Someday, they’ll have Ford Field’s capacity up to a quarter million, for as many people who will claim to have been there. The Cleveland Browns will be defending league champions. Matthew Stafford will have been carried onto the field on a stretcher. Brandon Pettigrew will have one-handed the football, his body parallel to the turf.
That will pretty much be the gist of the re-telling of what went on Sunday, several years hence.
The Lions beat the Browns, 38-37 in what was deemed to be their last “winnable” game of the season. And we have six weeks of this stuff to go yet.
Yes, this was a “winnable” game, alright. Just like how your Lotto ticket is winnable. Or Tom DeLay’s chances on “Dancing with the Stars.”
The Lions had 106 seconds and 88 yards to cover, with no timeouts, or else they’d have lost to a Browns team that scored, in one game, nearly half of the total points they’d scored for the entire season to this point.
The Lions don’t win games like that. They don’t even get first downs in situations like that. Remember the final “drive” against the Rams a few weeks ago? Someone forgot to take the transmission out of reverse in that one.
The Lions don’t drive down the field and score game-winning touchdowns. They never have. They’ve been the anti-Elway in that regard.
Someone ought to take this kid Stafford and knock some sense into him. How dare he think that he can pull off such miracles while wearing Honolulu Blue and Silver?
Maybe there IS something to this whole went-to-the-same-high-school-as-Bobby-Layne thing, after all.
Ole Bobby would have been proud. So would Fran Tarkenton.
It wasn’t enough that Stafford zipped and zapped the Lions down the field, gobbling up first downs like Pac-Man. It wasn’t enough that he got the Lions into a manageable situation—the Browns’ 32-yard line—with one shot left in his holster.
It was impossible not to think of Tarkenton when Stafford ran around the Lions’ backfield, faking one throw after the other, as the clock flipped to 0:00. This isn’t the NBA, thank the Lord, where you have to have the sphere in the air before time runs out. The NFL allows play to continue until it’s over with, which in this case took almost as long as Magic Johnson’s talk show run.
Stafford stopped more than once, planted his feet, and made like he was going to throw, but then he would change his mind and dart in the other direction, like the Lions were paying him by the hour.
Then, he could avoid the Browns no longer and heaved the pigskin, just before being firmly planted into the Ford Field turf, his shoulder used as a battering ram against the playing surface.
You know the rest. Hell, the whole state knows it. They know it in Peoria and Butte and Spokane and Amarillo, too. Even the tripe masters in Bristol, CT got the word.
Pass interference. In the end zone. Another lovely NFL thing: the game can’t end on a defensive foul like that.
Here’s where it turns legendary.
Stafford was lying on his back, his left shoulder wrecked, while the Lions celebrated their officiating luck. Center Dom Raiola delivered the news.
“We got PI in the end zone!,” Dom screamed to his prone quarterback.
“He was talking funny,” Raiola said afterward.
Yeah, you tend to do that when you’re lying mortally wounded.
See? There I go, embellishing the legend already.
Somewhere—not sure if up above or down below, knowing Bobby—Layne was smiling as Stafford, aided by a Browns timeout, bolted to his feet, like Cuba Gooding Jr. in “Jerry Maguire,” and ran back onto the field from the sidelines, where he was again lying prone moments earlier.
Stafford waved backup Daunte Culpepper—who had lined up under center before the Brownies took leave of their senses and called timeout—back to the bench. I can only think of a line uttered by Layne as he huddled the Lions prior to the game-winning drive in the waning minutes of the 1953 NFL Championship Game.
“Alright fellas,” Layne told his players, and it’s been confirmed. “Y’all block and Bobby’ll pass ya raght to the champeenship.”
Which is exactly what Bobby did.
So here’s this kid Stafford, with four TD passes already in his hip pocket—if he throws four of anything it’s usually interceptions, but don’t all rookie QBs?—and his shoulder is on fire and there’s one play to go, from the one-yard line.
It’s 1-8 vs. 1-8, for cripe’s sakes. But it’s a football game in the NFL and those things are lousy to lose when victory is so close.
Stafford throws the TD pass, his fifth, to fellow rook Brandon Pettigrew and the kid QB immediately looks to the bench and motions to his lame left shoulder, the arm hanging limp from it. He’s shaking his head. He wasn’t the only one shaking his noggin.
Lions win, 38-37.
That didn’t happen yesterday. It couldn’t have. Next thing you’ll tell me is that Lucy let Charlie Brown kick the football. Jack and Jill made it down the hill OK after all. Dewey really did defeat Truman.
The Lions won a football game in dramatic, race-against-the-clock fashion. With no timeouts. On a break from the officials. With a rookie quarterback. After falling behind by 21 points in the first quarter.
Oh, stop! Enough telling tall tales!
Rudyard Kipling is dead. Aesop is long gone, too. You take that script to Hollywood and they’ll laugh, telling you that it wouldn’t play.
Rookie QB lies on the ground, uttering his dying words, and the sage veteran has to finish the job? Stafford might as well have been crumpled in a bunker, bombs and gunfire erupting all around him.
Then the kid hears “timeout Browns” on the “loudspeaker”—Stafford’s version in the post-game presser—and scrambles to his feet, puts his helmet on, and returns to battle.
They could make it into a war flick, if you get Hollywood to stop laughing at you long enough.
Lions 38, Browns 37.
Layne’s comeback in ‘53 was against the Browns, too, you know.