The Detroit Lions announced on Wednesday that they have signed wide receiver Golden Tate to a five-year deal. So run out and get your tickets for Super Bowl XLIX Lions’ fans. The 56 year championship drought is soon to be over. Well, perhaps not. If you know the Lions’ history, then you know that no matter how “golden” Tate is next season, the Lions will likely still stink like a rotten egg.
How bad have the Lions been? In the Super Bowl era (1966-present), the Lions have finished the season over .500 only 13 times, with four of those seasons occurring in the first seven years of the era, meaning that since 1972, they have had only nine winning seasons. And if you know anything about sports, you know that it helps to have a winning season if you want to make the playoffs.
So how have the Lions fared in the playoffs in the Super Bowl era? They have made the playoffs only 10 times, winning just one of those contests. That’s right, in the 48 years of the Super Bowl era, the Lions have won only one playoff game, a victory over the Dallas Cowboys in 1991 that sent them to their only NFC Championship game appearance. So if the Lions have only won one playoff game in the Super Bowl era and that victory sent them to the NFC Championship game you don’t have to be Stephen Hawking to figure out that they have never played in the Super Bowl.
The Lions have the dishonor of being the only team that existed when the first Super Bowl was held to have never played in the big game. Though it’s true the Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns and Houston Texans share in the Lions’ futility, they are all expansion franchises. The Jaguars entered the league in 1995, with the Browns and Texans following in 1999 and 2002 respectively. There have been, however, six teams that entered the league post Super Bowl I who have played in the big game.
And not to pile on, but a tale of the Lions’ futility would not be complete if their perfectly imperfect 2008 record of 0-16 wasn’t mentioned. Yes, in 2008, the Lions took pathetic to a new level, becoming the only team in NFL history to go 0-16. Sure, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers went 0-14 in 1976, but that was the team’s first year in the league. The Lions put in the work for their imperfect season; it took them 74 years.
So let’s get back to the Golden Tate signing. Why would Tate, or any player for that matter, want to play for the most pathetic franchise in NFL history? Three reasons: money, money, money. This isn’t a dis on Tate. ESPN is reporting that his deal is worth $31 million, with $13.25 million guaranteed. Who would blame Tate for taking that payday? After all, he’s coming from a team, the Seattle Seahawks, that just won the Super Bowl this past February. Tate now has what every player who plays in the NFL covets: a Super Bowl ring. He doesn’t have to concern himself with that now and shouldn’t expect another while playing for the Lions. On the bright side, he certainly has enough money to purchase Super Bowl tickets if he wants to at least attend the game.
The Lions were very clear that Tate was on the top of their free agent wish list. So they landed their golden goose, but was it the right move? Well since it’s a move the Lions made, it’s safe to assume that their golden goose will produce rotten eggs. Last year, the Lions big free agent “get” was running back Reggie Bush, who is best known for being Kim Kardashian’s ex-boyfriend. It’s true that the Lions needed help in their running game, but they did have the league’s third best offense the previous season, so perhaps shoring up their defense would have been the way to go. And did their offense improve following the Bush signing? It appears not, since they finished the 2013 season with league’s sixth best offense, dropping three spots. So in typical Lions’ fashion, the inclination this off season is to once again focus on their offense.
Coaches and sports analysts continually preach that in the NFL, defense wins championships. Apparently, the Lions never received the memo. The Lions continually finish the season with a team defense ranking that is around middle of the pack or worse; they boasted the league’s worst defense three straight years from 2007-09. But you have to give the Lions some credit, when they find something that doesn’t work, they stick to it. The Tate signing just shows that they are sticking to their age-old formula of un-success.
Now the NFL’s free agent signing period has just begun, so perhaps the Lions will make some additional signings that will improve their defense, and there is also the upcoming draft in April, but according to the Detroit Free Press, the Lions’ focus for the remainder of the free agent period will be on adding offensive players, such as a fullback, a center and possibly another running back.
Will it even matter who the Lions sign or draft? Are they just one of those teams that are destined for futility? Are they the Chicago Cubs of the NFL? It appears so. After all, they once had Barry Sanders, who many consider the greatest running back of all time, and couldn’t win with him. They now have Calvin Johnson, who is putting up numbers that will place him in the upper echelon of all-time wide receivers when his career is over, but they can’t win with him. Why? Because they never field a good enough defense to support their offense. Football is a team game that requires both a strong offense and defense (someone please send the Lions that memo).
Adding Golden Tate will likely make the Lions a little bit more exciting to watch. Next season, instead of losing 40-30, they will lose 40-38, so you have that to forward to Lions’ fans. But don’t be fooled by the Lions landing their golden goose, because history has shown that no matter who the players are or who the coach is, the Lions will lay a rotten egg.
By Scott Merrow