The pro football coach never smiles on the sidelines. It’s the one facial contortion that he doesn’t allow himself.
Even when others are around him, laughing and slapping backs and fists, the football coach stays in character, looking concerned even when the score and the time remaining belie any thoughts of a comeback by the other team.
The football coach is never happy.
Most of the time.
In the waning minutes of Sunday’s football game at Ford Field, his team comfortably—even for the Lions—ahead of the St. Louis Rams, 44-6, Lions coach Jim Schwartz stepped out of character briefly and allowed the corners of his mouth to curl upward.
He shook hands with those around him, the mouth officially in a smile. This time, when he removed his headset, signifying the end of his coaching for the day, it wasn’t with a sigh of defeat and disgust. It was with “validation.” The word is Schwartz’s.
“Even though we had played well in spots, we had never validated it with a victory. I think today was good validation,” Schwartz told reporters afterward.
It was a victory for the Lions–just their fourth in their past 45 games. But they have just about as much time as every other NFL team has to enjoy it—that is, 24 hours, tops.
There can be no parade down Woodward Avenue. No parties well into the night. A Lions win would seem to lend itself to such celebration, but today it’s back to work, to prepare for the big, bad New York Football Giants.
When you’ve lost as many football games as the Lions have this century, it’s no longer about learning how to handle losing. It’s, how do you handle winning?
The Lions have won a football game. So how do they handle it?
There are dozens of players who barely know what to do with themselves today. They won’t have to watch film of Sunday’s game and wince, or sink into their seats, hoping no one will see them. They won’t have to explain to the media types what went wrong out there.
Not much went wrong, that’s for sure.
The Lions manhandled the Rams, beating them on offense, on defense, and on special teams. For once the other team looked like, well, the Lions—-what with the dropped passes and the shoddy tackling and the shaky play of an overwhelmed, rookie quarterback.
The NFL continues to amaze me, with the difference seven days can make to so many of its teams. Last Sunday the Rams won their second straight, totally shutting down the Seattle Seahawks, 20-3. They came into Detroit with what appeared to be a stubborn defense and a rising young quarterback on a mini-roll.
Then they go out and lay an ostrich egg on the Ford Field turf.
It’s one reason why only a fool bets on pro football games.
The Lions go into New York next Sunday and only fools would pick them to win, despite what happened yesterday. The Lions could have beaten the Rams 84-6 and they’d still be sizable underdogs to Eli Manning’s bunch.
Yesterday’s game is ancient history. The Lions will have their hands completely full with the Giants’ relentless pass rush. Or so it would seem.
For one Sunday, it was the Lions’ turn to laugh, slap backs, and have fun on the sidelines. It was the other team’s fans’ turn to look at the game through parted fingers, hands on their faces. It was the other team’s turn to have a long flight back home.
But there won’t be any true progress made until the Lions can string a few of these gems together. It’s the next step in the process—not only to win a football game, but to respond to winning with more winning. The great teams put victories behind them just as quickly as they do losses, if not quicker.
It was the great Bill Parcells who once said it best, talking to NFL Films.
“I was walking from the sidelines to the tunnel after a quote, ‘big win’,” Parcells said, describing his early head coaching career. “And before I got to our locker room I was already thinking about our next game..”
So you can understand why the pro football head coach never smiles on the sidelines. He’s the chess player who gets his opponent into checkmate, only to have another man waiting to play him right away.
Schwartz allowed himself the smallest of grins as the clock ticked down on the Rams yesterday.
It didn’t last long, unsurprisingly.