The Lions have one more exhibition game — against the Bills in Buffalo tomorrow night. If starting quarterback Jon Kitna plays one down, then head coach Rod Marinelli ought to be fired.
Actually, firing him would be too good for him. The coach should be tortured — forced to watch a Facts of Life marathon, or some other heinous thing. Then we should consider some concrete shoes and a dunk in the Detroit River.
The Lions might not be all that in 2008, but they will finish somewhere south of the equator if Kitna goes down for any length of time. He’s no Joe Montana or Johnny Unitas, but he’s the best the Lions have, easily, behind center. And his three cameos in the pre-season, against other teams’ starters, suggest that he’s more than ready to go when the curtain rises for real, September 7 in Atlanta.
So why tempt fate and play Kitna against the Bills? What good can come from such an appearance? But plenty can go wrong.
Let me take you back to 1979. The Lions were coming off a 1978 season where they finished strong, winning six of their last nine games. Leading the charge was former World Football League QB Gary Danielson, from Dearborn Divine Child and Purdue University. Danielson peaked against the Vikings on the final Saturday of the season, throwing and running the Lions to a 45-14 win. Some so-called experts predicted some big things for the Lions in ’79.
Then came the final exhibition game, in Baltimore.
Danielson, needlessly appearing in the game, scrambled out of trouble. Only, he didn’t quite make it. He went down in a heap after being caught, and mangled his knee. Out for the season — done, after a meaningless play in a meaningless game. Then, suddenly, the Lions’ regular season turned meaningless.
Veteran Joe Reed was elevated to no. 1, but Reed was about as mobile as a telephone pole, and before long he was gone, too, to injury. That left the Lions’ offense in the rookie hands of Jeff Komlo. The team finished 2-14, with Danielson on crutches and Reed recuperating. Danielson returned in 1980, and the Lions finished 9-7. It was no coincidence.
Now let me take you to 2003. Final pre-season game. Running back James Stewart, playing for God knows what reason, goes down with a career ending (ultimately) shoulder injury.
The Lions, as usual, have no capable backup quarterback — no veteran who can step in and run the show. The roster shows Dan Orlovsky, an injured Drew Stanton, and recently signed Drew Henson. The thought of Kitna going down ought to make your skin crawl.
So why there’s even any question whether Kitna should suit up and enter the game in Buffalo tomorrow night, is anyone’s guess. I don’t even want him to trot on the field, only to be called back to the sideline. He may suffer a season-ending toe stub, with the Lions’ luck. Certainly bring Kitna along for the plane ride, and let him help out on the sideline, baseball cap and earphone adorning his bald head. But don’t let him anywhere near a huddle, unless it’s the post-game prayer.
According to the papers, Marinelli hasn’t confirmed yet whether Kitna will play tomorrow, nor how much, if he does. Again, there hasn’t been a no-brainer this obvious since Moses pondered whether to part the Red Sea.
Yes, it’s true that (God forbid) Kitna could go down in the regular season opener. But losing a QB, or any front line player, in a game that counts in the standings is a lot easier to swallow than to lose one in any game played before Labor Day. And yes, Kitna has proven to be durable; he has started all 32 games since he’s been a Lion. He’s barely missed any playing time due to injury (last year’s concussion against the Vikings notwithstanding). Still, only bad things can happen when you play your starting quarterback in the fourth and final pre-season game — the Mother of All Meaningless Games. The only players who the fourth pre-season game means anything to are those fighting for roster spots. With the trio of quarterbacks below him on the depth chart, Jon Kitna hardly has to wage THAT battle. So don’t play him. Not for one down. Don’t even let him put his helmet on.
The head coach is no dumb-dumb. He should get that, shouldn’t he?