This season, whenever I believe a team is eliminated from the playoffs, thus making their season (and decade) over, I will write their obituary.
Today I present to you the Detroit Lions of the 00's.
There was a lot of hope for the Lions in 2000, coming off an 8-8 season in 1999 which landed the team a spot in the 1999 NFC playoffs. The 2000 season for the Detroit Lions was supposed to be a breakout year. Heading into the season there was a lot of chatter about Charlie Batch developing his game as the starting QB, and the defense lead by Stephen Boyd, Robert Porcher, Luther Elliss, and the young Terry Fair developing into an elite group.
The Lions got off to the right start in 2000, starting the season 5-2, including a win over Tampa Bay, making a return to the playoffs seem likely, however, back to back losses to AFC playoff teams Indianapolis and Miami sent the Lions to 5-4, and back to the middle of the pack in the NFC. The Lions then strung together a solid three game winning streak to improve their record to 8-4 before losings 3 of their final four games to finish with a 9-7 record, and watching the playoffs from home.
Heading into the 2001 season, Lions fans, newly appointed CEO/GM Matt Millen, and head coach Marty Mornhinweg were skeptical that Charlie Batch would ever develop into a legitimate starter at the NFL level. The team under Millen made the moves to draft athletic Rutgers QB Mike McMahon and sign 34 year old journeyman QB Ty Detmer. With that quarterback depth the Lions began the season 0-12, hauntingly foreshadowing a theme for their decade. The team would finish with an abominable 2-12 record, but thanks to the expansion Houston Texans would end up with the third overall draft pick in the next years draft.
The Lions used that third overall draft pick to draft Oregon QB Joey Harrington, a player they thought would immediate develop and help turn the Lions around. Entering the 2002 season, the Lions had low expectations. Harrington started 12 games and put up okay rookie numbers, but a lack of a go to receiver left Millen and others to believe there was a gaping hole in the teams structure. Following a 3-13 season, the team would land the second overall draft pick.
And the 2003 NFL Draft would mark the beginning of Matt Millen's love affair with the first round Wide Receiver, when he took Charles Rogers out of Michigan St #2 overall. The team would also fire Mornhinweg and replace him with successful San Francisco head coach Steve Mariucci.
Unfortunately for the Lions, 2003 was a bigger mess than 2002. Though the team improved to 5-11, Joey Harrington put up awful numbers, Charles Rogers was injured for the season in week 5, and the highlight of the season was a Thanksgiving Day victory over the Green Bay Packers. Yet again the Lions would earn themselves a top 10 pick.
The 2004 draft was loaded with top talent, and heading into the draft it only made sense that the Lions would take either LB Jonathan Vilma or WR Roy Williams; Millen went with Williams, and the Lions were shaping up to develop into a high octane offense.
Unfortunately for the Lions, Charles Rogers would miss all of 2004, the defense didn't get much better, Joey Harrington made little progression in yet another full season, and the team went 6-10.
An optimistic person would say that since 2001 the Lions improved every year to 2004. A pessimist would say that things should've turned around by this point and 6-10 is still bad. That being said Mariucci and the Lions entered 2005 with above average expectations for the for the first time since 2000. The team would use it's #10 overall pick on the questionable wide receiver Mike Williams out of USC. Heading into the draft Williams had weight, work ethic, and attitude issues. The Lions also had serious defensive issues; the next two picks in the draft were DeMarcus Ware and Shawne Merriman, two players who would challenge the league sack record in years to come.
Mike Williams career and the 2005 Lions season were dead on arrival. In an attempt to save his job, Mariucci benched Joey Harrington in favor of Jeff Garcia. Then, in an attempt to save his own job, Matt Millen sent Mariucci packing midway through the season. The team would finish 5-11, Millen's draft picks Joey Harrington, Charles Rogers, and Mike Williams were deemed useless, and for the fifth straight year, Millen would have the luxury of drafting in the top 10.
In the 2006 draft Millen finally went defense and for the first time Millen had a hit. Ernie Sims out of Florida State brought the right attitude and energy to a bad defense. But journeyman QB Jon Kitna and the 2006 Lions would win only 3 games. Somehow thanks to the success of Ernie Sims in his rookie season, and the development of Roy Williams into a Pro Bowl receiver, Millen managed to keep his job.
In 2007, the Lions were back to the #2 pick. With his sixth top 10 pick in as many years, Millen selected Calvin Johnson, a wide receiver out of Georgia Tech. Johnson would have an immediate impact, and the Lions would start the 2007 season hot.
Heading into a week 10 matchup at the lowly Arizona Cardinals, the 2007 Lions were 6-2. Kitna guaranteed 10 wins and playoffs. Millen was all of a sudden looking like an okay GM, and second year head coach Rod Marinelli was getting ready to compete with Green Bay for the division. Unfortunately for the Lions, their next eight games featured five contests with teams that would end up in the playoffs, including four against teams that would play in their conference championship game. The Lions would win only one of their final eight, and yet again the team would fail to obtain a winning record.
But Lions fans had hopes that 2008 would be better. Kitna had a solid 2007, and for the first time in a long time the Lions had a QB they trusted in. The duo of Calvin Johnson and Roy Williams looked like one of the best in the league, and the team used a third round draft pick to add RB Kevin Smith out of UCF, a RB they expected to immediately make an impact.
Things didn't work out too well for the 2008 Lions. Kitna got hurt early. After an 0-3 start, Millen was fired. The team would eventually trade Roy Williams to the Cowboys in the best management move the team made all decade.
Calvin Johnson would be the lone bright spot in an 0-16 season for the Lions. The franchise, it's fans, and it's players would end the season in embarrassment, becoming the only team to ever finish a season 0-16.
Immediately after the 2008 season the Lions cleared house. Marinelli was fired and Jim Schwartz was named head coach. The team also used it's #1 overall draft pick to take Matthew Stafford, a quarterback out of Georgia.
And in week 3 of the NFL season, Stafford handed the city of Detroit some home when he lead the Lions to their first win since the winter of 2007. The win would come against the Redskins, and for the first time since 1999 things were seriously optimistic in Lions.
No one expected the Lions to be a contender in 2009, so it's no surprise they're being buried before week 6. They're only 1-4 but they're already the leagues most improved team. As opposed to some of the leagues other really bad teams, Lions fans have some hope for the 2010's. Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, Kevin Smith, Ernie Sims, Brandon Pettigrew, Louis Delmas, Julian Peterson, and DeAndre Levy give this team a reason to be optimistic about it's future.
But when Lion's fans look back on the 00's they'll be forced to recall some of the worst nightmares in sports history. A decade void of a playoff appearance and only one winning season. The decade that is sure to be known as the Matt Millen era; fully equipped with names like Mike Williams, Charles Rogers, Joey Harrington, and Dan Orlovsky to make fans cringe.
Hopefully for Lions the 2010's bring greener Pasteur's, because it'll be hard to get worse than the 00's.
MVP of the Decade: Shaun Rogers
Notable Players: Shaun Rogers, Roy Williams, Calvin Johnson, Jason Hanson, Jon Kitna, Ernie Sims, Stephen Boyd, Robert Porcher, Dre' Bly, Cory Schlesinger, Eddie Drummond, James Stewart, Jeff Backus, Matthew Stafford
Throwback Jersey That Will Be Cool in 15 years: 2007 Calvin Johnson