Why Detroit Lions’ talk of winning Super Bowl this upcoming year is reckless and damaging

Detroit Free Press

Maybe this story caught your eye a few days ago. Maybe it didn’t. It came out of nowhere on a random day of midweek access to Detroit Lions veterans who were going through offseason training.

Maybe some of them had just finished their lifts. Maybe it was the lingering effects of the post-draft hangover. Maybe it’s because they are simply NFL players, which means they’re also young men toiling in their first jobs.

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I want to provide the proper context for criticizing the Lions players who said Wednesday that they want to win the Super Bowl this season. It wasn’t cute or optimistic.

It was reckless and potentially damaging.

It started with this.

“I want to win a Super Bowl this year,” running back Jamaal Williams said.

Then this.

“Obviously, the goal is to win a Super Bowl,” receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown said.

And this.

“It’s understood every time that you play in the NFL you’re trying to win and the team that wins the most is the team that’s playing last, so that’s always our goal,” receiver DJ Chark said.

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Before anyone starts espousing misguided notions that of course players should want to win the Super Bowl, let me stop you. Yes, every player should want to win the Super Bowl. But there’s a difference between wanting to win the Super Bowl and shouting to the world that you think there’s even a remote chance a rebuilding team that’s still an NFL neophyte coming off the season’s second-worst record has any hope of becoming a champion this season.

We’ve heard stuff like this from the Lions this before. Normally, it’s said in the locker room among a few reporters, who give it as much credence as a player saying he plans to play in the NBA or become an astronaut after he’s out of the NFL.

The problem with shooting so high so early is that this kind of lofty absurd goal ends up meaning nothing. It ends up being dismissed. And where do you go from there?

If your only goal is to reach the moon and it doesn’t happen, what are you left with? A bunch of empty talk and no realistic approach to finding success. You think the Wright brothers would have been successful if they talked about exploring Mars instead of focusing on flying for just a few seconds only a few feet off the ground?

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The Lions have struggled far too long to write this off as naïve exuberance. I love everything about Jamaal Williams as a player, from how hard he runs to how joyful he is to his endearing pregame routine of playing catch with fans. As well-intentioned as his motives may be in even broaching the possibility of a championship, his coaches need to tell him and his teammates to tone down their Super Bowl talk. Immediately. It’s not helping.

I’ve covered professional athletes long enough to understand their general mindset. Above all, they are statistical anomalies. They’ve beaten all odds to get where they are. So why wouldn’t they think it’s natural for the world and their careers to hold nothing but continued unbridled success?

But for those of us mere mortal working stiffs who’ve studied the Lions and the rest of the NFL for years, we understand that even the “best” teams don’t win the Super Bowl. Even really good teams need a lot of things to align just to make the playoffs.

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One day, I hope the Lions do reach the Super Bowl. And I’m going to tell you a secret. I think they will at some point, when they figure out a way to free themselves of conventional NFL thinking and find the path that suits them and stay committed to it, instead of trying to follow the path that suits the Patriots or the Buccaneers or whoever else is on top at the moment.

St. Brown, who in one season came off sounding like a three-year veteran and not a rookie, continued to show that maturity when he added something more to his thoughts.

“Obviously, our goal is to win the division,” he said. “You win the division, you make the playoffs, so that’s our goal right now is to win the division, make the playoffs. But obviously, everyone’s ultimate goal is the Super Bowl, so why shoot for anything lower?”

St. Brown was right about the former, but not the latter. I remember during training camp in 2011 the Lions were still rebuilding from the ashes of 0-16 and the Matt Millen era, general manager Martin Mayhew announced that it was time for the team to contend for the division. He was right and the Lions had their first double-digit win season in more than a decade.

But the Lions were already on their way. They had their long-term answer at quarterback, they had a proven burgeoning star in Ndamukong Suh and had gone through two rounds of committed free agency, adding players like Nate Burleson, Kyle Vanden Bosch and Stephen Tulloch.

“We’ll see what happens,” kicker Jason Hanson said back then, “but before I think it was a little bit of, ‘Come on, we need to be better.’ Now it’s like, ‘We got the pieces. We’re going to win. Let’s go do it.’ It feels good.”

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Tell me, does this season feel good to you? I mean really, honestly good? If your answer is an emphatic, ‘Hell, yeah!’ then please put down this article, call your physician and tell them you’ve overdosed on Honolulu Blue Kool-Aid and require immediate help.

Mayhew was right that season. He didn’t push the button until he thought it was time. He gave the whole team a sense of urgency by doing so. If your GM publicly says it’s time, it’s probably time. When a goal is realistic, everyone feels good about making a commitment and shooting for it in an honest and earnest way.

If St. Brown and other players and coaches want to talk about winning the division this year, I’m OK with it. The NFC North was probably the worst division in the NFL last year after the AFC South. The Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings have new coaches. And one of these years, the Green Bay Packers are bound to stumble. Winning the division isn’t likely, but it’s possible.

In my mind, it’s still too early for the Lions to even talk about a division title. If they take a step forward this year and take free agency seriously next year, then we can start talking about a division crown.

Until then, let’s table the talk of any kind of crowns because someone’s got to tell the emperor his new clothes are making him look foolish.

Contact Carlos Monarrez at cmonarrez@freepress.com and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.

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