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A painful look again in any respect the heartache and ache that litters the Detroit Lions’ latest historical past.
Kirkland Crawford, Detroit Free Press

Paul Edinger was standing in line for a Harry Potter experience at Common Studios in Florida earlier this month when his cellphone buzzed with a name from a 313 quantity he didn’t acknowledge.

Edinger, who has spent little time within the state of Michigan since his school profession ended 20 years in the past, let the decision go to voicemail, however he thought it was uncommon sufficient that he confirmed a good friend consistent with him — a Michigan native whose daughter had simply completed a refrain occasion with Edinger’s 10-year-old lady.

When Edinger checked the voicemail a couple of minutes later and shared the message together with his good friend — a reporter was attempting to contact the previous Michigan State kicker concerning the area purpose he made towards the Detroit Lions throughout his rookie season with the Chicago Bears — he was met with quizzical disbelief. 

“I can’t imagine that was you,” Edinger’s good friend stated. “You ruined it for us.”

Edinger’s 54-yard line drive with 2 seconds left in a Christmas Eve sport on the Pontiac Silverdome despatched the Bears to a 23-20 upset of the Lions on the ultimate Sunday of the 2000 common season. 

The kick knocked the Lions out of the playoffs and ushered in one of the most disastrous eras in NFL history, an period that Edinger stated he nonetheless will get blamed for a handful of instances a yr.

The Lions employed Matt Millen as common supervisor two weeks later, fired Gary Moeller as interim coach and gained simply 31 video games over the following eight seasons, the worst eight-year stretch in fashionable NFL historical past.

Within the 19 years since Edinger’s kick sailed by the uprights, the Lions have made the playoffs simply 3 times and didn’t win a single postseason sport.

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Their drought with out a playoff victory now stands at 10,000 days, since a Jan. 5, 1992, win over the Dallas Cowboys.

It’s the second longest lively streak within the NFL behind the Cincinnati Bengals, whose final playoff win got here a season earlier, on Jan. 6, 1991. And in tracing its origins, it’s the product of a handful of interconnected occasions like Edinger’s area purpose, Barry Sanders’ abrupt retirement and the karmic penalty flag that wasn’t within the 2015 playoffs.

‘One participant away’

When the Lions met the Cowboys within the division spherical of the 1992 playoffs, it was thought-about a conflict of two of the NFL’s rising powers.

The Cowboys had been simply starting to reap the rewards of the Herschel Walker commerce with Troy Aikman at quarterback (although Steve Beuerlein began that playoff sport), Emmitt Smith at operating again and Michael Irvin at broad receiver, and the Lions had Sanders and Herman Moore on offense, the makings of a superb offensive line and a younger nucleus on protection led by Professional Bowlers Jerry Ball, Bennie Blades and Chris Spielman.

The Lions beat the Cowboys handily in the midst of the 1991 common season, and so they dominated the playoff rematch on the Silverdome, 38-6. Erik Kramer opened the scoring with a 31-yard landing go to Willie Inexperienced early within the first quarter, Barry Sanders closed it with a 47-yard landing run late within the fourth, and the Lions celebrated by dousing then-head coach Wayne Fontes with Gatorade on the sector.

Fontes implored his workforce after a blowout loss to Washington early within the season to go searching the RFK Stadium locker room and keep in mind the sensation as a result of they’d be again for a playoff sport, and positive sufficient the Lions confronted Washington once more for the appropriate to go to the Tremendous Bowl.

The sport wasn’t notably shut. Washington gained, 41-10. However the Lions trailed by solely a landing at halftime and let the sport slip away with a tough third quarter. Washington scored factors on three of its first 4 possessions within the second half (and missed a area purpose on its fourth), whereas the Lions had a area purpose blocked and threw an interception that was returned for a landing.

Nonetheless, the Lions left the season feeling good about their probabilities to maintain playoff success, and even now gamers look again and surprise what may have been.

