By: Jeff Riger
As soon as I heard the news that Jeff Backus is calling it quits after 12 years with the Lions, I immediately started to wonder if he is Detroit’s biggest loser. Now when I say loser, I’m not trying to be mean or degrading, I just merely wonder if Backus, more than any other Detroiter has experienced the most losing in his career. This is not a knock on any player!
Backus had a great career, he was a warrior that played through injury, maintained one of the hardest positions in football and really never missed a game while doing it. Sure, he took his fair share of criticism and some was warranted but when you lose as much as his teams did, everybody at some point will take some heat for it.
So in honor of Backus retiring, I have decided to list my top 4 biggest Detroit losers. Before I get started I must warn you that this is my opinion and there will be very little fact involved. Just because a guy has a worse losing percentage then another will not necessarily mean he is a bigger loser. I have carefully taken into account the length of career, the level of awfulness the teams were and other general contributions.
So here goes…
4. Brian Elerbe-
I have no clue what Elerbe’s all time record was at Michigan and I don’t want to know. This time of year, looking up something that bad would for sure be bad karma for a Michigan team that is trying to make a run in the Big Ten Tournament. The reason Ellerbe makes this list is because he was without a doubt the worst coach that I have ever seen. He could not recruit with the exception of Jamal Crawford, he could not coach and he was partially the reason that Michigan became the laughing stock that it was for so many years. Sure, Ellerbe was the coach when the Wolverines won the schools only conference tournament but it’s what happened afterwards that lands him on this list. I know the program also suffered NCAA sanctions for the Ed Martin scandal as well but I truly believe that if Michigan had hired anybody but Ellerbe that the program would have rebounded a hell of a lot quicker than it did. I have always looked at it as if Michigan was helping the NCAA hurt them by giving that head coaching gig to Brian Ellerbe. By the way, just to prove that I did do some form of research, Ellerbe was 25-60 at Michigan, that’s a winning percentage of an embarrassing 0.294.
3. Jeff Backus-
Backus played and started in 191 games with the Lions and was a solid player. We all know about him starting his first 186 games in a row before a hamstring injury forced him to miss the Thanksgiving Day game this previous season. In 2011, Backus broke Hall of Fame cornerback Dick LeBeau’s team record when he made his 172nd consecutive start. The man was a rock and did a lot of things right. But he lost a ton as well and while the L’s were not all his fault he is definitely a part of it. Backus was 53-138 with the Lions and had a winning percentage of 0.38. Again, all the losing was not the veterans fault, but it is no doubt is part of his legacy. A lot of people will ask why Backus and not Jason Hanson? That’s a very good question but Hanson has at least got to play in numerous playoff games, Backus has played in one, and that is a contest that I assume he would quickly like to forget.
Now Backus did win a National Title with Michigan and was very successful in Ann Arbor but what happened with the Lions overshadows what happened with the Wolverines. In fact it is because of his success with Michigan that he is only 3rd on this list and not number one.
2. Matt Millen-
I didn’t want to put Matt Millen first because I thought it would be too obvious but he probably deserves to be there. Millen was a train wreck and the Lions turned off an entire generation of football fans while he was at the helm. During Millen’s despicable reign the Lions went 31 and 84 with a laughable winning percentage of .270. You know the stories, the outrage and all the bad that came with him at the helm. I feel like even mentioning him brings back all these memories that Lions fans wish they could forget so I’m sorry for that. Let’s just move on, shall we?
1. Bobby Higginson-
At first I believe Tiger fan liked Bobby Higginson. At the start he hustled, had a great arm and was the leader of a new core of Tiger players that people thought some day would be playing meaningful games in downtown Detroit. Yeah, that didn’t come close to happening. Bobby gets number one on my list for a couple of reasons. The first has to do with all the losing Detroit did with him being a player on those teams and the second is pure bitterness on my part because of the player he turned out to be. Higginson had one great year in 2000 where he hit .300 with 30 homers and 102 RBI. He was sensational that season and he was only 29 years old, he was just entering the prime of his career. The Tigers were impressed too because they awarded his great season with more money. Higginson made a total of $52,054,000 as a Tiger, I know it makes me sick too and he made over $38 million after he had his one great season in 2000. The guy was a fraud, bum, loser and spent his entire career with the Tigers.
So that is the bitterness part that I alluded to earlier as to why he made number one on this list. The losing part speaks for itself as the Tigers were 712-1050 with Higginson as a member of the franchise. I admit that I could blame other Tigers for the losing but Higginson was there for the longest and he was the most infuriating so I go with him.
I posed this exact question on the air on Thursday evening and I have decided to list some of the people’s responses as honorable mentions…
Phil Gardner, Jeff Weaver, Tim Cheveldae, Ned Harkness, Grant Hill, Jason Hanson, Charles Rogers, Rod Maranelli and John L. Smith.
Now it’s your turn…
Who is Detroit’s all time biggest loser?