Nine consecutive sellouts.
Say this for Detroit Lions fans. They will scream and point to the heavens regarding their favorite team's latest fiasco when they are actually part of the problem.
And this: You can be assured they will dutifully file into the Silverdome for Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons.
Lambs being led to the slaughter.
Lions chairman and president William Clay Ford understands the mentality of Detroit's pro football fans better than the tony dashboard layout in his company's new Excursion sports utility vehicle. He knows those same fanatics will chafe over the Lions' embarrassing 23-8 loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday and yesterday's subsequent resignation by head coach Bobby Ross nine games into the season.
Ford knows one more thing, too.
The Silverdome will likely be filled to capacity by those same unhappy paying customers again on Sunday. The Lions sold out their first five home games this year, nine straight over two seasons.
It should be noted that the Silverdome has the largest seating capacity among NFL stadiums (80,311). Only when those attendance figures start to decline - and stay down for a long time - will Ford begin to consider anything other than cosmetic changes for the Lions.
The Lions will win a Super Bowl before that happens.
Being owner of the Lions means never having to say you're sorry. Ford has never been held accountable for this mess of a football team by the people who should matter the most.
That's right, the fans.
It's the nature of Lions fans to complain and then conform. After 43 years of going without a championship, they have learned to be content with the Lions' lot in the NFL. Which, sad to say, isn't a whole lot.
Like coaches Wayne Fontes, Darryl Rogers and Monte Clark before him, Ross, too, has learned the hard way.
“I don't feel betrayed (by the players). I feel like I've failed, I've let (them) down,” Ross said.
I believe him. After all, it takes a special man to walk away with one year remaining on a five-year, $7.5 million contract.
The ultimate workaholic who spent too many bleary-eyed late nights taking No-Doze and staring at film in his office, Ross quit on his players only after they quit on him. This season, team leaders including Pro Bowl wide receiver Herman Moore and Pro Bowl defensive end Robert Porcher did not perform up to expectations.
Rumor has it that Ross didn't mingle well with many of the Lions, including retired running back Barry Sanders, but so what? He was their coach, for goodness sakes, not their drinking buddy.
Ross coached the same way in San Diego and guided the Chargers to three playoff appearances and one trip to the Super Bowl in five seasons. He led Georgia Tech to an 11-0-1 record and co-national championship in 1990.
“I think he felt that he really just burned himself out physically and mentally, that he didn't have any more to give,” Ford said.
If the Lions can do this to their most decorated coach in recent memory - if Ross, a tough-minded, old-school, former first lieutenant in the U.S. Army throws his hands up in resignation - they can do it to anyone.
Perhaps the biggest mistake Ford made upon hiring Ross was affording him too much control over personnel. Ross's decision to award quarterback Charlie Batch a contract in the ritzy neighborhood of $6 million per year remains one of life's great mysteries.
Ford's response to Ross's retirement? He put Lions assistant head coach and former Michigan head coach Gary Moeller in charge.
Like Ross, Moeller will have control over all personnel decisions.
Unlike Ross, Moeller will not receive top dollar. He'll be paid the remainder of this season and next year under terms of his present contract and he will receive an additional year in 2002 with a modest raise.
Ford really does have a better idea. At 5-4 the Lions are still in contention for a playoff berth. They have three home games remaining - three potential sellouts. And the most loyal ticket-buyers in the NFL.
Lions fans, repeat after me.
“I will not go to another Lions home game this season. I will not.”
John Harris is a Blade sports writer.
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