There’s a sad tradition at Ford Field that few people get to see.
It happens a little while after the final home game of a Detroit Lions season, when they either haven’t qualified for the postseason or it’s certain they won’t host a playoff game.
After all the fans have left the building, the field starts to disappear. A crew uses a rigging system to carefully take down the goal posts. A person drives a small vehicle equipped with scrubbers and tanks filled with a cleaning solution that removes the paint in the end zones.
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But the saddest part is when they erase Bubbles, the leaping Lions logo at midfield. Little by little, Bubbles slowly disappears, like Aaron Rodgers’ endorsement potential. The scrubbers transform Bubbles from amorphous pastiche to faint phantasm until he is finally gone altogether, like he was never there.
At the end of every season, I clack away at my keyboard from the seventh-floor press box, trying to avoid the distraction of all the work being done below. But there’s a finality to it that always depresses me, yet also draws my attention. The team I spent the whole season covering, and invested time and energy trying to understand, will never be the same again. Several coaches and players, who too often do too little to extend their stay, won’t be back.
This will happen again on Sunday, when the Lions bid farewell to another forgotten season as they host the Green Bay Packers, the starkest opposite you could imagine: a No. 1 seed with a Hall of Fame quarterback ready to begin another playoff march as a Super Bowl favorite.
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But it doesn’t have to be all bad news. After all, valedictions can often be celebrations. So here are my suggestions of do’s and don’ts that can make the Lions’ farewell to the 2021 NFL season a joyous and successful event.
Do: Try to win this game
Most times that the Lions might be in the hunt for the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft, I would strongly advocate tanking or doing anything they could to land that top spot. But with all due respect to Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson and Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux, the top two defensive ends who could be the draft’s top two picks, neither is expected to be a franchise savior.
That means it probably doesn’t matter too much which of these excellent players the Lions land with the No. 1 or No. 2 pick. And that means they might as well try to win the game, ending the season on a positive note against their most respected division rival.
So go ahead and pull out all the stops. If they’re healthy (or healthy-ish), roll ’em out there. Be aggressive. Fake a punt. Go for it on fourth down. Go for two. You might as well go wild, because you aren’t going anywhere else.
Don’t: Make ‘business’ decisions
This dovetails with winning the game. It would make sense that that some players who are headed to free agency tend to play more cautiously at the end of a season, and certainly in a final meaningless game. It’s understandable that they want to avoid an injury that might scare off potential suitors and cost them millions of dollars. It’s a business, after all.
But the Lions deserve to go out winners, or at least come damn close with a spirited effort. That means players must put themselves on the line by making that extra effort, diving into a pile and doing whatever they can to finish the game.
If this regime ever finds sustained success, the 30-12 win over the Arizona Cardinals will serve as the earliest glimpse of the team’s potential under Dan Campbell and Brad Holmes. Beating the NFC’s No. 1 seed, even in a meaningless finale, will serve as further confirmation that they were on the right path.
Do: Take advantage of the situation
It seems crazy to think a 2-13-1 team might beat a 13-3 team, especially when Packers coach Matt LaFleur said his available starters would play. But I think LaFleur will treat this a little like a preseason game that gives the Packers a chance to work on weak areas like red-zone efficiency, third-down defense and special teams.
The starters also might get just enough work so that they don’t have a three-week break before the divisional round playoff at Lambeau Field. Rodgers might forget how to tell the truth when it comes to his vaccination status, but he’s not going to forget how to throw a spiral. That means he and the Packers will be extremely cautious with how much he’s exposed to injury. I would be surprised if he sees the fourth quarter, regardless of the score.
So you can see where the Lions might be in position to take advantage of a team that’s already looking ahead and not doing everything to win the game. I can’t believe I’m actually writing this, but the Lions need to remember to keep it classy if they find themselves pulling away against the Packers’ backups. Let’s not forget the Packers took their foot off the gas early in the fourth quarter when they beat the Lions, 35-17, in a Week 2 Monday night game.
By the way, I’m still waiting for an explanation from Pete Carroll for why Russell Wilson played the whole game and was still throwing deep in the final minutes of the Seahawks’ 51-29 win last week. Seriously, Pete, what’s your deal?
Don’t: Get blown out
The hallmark of this year’s team has been a lack of talent that has nonetheless put forth consistent effort. That has led to two wins and a tie, but it also has kept the Lions from suffering blowout losses in consecutive weeks. That’s the sign of a team that knows how to fix problems and move forward. It’s a lot harder than you think in the NFL, even if it still adds up to a loss.
After last week’s blowout loss at Seattle, the Lions need to keep their streak going or at the very least keep the margin respectable in front of the hometown fans.
Do: Thank the fans
Any Lions fan who shows up to this game should be given a purple heart, some free drink tickets and a sanity test. But if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times. The Lions have the most loyal fans in the NFL — perhaps to fans’ own detriment. They stick with this team year-to-year, generation-to-generation. I have no doubt many of the Honolulu Blue faithful will turn out for this thing.
The Lions have done a great job of thanking fans after the home finale in the past by walking around the perimeter of the field to personally greet their supports. I would expect nothing less after a season as difficult as this one.
Contact Carlos Monarrez at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.