Greg Eno

Archive for the ‘Bobby Layne’ Category

For One Week Anyway, Kitna Took Us Down Memory Layne

In Bobby Layne, Jon Kitna, Lions on September 23, 2007 at 2:25 pm

When Jennifer Hammond reported it from the sidelines last Sunday, I couldn’t help but form my lips into a curved grin.

Until then, all we had seen of Lions quarterback Jon Kitna for much of the second quarter and throughout the third, and into the fourth, was him standing on the sidelines, hands tucked against his shoulder pads, watching. Just like me, in my living room. Why, he didn’t need shoulder pads to do that.

Kitna assumed that pose, which seemed to never change whenever the Fox Sports folks chose to show him to us, thanks to being knocked woozy by a pack of nasty Minnesota Vikings. And he watched, helpless, as we all did, while backup J.T. O’Sullivan, bless his inexperienced heart, gamely tried to keep the Lions in the game.

But then, midway through the fourth quarter, the Fox cameras again captured Kitna. And this time he wasn’t merely watching. He was throwing, warming up, though still with a slight hint of “Wha?” on his face.

That’s when The Hammer, the ever-resourceful Hammond, gave her report.

Seems as though Kitna, who was obviously warming up to return to the ballgame, which by now was tied, 17-17, had a message for his offensive line.

“Just give me some time,” Kitna told his blockers, according to Jennifer.

That’s when the grin spread my lips.

Bobby Layne, old #22, stepped into a Lions huddle back in 1953. At stake was only the championship of the entire football world. The Lions were backed up, the old “H”-style goalposts in their own end zone crowding them for space, with just a few minutes left. And the Lions trailed the Browns, 16-10, at Briggs Stadium. No pressure.

Layne, according to legend (and supported by eyewitnesses), looked into the huddle. But mainly he looked at his linemen – the men charged with protecting the irascible QB. It was a job that could be hazardous to your health – if you were a lineman. Layne had been known to kick the shins of blockers who failed to block successfully.

“Alraht…y’all block and ole Bobby’ll pass ya raht to the championship.”

Just give him some time, in other words. In Jon Kitna’s words, last Sunday.

Kitna was battling the after effects of a possible mild concussion. Layne, on that December Sunday, might have been battling the after effects of too much Cutty Sark the night before.

The line blocked for Layne, Bobby zipped in some passes, and the Lions marched toward glory. They won, on a Layne TD pass in the closing seconds. It was the Lions’ second straight championship.

Layne would kick the shins of blockers who blew an assignment

So here was Kitna last Sunday, after simply asking for some time to find his myriad of receivers in the Mike Martz offense. The line blocked – most of the time. And when it did, Kitna completed passes. And when it didn’t, Kitna ran, hurling his body toward first down markers, completely without regard to his own health. Or maybe completely out of his mind. Concussion and all, you know.

Kitna showed no regard for his own health against the Vikes

In the fourth quarter, Roy Williams caught a pass inside the Vikings’ 20-yard line and made a move toward the end zone. But he fumbled. The Vikings recovered. End of that drive. Layne might have placed another kick into that receiver’s shins. But Kitna is too nice for all that. Plus – concussion and all.

In overtime, Kitna was at it again, running if necessary, throwing when he had the time. Then, a handoff to Brian Calhoun gained 17 yards, well within field goal range. Moments later, Jason Hanson booted the game-winner, after missing a longer such kick late in regulation.

The Lions had won this crazy, turnover and mistake-filled game. A game they would have lost in years past – and had, quite often.

Kitna later talked about the “miracle” of his return to health on the sidelines as the Lions soldiered on without him. Deeply religious, it was the best explanation he could come up with – for how he could be concussed one moment, and un-concussed the next. At least, un-concussed enough to run around recklessly when the blockers needed their shins kicked.

“Alraht…y’all block and ole Bobby’ll pass ya raht to the championship.”

“Just give me some time.”

Fifty-four years, just about, separated those two lines from Lions quarterbacks. Maybe something similar was uttered in between by one of the unfortunates trying to lead the team to victory. Somehow I doubt it.

“That was special,” Lions coach Rod Marinelli told the enthralled press after the game about Kitna’s heroics. “He’s tough. This is a tough city, and it has a tough quarterback representing it.”

“It was a miracle,” Kitna kept saying.

His teammates raved about Kitna afterward. Just as Layne’s did, routinely, in the glory years of the 1950s.

In Week 1, the Lions gave away a big lead, fell behind in the fourth quarter, and appeared ready to roll over, as in years past. But Kitna, this time un-concussed, led a game-winning drive.

He did it again in Week 2. In overtime.

In both games, Kitna threw interceptions in the other team’s end zone, both times in the first quarter. It was said that Layne, a master at quarterbacking, wouldn’t put much stock into the first half. He used it as a big experiment. He would try passes and plays, sometimes just to see if they would work. He threw interceptions. But Layne only cared to keep the Lions close, so they could pull it out at the end. Mostly, they did. And Kitna, thru two weeks of the 2007 season, has committed costly first half turnovers, only to make up for them in the end.

Two images strike me as I bang out these words. One is of Scott Mitchell, lying prone on the ground as if he’d been shot, during a playoff game at Tampa Bay. Mitchell, all 6-foot-6 of him, appeared ready for his last rites. Then the TV replays showed us what happened, and the play that put Mitchell six feet above where he acted as if he belonged, was nothing more than a routine NFL hit, it seemed. Yet Mitchell lay motionless, for several minutes, before getting up and walking off the field. It was hardly an inspiring moment for his teammates. They used a lot of words to describe Scott Mitchell in Detroit. “Tough” wasn’t one of them.

The other image is Kitna, last Sunday, scrambling for a first down. He ran without direction, but with definite purpose. He didn’t use the safe move of the NFL quarterback – sliding to the turf to avoid injury. He ran like the old time quarterback – 100% of his body available for hitting. And when he got hit – which he did, hard – he bounced right back up, like a super ball. The anti-Mitchell.

For now, anyway, the Lions appear to finally have a QB who has the moxie and sense of drama as Bobby Layne. So I must agree with Jon Kitna.

It’s a miracle.