Imperfect Season Comes to an End

By: AP
By: AP

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) -- The silence in the Detroit Lions' locker room was so heavy it was practically suffocating.
No laughter, no post-game jokes, certainly no congratulations for a job well done. Just the occasional sound of luggage being zipped up at the close of a hideous season historic for all the wrong reasons.
And really, with derisive chants of "Oh-and-16! Oh-and-16!" still ringing in their ears, was there anything left to say?
"It's over now. We're 0-16," rookie running back Kevin Smith said. "I wish it was just a dream. I wish I could wake up and it'd be over. But it's not."
The Lions didn't even bother trying to put a brave face on this one. With a 31-21 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, Detroit solidified its claim as the worst team in NFL history. Sixteen games, 16 losses.
"0-16," one sign read, "The Perfect Season."
"You never expect it to happen when you're starting the season," said kicker Jason Hanson, the longest-tenured Lion. "Obviously, what we did here was not good."
It took 16 games to figure that out?
It's been more than 30 years since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers went 0-14 in 1976 -- and they had the excuse of being an expansion team. The New Orleans Saints during their worst days, the Indianapolis Colts before Peyton Manning arrived, the worst of the New York Jets teams -- they all managed to win at least one game.
Not the Lions.
They've been on a downward spiral for most of this decade, done in by one bad personnel move after another by TV analyst-turned-general manager Matt Millen (who drafts a wide receiver in the first round three years running? Better yet, who doesn't get SOMETHING out of three straight first-round picks?). Their efforts on the field weren't much better, stringing together so many losses it looks as if an "L" key got stuck on a keyboard.
But this season was a debacle of epic proportions, beyond even what the most cynical of Lions fans could have imagined.
"As a Lions fan, we're used to them stinking," said Adam Gadsby, who drove eight hours to see the Lions stake their dubious claim to history and was planning on climbing right back into the car as soon as the game ended.
"But they've never stunk as well as they're stinking this year."
The 16 losses came to teams good -- Tennessee, Indianapolis, Atlanta -- and not-so-good -- Washington, San Francisco. There were a few close calls, and a few losses that were cover-your-eyes ugly. The Lions were outscored 517-268, and twice failed to crack double-digits for points.
One series against the Packers pretty much summed up the entire season. Already trailing 7-0 in the first quarter, the Lions needed a yard for a first down. Dan Orlovsky kept the ball and got the yard, only to have the play waved off because a timeout had been called.
By the Lions.
Smith would get the first down, Detroit's first of the game. But on the very next play, Orlovsky was picked off by Charles Woodson, setting up Green Bay's second touchdown.
Any Given Sunday? The only given with these Lions was a loss.
"We just plain and simple didn't get it done, for whatever reasons," said offensive tackle Jeff Backus, who has had a front-row seat for Detroit's carnage as Millen's first draft pick. "Execution, talent, schemes -- at different times it was different things.
"It was just one of those years it all kind of came together."
More like one of those years where everything came apart.
Millen is long gone, fired in September when it became apparent the Lions might make a real run at those '76 Bucs. Coach Rod Marinelli is still around, but who knows for how long? When Donald Driver torched cornerback Leigh Bodden -- the "pickup" in the trade of Shaun Rogers, the Lions' best defender, to Cleveland -- for a 71-yard touchdown, Marinelli was seen on the sideline, shaking his head.
"The record speaks for itself," Marinelli said. "We tried hard all year. I felt they gave it their best, I felt I gave it my best. But sometimes your best isn't good enough, and it wasn't good enough this year."
The sting of the losses, not to mention those jeers from the Lambeau Field fans at the end of the game, will be felt for months to come. When the game ended, Smith held onto his gloves and tucked them into his bag, a keepsake to drive him every day this offseason.
But the stain of this dubious record will taint every player on Detroit's roster for the rest of his career. Regardless of what else he does -- make the Pro Bowl, win a Super Bowl, even be selected for the Hall of Fame -- he will always be part of that Lions team that went 0-16.
Look at the players from the '76 Buccaneers. They haven't set foot on a field in more than two decades, and those creamsicle uniforms have long since been retired.
And here they are, still answering questions about that infamous season.
"It's hard for me to have anybody go through what we went through," said Richard Wood, a hard-hitting linebacker on that Buccaneers team. "It's a sad moment for all of football when a team can't win a football game. I feel for those guys, because it's a hollow feeling."
But the Lions did this to themselves. OK, so they got some help from Millen, but they were the ones making the plays.
Or not making them, in their case.
"This is us," Hanson said, "we own this."
0-and-16, the perfectly imperfect season.


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