In 1992, the Lions gained simply 5 video games and completed final within the division. In 1993, they gained the NFC Central Division however misplaced a wildcard sport to the Inexperienced Bay Packers when Sterling Sharpe ran free behind William White and Kevin Scott to catch a 40-yard landing go broad open at the back of the tip zone.

The Lions made the playoffs as a wildcard once more the following two years, however bumped into superior groups each instances. By 1996, age and free company had began to decimate the roster, and Fontes was fired after a 5-11 season.

“For those who maintain that nucleus collectively, there’s no telling how far we’d have pushed the envelope as a result of that very same Dallas Cowboys workforce that we annihilated that sport (within the playoffs), what occurred in ‘93? In ‘93 they win the Tremendous Bowl,” Blades stated in 2016. “In ’94, they win the Tremendous Bowl. You at all times say, ‘OK, how’d the workforce that we annihilate, (how’d) they get it proper?’ They maintain the core and so they add what they want.”

The Lions misplaced beginning guards Mike Utley and Eric Andolsek throughout and after the 1991 season, Utley to a paralyzing harm that ended his profession and Andolsek to a tragic loss of life when he was hit by a truck whereas working in his yard. Fontes stated the loss of life of his brother, Len, to a coronary heart assault in Could 1992 was one other contributing issue to the workforce’s incapability to construct off that ’91 season, and core gamers Ball, Spielman and Lomas Brown had been gone by the point the 1996 season rolled round.

“Our group had a shot,” Fontes informed me a couple of years in the past. “We had an opportunity to win all of it, and I actually imagine this in my coronary heart, had we not misplaced my brother, Utley and Andolsek, and the yr we went to the championship sport I feel we misplaced six nice gamers, we’d have had an opportunity to go to the Tremendous Bowl. We had been one participant away. One away. And we’d have gained two or three Tremendous Bowls.”

Barry bolts

When Fontes was fired as each the winningest and losingest coach in franchise historical past, the Lions changed him with a decidedly totally different character as head coach, Bobby Ross, in 1997.

Whereas Fontes was identified for his easygoing nature, Ross was a disciplinarian who got here to the Lions with a observe file of success. He by no means had a shedding season in his 5 years as San Diego Chargers coach and took that group to the Tremendous Bowl in 1995.

In Detroit, the Lions earned a wildcard berth in Ross’ first season as coach, when Sanders rushed for a franchise-record 2,053 yards. A yr later, the Lions regressed to 5-11 and Sanders matched a profession low at four.Three yards per carry.

Sanders retired abruptly just before the 1999 season, and lots of have pointed to Ross’ presence as a motive why. William Sanders, Barry’s father, was critical of both Ross and then-offensive coordinator Sylvester Croom months earlier than his son’s retirement, although Barry himself has disputed that Ross was a think about his choice.

Regardless of the motive, when Sanders left the workforce on the eve of coaching camp that summer season, it despatched the group into a daunting tailspin.

The Lions, with Gus Frerotte and Charlie Batch splitting quarterback duties and Greg Hill as their main rusher, one way or the other went Eight-Eight that season and made the playoffs as a wildcard after shedding their remaining 4 video games of the common season.

They acquired trucked by outdated nemesis Washington once more within the playoffs, 27-13, then skilled extra tumult in 2000. Ross resigned halfway by the season, Gary Moeller took over as head coach, and the Lions entered their Week 17 sport towards the Chicago Bears in want of a win to achieve the postseason.

Jason Hanson tied the sport on a 26-yard area purpose with two minutes to play, then the Lions watched helplessly as Edinger blasted the game-winner and a kick he nonetheless regards as “one of the vital memorable” of his profession for “what it did simply to impact the 2 groups after which the Lions period shifting ahead.”

“I assume once they made the sector purpose that was Mr. Ford’s breaking level with us,” stated Larry Lee, a Lions government within the ‘90s who was let go within the purge after Edinger’s kick. “I feel if he (misses) that area purpose we stick round and no Millen, finally, and that sort of factor. So yeah, that area purpose meant quite a bit to lots of us.”

