By: Will Burchfield

The fans were booing on Thursday night at Ford Field, booing loudly and booing boldly, booing to make a point.

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But they weren’t upset with the Lions.

Nor were they ruffled by the Bengals.

No, on this evening, the fans’ contempt was reserved especially for Dan Orlovsky.

The Lions’ backup quarterback has become a source of much consternation among this fan base, despite his minimal impact on the team’s performance. The fans deride his struggles as if his struggles actually matter, as if, one way or another, Dan Orlovsky is going to have a say in this season.

The Lions will be toast if he does, of course. But they’ll be burnt all the same if the season falls to Jake Rudock.

It’s this second notion – this second fact – that seems to be of little import to the fans, who have made their preference resoundingly clear in the battle between the rookie and the vet.

Orlovsky, the incumbent backup, entered Thursday night’s game early in the second quarter. The crowd didn’t exactly celebrate his introduction – and Orlovsky didn’t exactly help his case when he threw a pick-six on his third pass of the game. It marked his second straight game committing the ultimate quarterback sin (no, not running out of the end zone) and the fans quickly voiced their displeasure.

It was disarming, disorienting even, to hear such full-throated booing in a preseason game. Had it not been for the empty seats and the second-stringers, it would have been easy to forget that we’re still slogging our way through August.

And it would only get worse.

Orlovsky led the Lions on a respectable drive on their ensuing possession, but the offense quickly stalled out the next time it took the field. When Orlovsky missed Dwayne Washington over the middle on 3rd and 13, the quarterback was driven off the field by a downpour of boos, taking cover on the sideline as if he was escaping the rain.

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Again the scene evoked the regular season, belonging to a time when the games actually matter. The score on Thursday night didn’t mean a thing, of course, just as the competition between Orlovsky and Rudock is ultimately irrelevant. But the fans are treating the latter with inordinate concern.

If the disdain for Orlovsky is hot-blooded, it is inflamed by the fans’ fancy for Rudock. He is the University of Michigan product (kind of), the shiny new draft pick, and, in some eyes, the heir apparent to Stafford. His is a story worth rooting for, a fact made very clear by the fans’ relieved, about-time cheering when Rudock entered the game.

The love grew louder when he completed his first two passes, the first a 22-yard seed down the middle of the field. And then it evaporated into thin air, popped like a balloon, when he was picked off two plays later. But things never turned ugly for Rudock, the skies never darkened and threatened to crack.

He finished the night 8-for-11 for 90 yards and left the field to encouragement from the hometown fans. Orlovsky, meanwhile, was the subject of much post-game negativity, negativity that Coach Jim Caldwell did his best to subdue.

“I don’t think anybody played particularly well, to be honest with you,” Caldwell said when asked about Orlovsky’s performance. “Obviously, he had a miscue there that we certainly would like to have back. Everybody’s got to get better.”

It was the same kind of miscue that led to Rudock’s interception, but neither the fans nor the media had time to discuss both. Instead, they harped on the fact that Orlovsky’s latest pick-six was his second in as many games.

But Caldwell maintained an even keel when pressed on Orlovsky’s early blunders.

“Well, I’m concerned about everything,” he said. “There’s not anything that I’m satisfied with. We lump all of those in there together, everything needs work.”

That certainly includes Rudock’s fluency in the Lions’ offense. Orlovsky is far more capable in this regard than Rudock, a disparity that is being conveniently overlooked in the juxtaposition of the two quarterbacks. Stafford’s primary backup must have a proven grasp of the offense; it is for this reason, and really this reason only, that Orlovsky is the obvious choice as QB-2.

The irony of this debate is that it doesn’t actually matter. For all of the fans’ vehemence, the battle between Rudock and Orlovsky is about as significant as choosing sides in a dome. It’s not that the role of backup quarterback isn’t important. It’s that if the Lions’ fate somehow falls into the hands of Rudock or Orlovsky, it won’t make a difference who’s first in line. They will be skewered either way.

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That was made all too clear in Orlovsky’s case in 2008, when he lost all seven games he started during the Lions’ 0-16 season. Maybe that was on the fans’ minds when they laid into him on Thursday night. Maybe it was fueling their contempt. Either way, such spiteful booing was out of place in a preseason game – a game, by the way, that hardly improved when one backup departed and the other came on.