington, Charles Rodgers and Mike Williams, to name just a few. None of these players are even with the team anymore. I suppose they might still be in the league but I couldn’t tell you where.
Matt Millen is the Loser of the Week. That’s already been established. But what’s next for this guy? Where do you turn once you’ve taken a strong, proud beast like a lion and turned it into road kill? Well, you don’t need to worry about Matt. He’ll be fine. In fact, he’s already on a new career path. It leads straight to Wall Street. He’s been hired by the government as a motivational speaker. It will be up to Millen to breathe life and confidence back into our shaky US economy. Yes, that’s really what he’ll be doing, and this would probably be a good time to clean out your bank account and go back to hiding your money in your mattress.
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