The Detroit Lions entered the final week of the 2000 season with a 9-6 record and one win away from second consecutive playoff appearance. All that stood in their way was the 4-11 Chicago Bears. The final NFC Wild Card came down to the Lions, Rams and Packers and all the Lions had to do was win to secure it for themselves. An Associated Press article had the following to say when speaking about how unlikely it would be for the Rams to have an opportunity to defend their Super Bowl Championship:
That’s because the Lions seem unlikely to lose at home to the Bears, who they beat 21-14 at Chicago early in the season. Detroit’s resilience showed up last week in a 10-7 road win over the Jets, and there’s no reason to expect any letdown at home with a playoff berth on the line.
If only it had turned out that way.
Paul Edinger, a rookie kicker from Michigan State, broke a 20-20 tie with mere second left on the clock to break the hearts of Lions fans everywhere. He was just 7-of-11 on field goal attempts from 40 yards and out prior to booting the 54-yarder to end the Lions season. It was the longest field goal he would make until the 2005 season when a 56-yarder broke another 20-20 score to win a game over the Green Bay Packers.
The 2000 season was one of turmoil as Bobby Ross resigned after the nine games and a 5-4 record. Gary Moeller, the former football coach at the University of Michigan, was an assistant with the Lions on Ross’ staff and was named the interim coach. The team responded with an immediate three game winning streak capped off by a Thanksgiving Day victory over the New England Patriots but ultimately came up short in their attempt to reach the playoffs.
History tells us that the events that transpired in the wake of Edinger’s kick were far more devastating than the kick itself. Matt Millen was hired within a matter of weeks. Terror ensued.
Would Gary Moeller have been retained if Edinger missed the kick and the Lions found a way to avoid the letdown? Would Matt Millen have been hired anyway? It is impossible to know for sure. All we know is that what transpired over the next decade has made Lions fans yearn for the mediocrity of the 90’s.