The battered and bruised quarterback laid on the turf of the Pontiac Silverdome, dropped for yet another “sack”—that word coined by Deacon Jones, who unofficially probably had more of them than any lineman in pro football history.
The boos rained down as the quarterback sat up, on his fanny, legs extended, his helmet askew. It looked like he was contemplating whether to get up for another huddle.
You couldn’t blame him.
The Lions’ porous offensive line was getting its quarterback killed.
It’s said that the most popular quarterback on the team is the guy who’s not playing. Unless your team is blessed to have Brady, Rodgers or Wilson.
Before that, Unitas, Montana, Starr, Staubach, Bradshaw.
Otherwise, the backup with the pristine uniform, holding the clipboard, is the fans’ darling.
Until he, too, ends up flat on his back, or starts tossing wobbly passes to the other team.
Greg Landry was that mystified Lions quarterback lying on the Silverdome turf. This was in 1978.
Landry was in his 11th year as Lions signal caller, and every year between 1968-75, it was all Landry could do to stave off Bill Munson for the starter’s job.
Munson, most of the time, posed a greater threat to Landry’s job security than anything else.
But in ’78, Munson was long gone and Landry was the unquestioned starter.
Until he got sacked once too often.
Landry wasn’t immobile. In his prime, Greg Landry was often times the Lions’ leading rusher for the afternoon. Once, in 1970, Landry turned a quarterback draw into a 76-yard gallop—still the longest run by a Lions QB in franchise history.
But by 1978, Landry had lost some of that elusiveness, and thus he was easier fodder for the unfettered pass rushers from the opposing team.
The Lions’ O-line was a shambles.
But the boos rained down, and the target of the fans’ ire seemed to be Greg Landry.
They wanted the guy who was standing on the sidelines with the clipboard. The same old refrain.
Gary Danielson was a World Football League survivor and a graduate of Divine Child High School in Dearborn. He took his talents to Purdue University before bouncing around in pro football’s back alleys.
Danielson ended up with the Lions in 1976 and he watched from the sidelines as Landry got the snot beat out of him.
Landry was no stranger to the snot beatings. In 1975, on Monday Night Football, in the first regular season game ever played at the (then) Pontiac Metropolitan Stadium, Landry was sacked 11 times—eleven—by the Dallas Cowboys.
The fans basically booed Greg Landry out of Detroit/Pontiac.
They wanted the no-name Gary Danielson.
Danielson had a fine game against the Minnesota Vikings late in the 1978 season. He threw for five touchdowns in a 45-14 thumping of the Purple People Eaters.
The legend of Gary Danielson had been forged!
The following year, in the Lions’ last exhibition tune-up, Danielson was sacked (naturally) and blew out his knee in Baltimore. He was lost for the season.
Two years later, in 1981, Danielson was being booed. The fans wanted another no-name: Eric Hipple.
Hipple had a monster game against the Bears on MNF in 1981, cementing his “legacy.”
Two years later, Danielson had wrested the starting job away from Hipple.
Two years after that—this is 1985 now in case you’ve lost track—Hipple was once again the starter. Except that he was being displaced by newly-acquired veteran Joe Ferguson.
The Lions’ QB carousel, which began almost as soon as Bobby Layne was traded to Pittsburgh in 1958, spun with impunity for 51 years.
Matt Stafford doesn’t ride the carousel. If he does, he’s the only horse on it.
Stafford will enter his eighth year as the Lions’ no. 1 quarterback this fall. After injuries shot down his first two seasons, he’s been as durable as they come.
That durability, however, hasn’t translated into any substantial team success: just two playoff games (both losses, naturally).
Stafford has been booed. He could probably give even Greg Landry a tutorial on being booed. And on being sacked.
Detroit is filled with two kinds of football fans: those who love Stafford and defend him to the death, and those who want to run him out of town, forthwith.
The latter group is nothing that some playoff wins can’t silence.
But with Calvin Johnson gone into retirement, how can Stafford deliver, when he couldn’t do so with Johnson grabbing passes that only Johnson could grab?
Easy. All Matt Stafford has to do, is make everyone around him better.
Not so easy, you say?
You think that the premier quarterbacks of today’s game built their legacies throwing to nothing but Pro Bowl guys and future Hall of Famers?
Last summer, the Green Bay Packers lost Jordy Nelson, their glue-handed receiver, for the season to a knee injury.
The followers of the NFL were aghast.
What will Aaron Rodgers do without Jordy Nelson?
The thought was enough to turn the cheese in Wisconsin, green.
Here’s what happened to the Packers in 2015.
The Pack went out, sans Nelson, and won their first six games.
After a wobbly patch, Rodgers and company picked themselves up and made the playoffs, as so many Rodgers-led teams have done.
Matt Stafford has Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, a shaky tight end and a bunch of pluggers to throw the ball to, in Johnson’s absence.
With apologies to the above mentioned, there’s not a Hall of Famer in the group. Maybe not even a Pro Bowler.
But with this group of receivers, Stafford has to make chicken salad instead of chicken you-know-what.
There are plenty of folks who don’t think Matt Stafford has it in him, to make those around him better.
But if he doesn’t, the Lions are sunk.
I believe that Johnson’s retirement might be the best thing that could have happened to Matt Stafford.
Sometimes when you lose a major weapon, no matter what job you have, it makes you better. Certainly, more diverse.