Published December 12, 2016
Isiah Thomas once spoke of the mystique of the Boston Celtics.
“To beat the Celtics, you’re not just beating a team,” Thomas said of the Pistons’ primary obstruction to greatness, starting in the mid-1980s and continuing throughout the rest of the decade. “You have to beat a mystique. You have to beat tradition. You have to beat leprechauns.
“The Celtics aren’t supposed to lose.”
The Celtics knocked the Pistons out of the playoffs in the conference semi-finals in 1985, and in the conference finals in 1987—the year of The Pass that Isiah himself made to Larry Bird in Game 5.
Isiah waxed about the Celtics in the above quote during the 1988 conference finals, in which the Pistons finally slayed their dragon in six games. The celebration that June evening at the Silverdome, when the Celtics were finally eliminated, rivaled that of winning the NBA Championship.
Center Bill Laimbeer brought a duffel bag into the Dome that night before the game. The reporters quizzed him about the bag’s contents.
“You’ll see,” Laimbeer said with that half-sneer, half-smirk of his.
As the Pistons went crazy in the locker room following the dispatching of the Celtics, Laimbeer revealed the contents of the duffel bag.
It was a sickle.
“You need to cut the head off the snake when it’s twitching,” Laimbeer said, expounding on Isiah’s ruminations about the Celtics.
The sickle was brought out to symbolize what the Pistons had finally done after years of torment by the guys in green and white.
Cut the head off the snake.
The Lions have been tormented by a team in green as well over the years.
The image is still too vivid of the Packers’ Sterling Sharpe left alone in the end zone at the Dome, and Brett Favre finding him for a late touchdown that knocked the Lions out of the playoffs after the 1993 season.
The next year, it was the Packers again, as they held the great Barry Sanders to minus-one yard rushing in the 1994 playoffs.
In 2011, the Lions went into Green Bay with a 10-5 record and a chance to secure a home playoff game. But the Packers, 14-1 and with nothing to play for, beat them—with a backup quarterback named Matt Flynn.
In 2013, the Packers were seemingly left for dead by the Lions after being destroyed in Detroit on Thanksgiving Day. The Lions appeared too far ahead in the division race to be caught.
But the Pack picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and went on one of their famous December charges while the Lions folded like a card table. The Packers won the division.
In 2014, the Lions again ended their regular season in Green Bay, marching into Lambeau Field with an 11-4 record that was matched by the Packers. The winner of the game would win the division and get a first round bye. The Packer, naturally, won.
In 2015 the Lions, making a late season charge of their own, had the Packers dead to rights on a Thursday night at Ford Field. But Aaron Rodgers beat them with a Hail Mary, thanks to a second chance at victory due to a silly personal foul on the previous play.
The Packers beat the Lions at home every year from 1992-2014.
It’s taken the Lions a lot longer to beat the Packers’ mystique than it took the Pistons to conquer the hated Celtics.
In fact, the Lions haven’t figured it out yet.
The football gods seem to have the Lions and Packers on yet another collision course with fate.
The Lions seem to have the division in control, as they did in 2013.
Their record is 9-4 while the Packers are lying in the weeds at 7-6.
But the Packers are making another one of their Mike McCarthy/Rodgers-led late-season charges. They’ve won three straight after a 4-6 start.
The Lions finish the regular season against—drum roll please—the Packers, at Ford Field.
It’s absolutely possible that the Lions, despite their five-game winning streak, will be 9-6 going into the Packers game. Road games at the Giants and Cowboys loom. And it’s just as possible that the Packers will also be 9-6.
The division could once again be squarely on the line in Week 17.
This time, the game will be in Detroit, but as noted above, the Packers’ mystique works in the Motor City as well as in the frozen tundra.
The Packers, based on their current winning streak, are twitching. The Lions may need to be the ones to lop off their heads, because Green Bay’s next two games are against the 3-10 Bears and the wobbly 7-6 Vikings.
Every Lions fan can certainly envision a division title being on the line at Ford Field on New Year’s Day.
And every Lions fan is conditioned to think that the Packers will be popping champagne bottles in their locker room afterward.
Why wouldn’t they think that?
The Lions have been tormented by the Packers, in one shape or another, since 1992. Actually, you could even go back 30 more years—to when the Lions coughed up a sure win in Green Bay in 1962, when a Lions win could have made them Western Division champs instead of the Pack.
Not once have the Lions beaten the Packers in any game that’s meant a hill of beans to the boys in Honolulu Blue and Silver.
And now QB Matthew Stafford has a bum finger on his throwing hand.
The snake from Green Bay is twitching.
Where’s Bill Laimbeer’s sickle when you need it?