The Millen years

There’s not a lot to say about Millen’s tenure as common supervisor that you just don’t know already. Fairly merely, it was one of many darkest intervals any workforce has skilled in NFL historical past, and after being aggressive for many of the ‘90s, it’s the most important motive why the Lions are at 10,000 days and counting at present.

In Millen’s seven-plus seasons as GM, from 2001 till he was fired three video games into the 2008 season, the Lions by no means as soon as had a profitable file and by no means completed larger than third place in their very own (principally four-team) division.

The Lions had top-10 draft picks yearly from 2002-07, and so they spent most of that point chasing one mistake after one other. Joey Harrington. Charles Rogers. Roy Williams. Mike Williams. Ernie Sims. And eventually, success within the type of the best receiver in franchise historical past, Calvin Johnson.

Among the many future Corridor of Famers the Lions handed on throughout these years: Andre Johnson, Ben Roethlisberger and DeMarcus Ware, who Millen actually had on the phone earlier than having a last-minute change of coronary heart and deciding on a first-round receiver (Mike Williams) for the third straight draft.

A four-time Tremendous Bowl champion as a participant, Millen really turned down a number of overtures to affix the Lions earlier than leaving the published sales space for the entrance workplace in 2001. He detailed the Lions’ pursuit of him in a 2013 interview about William Clay Ford’s 50th anniversary of shopping for the workforce.

Millen has admitted he was in over his head as general manager, and his errors left the workforce with a dreadful roster that took years to rebuild.

In 2008, the Lions grew to become the primary workforce to go Zero-16 in NFL historical past, once they had a minus-249 level differential for the complete season. 

Millen wasn’t round to see the tip of that yr, however he left the group with a parting reward that would in the future be the rationale the Lions’ playoff winless streak ends — or, relying in your viewpoint, is probably a contributing issue to why it’s continued.

Within the 2009 draft, the Lions, led by Millen’s substitute and his former high lieutenant, Martin Mayhew, took quarterback Matthew Stafford with the No. 1 total decide. Stafford, coming into Yr 11 this fall, holds each Lions passing file possible however is Zero-Three within the playoffs.

Flag soccer

The Lions are Zero-9 within the playoffs since that 1992 win over the Cowboys. Of the 122 different groups within the 4 main American skilled sports activities, the Bengals and Washington Nationals (previously the Montreal Expos) are the one ones to not win a playoff sport or collection, within the case of baseball, basketball and hockey, in that span.

But when not for these pesky Cowboys, the Lions’ drought would have ended 1,600 days in the past.

On Jan. four, 2015, the Lions misplaced a wildcard sport to the Cowboys in controversial vogue when officials threw and then picked up a penalty flag halfway by the fourth quarter.

The Cowboys chipped away on the Lions’ 17-7 lead, first with a DeMarco Murray 1-yard landing run, then with a Dan Bailey 51-yard area purpose, and so they trailed simply 20-17 when Stafford threw incomplete to Brandon Pettigrew on third-and-1 from the Dallas 46 with Eight:25 to play.

Again decide Lee Dyer referred to as Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchens for go interference, however head linesman Jerry Bergman overturned the decision insisting he had a better angle on the play.

The Lions punted on fourth down, a shank of a kick that went simply 10 yards, and the Cowboys adopted with the game-winning landing drive, changing a fourth-and-6 and two third-and-longs.

“Simply one other missed name, missed alternative the place referees, I don’t actually know what they’re taking a look at generally,” Bush stated earlier this yr.

The overturned penalty isn’t why the Lions misplaced that sport — they fumbled twice within the remaining 2:10 with a possibility to drive and tie or take the lead — and it’s not why the streak of sorrow has reached 10,000 days.

Taken collectively, although, that flag, plus Edinger’s kick, plus Millen’s rent, plus Sharpe’s catch, plus Sanders’ shock retirement — plus dozens of different moments huge and small — assist clarify why the Lions’ marathon of distress continues to be going sturdy at present.

Comply with Dave Birkett on Twitter @davebirkett