An up-and-coming team led by a group of talented skill position players, a promising young quarterback, a strong defensive line, and a special teams unit featuring the consistent kicking of Jason Hanson. The 2010 Lions, you say? No, I’m talking about 1998. Lions Gab found this gem of an NFL Films highlight video on the ’98 Detroit squad, and it’s well worth watching if you have 20-or-so minutes to spare:
The parallels are almost eerie, and it gives a Detroit fan pause as Pat Summerall, the legendary voice of NFL Films, lists off the names of promising young Lions like Charlie Batch, Germane Crowell, Terry Fair, Ron Rice, Bryant Westbrook, and the newly-drafted Aaron Gibson as reasons for hope of a big-time turnaround in Detroit. That Detroit team appeared to have it all heading in the right direction — a Hall-of-Fame running back in Barry Sanders, a great corps of receivers in Herman Moore, Johnnie Morton, and Crowell, a defensive line spearheaded by Robert Porcher and Luther Elliss, and the emerging cornerback duo of Fair and Westbrook.
This isn’t to say that the 2011 Lions will suffer the same fate as the players listed above, all of whom either didn’t live up to the hype (Batch and Rice), had careers derailed by injury (Crowell, Fair, and Westbrook), ate their way out of the league (Gibson), or got old/retired/moved on while the team suffered through the Millen Era (Sanders, who abruptly retired before the ’99 season, Moore, Morton, Porcher, and Elliss). But it’s probably fair to say that, while there is certainly reason for optimism surrounding the Lions these days, there are also some red flags — like Matt Stafford’s and Louis Delmas‘s injury issues — that could very adversely affect a Detroit football renaissance.
Despite making those connections, I mostly just enjoyed watching 20 minutes of old Lions highlights — NFL Films has a way of making every team, even a 5-11 squad, look like the next football dynasty, and there were a lot of incredible plays packed into that season’s reel of clips. While the interesting parallels could be construed as reason to avoid looking to the past for fear that it repeats itself, I just loved watching Barry Sanders run, Herman Moore catch everything, Terry Fair terrorize opposing special teams, and Jason Hanson provide the one constant thread between eras past and present. Despite all the losses, those Lions teams still hold a special place in my sports memory bank, and as the team turns itself around, I only expect to love those teams even more, warts and all.