There are the buffoon owners of sports teams. The Mark Cubans and Jerry Joneses of the world. Those bozos who make a spectacle of themselves, whether at courtside or on the sidelines. Jawing with officials, stomping their feet when things don’t go their team’s way. There are the bellicose owners, those insufferable boobs who whine and publicly castigate their players, their coaches. The George Steinbrenners and the Al Davises of the world. You just have to know that if Donald Trump were to own a team, he would be in one of these categories.
This morning, I must say that I’m rather jealous of fans whose teams are owned by the misfits, the jerks, the bozos.
For at least with the Cubans and Joneses, you know that, if nothing else, they care.
It’s getting tiresome to hear, through the grapevine, of how much Bill Ford Sr. cares about winning. It’s old to rehash how nice he is, how terrific of an owner he is to work for. Irksome to wring your hands about his being loyal to a fault, wondering how much damage that’s doing in the long-term.
If only he would talk to us.
Ford may be the most frustrating and maddening of all the sports owners. This is because he is, for all intents and purposes, an absentee owner. Some absentees own from afar. The Red Wings were owned before Mike Ilitch by Bruce Norris, who toward the end of his reign was holed up in Florida, rarely showing his drunken face while his team burned. Even the Pistons, before the frequently-seen Bill Davidson, were owned by Fred Zollner, The Z. Zollner was another absentee, who had attended one or two games, total, over the last couple years of his ownership.
You never heard a peep from Norris or Zollner. It was creepy, in a way.
Ford is creepy.
There were reports that Ford was at the field named after his family yesterday as his team vomited and defecated all over the gridiron in a shameful effort in the annual Thanksgiving Day game. A 47-10 game that, when you think about it, wasn’t even as close as the score indicated. No telling what the Tennessee Titans would have done to the Lions if they put forth a maximum effort in the second half, after a 35-10 halftime lead satiated them, like men content after gorging themselves on turkey and all the fixings. Still, the Titans, in their feast-induced stupor, managed to hold the Lions scoreless while tacking on four field goals.
But Ford, as usual, wasn’t available to the media — before or after the game. Some owners make the media available to them, whether the media likes it or not. They seek out the nearest tape recorder, the nearest TV camera they can find, and go off. Can you imagine Jones, the Cowboys owner, if his team had laid such an egg on the national stage? You’d have to have a straitjacket at the ready. And a tranquilizer gun.
Ford has never, that I can recall from 38 years of following and covering the team, displayed any passion, publicly, about his football team. The only confirmation we get of his supposed disdain for losing comes from those close to him. If it weren’t from these reports, which are like those you got from the front during pre-television wars, we wouldn’t have a clue as to what Ford thinks. We wouldn’t know if a display such as the one perpetrated against Lions fans and indeed, the nation, yesterday bothered Ford in the least bit. Actually, when it comes to yesterday, we don’t know. The reports from the front haven’t come in yet.
If I owned a football team, and if my product was so awful that the fans were so lethargic as to not even boo the carnage, and if I saw my stadium empty out shortly after halftime like sand draining from the top half of an hourglass, I’d walk out to the 50-yard line, demand a microphone, and issue a public apology — making sure the cameras were rolling so it could be preserved for posterity.
Ray Kroc did something similar once. Kroc, the McDonald’s hamburger magnate, once owned the San Diego Padres. And after another horrible performance by his team, Kroc angrily commandeered the public address microphone and told the few fans remaining that he was sorry. They laughed at Ray Kroc a lot, but nobody could accuse him of not caring.
The biggest indictment of any team owner in pro sports isn’t that he’s incompetent. Isn’t that he’s a stooge. Isn’t that he is an embarrassment to his constituency. Isn’t that he meddles and micro-manages.
The biggest indictment is that he doesn’t care.
True or not, that’s the impression most Lions fans have of Bill Ford. Actually, they’ve had that impression for years now, maybe even decades. He doesn’t care. He doesn’t truly care if his team wins two games or ten. Doesn’t really make a difference to him if the Lions make the playoffs or not. Those close to him will scoff at this notion. No, no, they say — Ford cares. Boy, does he care. Losing grinds him. He wants a Super Bowl in the worst way. Well, they got the “worst way” part right.
OK, so if Ford cares, why doesn’t he talk to us?
If he only knew how much it would mean to the fan base if Ford simply spoke to them. Just went on record, telling of his feelings and his vision and what all this losing does to him. Oh, how they would appreciate it if he would acknowledge that the product is unacceptable, and even though he hasn’t been able to get it right in 44 years of ownership, by God he’s going to keep trying until he does.
Sources close to Ford say this is an actual photo taken of him
It wouldn’t, at all, make up for all the years of lousy football in this town, but I guarantee you it would soothe some feelings.
It would be even better if such public words were accompanied by a ziggying given to coach Rod Marinelli. A combo platter: canning the coach and declaring outrage of the situation at the same time.
When Matt Millen was finally relieved of his duties, Ford again was holed up. Nothing came from him beyond a written statement. Another opportunity wasted to show the fans this alleged care and passion we keep hearing about from those ever-reliable “sources close to Ford.”
The Lions fans clearly are not all that hard to please. That’s made evident every year, when Ford Field is routinely sold out despite the won/loss record. Recently, a sellout streak was ended that is normally reserved for the truly successful franchises. Not for those who are in the throes of a 31-93 mind boggler. That’s a .250 winning percentage, folks. Three losses for every win. For nearly eight years. Truly mind boggling.
So these not-too-hard to please fans would absolutely eat it up if Ford would go public, even in the form of an impromptu presser, and muse about his football team. They may not be totally satisfied with his words, but just the fact that he even uttered some would be enough for a lot of the base. But he would need to do it more than just once a year. And, of course, it would still need to be accompanied by sound football decisions.
I’m not asking Bill Ford to stand on the sidelines and react like a normal fan to the ups and downs of a typical football Sunday. I’m not asking him to berate officials and humiliate anyone. I’m just asking, begging, for one thing, and one thing only.
Talk to us, Mr. Ford. That’s all.