With the Super Bowl coming up this weekend, my thoughts turned to William Clay Ford.
No. No. This blog is not going to run down the list of owners who haven’t been to the Super Bowl. Nor is it going to recap the Lions playoff victories under Ford’s ownership (one). The record is bad. It speaks for itself. But as the NFL season winds down, and all the stories are written in Indianapolis, I actually thought about the Lions ownership this morning and felt something I hadn’t felt in a long, long time. Appreciative.
The Super Bowl matchup between the Patriots and the Giants has been swallowed whole this week by the bizarre bickering between Colts legend Peyton Manning and his owner Jim Irsay. These two make Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich seem like Steve Mariucci and Tom Izzo – best of friends. The NFL usually tries to have all other news made in the week before Super Bowl week or the week right after so as not take away from the game itself. But thanks to the venue (Indianapolis) and thanks to corporate press conferences (Gatorade) and thanks to brilliant reporting (The Indy Star’s Bob Kravitz) and thanks to massive egos (Irsay), we know more about this battle than we do about the battle on the field on Sunday night.
Like in most spats, there is probably blame on both sides. Manning may have started this by giving a long form interview to Kravitz a few weeks ago where he lamented the fact that so many people he knew were fleeing the organization (most were fired) and he didn’t feel comfortable at the practice facility. There’s no doubt that Manning knows the clock is ticking on his career and that the Colts rightfully covet Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. But Irsay isn’t exactly putting out the fire by calling Manning a “politician” last week and then this morning taking to Twitter and denying the report that Manning had been medically cleared to play football again. Most successful businesses and sports franchises try to keep their issues ‘in house’. Manning brought this issue ‘outside’. Irsay has taken it and run with it.
Rest assured that the Lions will never take to Twitter to defame their greatest player. Other than the players, the only member of the Lions brass that has a Twitter account is Coach Jim Schwartz and that’s used mostly to let us know what’s on his iPod when he’s driving to the game. The lack of social media doesn’t erase the win-loss record over the last fifty years. And trust me, I’d much rather have Irsay’s Super Bowl trophy. But this whole soap opera in Indy is a reminder that we have it pretty good here in Detroit when it comes to owners.
The jury on Tom Gores is still out with the Pistons. But Ford and Mike Ilitch both have a record of hiring people and letting them do their jobs. Seldom (ever?) do they make themselves the story. Dave Dombrowski runs the Tigers (unless Ilitch decides he covets a 214 million dollar slugger). Martin Mayhew runs the Lions. Has the model worked? No. But most of the best franchises in sports have a pecking order of how things are done. Ilitch has achieved that. And perhaps Ford finally has the right person in place to achieve that in the NFL.
I know the general outcry to this. I get it. You’re saying, “PLEASE! I’d happily take TEN owner-player squabbles to get one Super Bowl trophy”. I’m not (repeat – NOT) putting off-field harmony ahead of on-field success. Irsay has been a more successful owner than Ford. But just remember that Irsay is part of a family that robbed the city of Baltimore of its beloved Colts. And Irsay is now publicly feuding and breaking up with the greatest Indianapolis Colt of all-time. He’s ruining the great era that the Colts enjoyed. And he’s forcing many Colts fans to turn their back on the franchise. Bottom line – he’s putting himself and his ego ahead of the team. Good luck getting free agents to come there now. If Peyton Manning can get treated that way – what does it mean for a back-up linebacker or a long-snapper? The Fords would never steal the Lions away from the fans of Detroit. There is no crime worse than that in pro sports. None.
The great Detroit athletes are royalty. The best of the best retire or leave on their terms. There are some exceptions (Barry Sanders, Isiah Thomas, Sergei Fedorov), but often times those departures have more to do with the athletes than they do with the owner. We don’t have the best owners. Ford by record is certainly one of the worst. But we are immune to stupid sideshows like we’ve been watching down in Indianapolis this week. Does that make us better or worse here in Detroit? I’m not sure. But I’m just glad that we’ve never had to find out how it feels and probably never will.