Friday, March 26, 2010

1995 NFL Mail Bag: The Detroit Lions

Looking back on it, it's hard for us to remember that there once was a time that the Detroit Lions weren't completely god awful. That time was the 1990s, when Wayne Fontes led something of a renaissance for football in Motown despite everyone thinking he looked like that creepy Italian Restauranteur who was actually selling spaghetti bolognese as a front for the mob.

In fact, however, Fontes was just a football coach, and from the looks of it not too shabby of one either. The Lions would win two NFC Central titles and make the playoffs four times under Fontes, as well as securing two more postseason berths before the decade was out. That's six if you're counting, which means in the 1990s, if you look up postseason participants in a given year the Lions are more likely to be among them than not.

Yeah, this is the same team that went 0-16 two years ago.

I bring this up because it was during this peculiar Barry Sanders-driven renaissance that I sent a letter to the Lions and received a response, according to the postmark, on March 21, 1995. Fontes was still in charge, Barry Sanders was a six-time Pro Bowler and GM was still solvent and financially independent. It was a good time for the Motor City.

It was so good that you'd think the Honolulu Blue and Silver could have sent me more than three pieces of paper and a poster, but all in all, considering what other teams sent me this was actually a pretty decent take. It's one of my favorites actually and I'll give you the two reasons why.

For starters, like every team the Lions sent me the requisite "thanks for writing letter" and I'm always intrigued by what the letterhead will look like. Not only is the letterhead for the Lions in color, but you'll notice the awesome graphic in the upper left corner. Yeah, that's the Lions logo from 1961-69. I totally dig it, and I love that they still use it. Either that or they have an absurdly large amount of leftover stationary from the 1960s.

Among other goodies included was a single sheet of paper detailing the history of the Detroit Lions, which apparently could be summed up in about 600 words. I've noticed that quite a few teams, and I think all of the ones in the NFC North have included something like this, a clear sign that they hadn't updated most of their distributed press materials for modern technology yet -- though my memory on 1995 is spacey; photocopiers may have been the height of modernization for all I know.

The paper ends with Detroit's loss in the 1991 NFC Championship Game against the eventual Super Bowl Champion Redskins, and yes, it is still hard to imagine the Lions in a Conference Championship Game, but looking back on it and knowing that three seasons passed between that "history" of the Lions being written and me receiving the mail, I find it hard to believe they felt they could ignore the two playoff berths and the divisional title they won in that period.

Something tells me they cling to those a little more strongly now.

Like every team, mail is a golden opportunity to make money and the Lions certainly weren't too good to beg for your change. To wit, they included a list of players I could purchase 8x10 black and white glossy photos of if I so chose. Some names are memorable and make sense: Sanders, Chris Spielman, Herman Moore, hell even Brett Perriman seems a reasonable purchase choice. But I found it odd that other selections you could buy (for just $5!) included Dave Krieg, a journeyman quarterback whose actually fairly impressive career accomplishments are overshadowed by the fact that he fumbled more than anyone else in NFL history at the time he retired. Given that other names among the top five in NFL fumbles are Warren Moon, Brett Favre and John Elway, maybe its not such bad company to keep.

Most peculiar on this list of potential player purchases to me, however, was Lomas Brown, whom I most vividly remember for saying the words, "I'm so proud to be a New York Giant" following Big Blue's win in the 2000 NFC Championship Game when he was on New York's offensive line. This prompted two questions from me, namely A) Lomas Brown was on the Lions? and B) Who on Earth would want a glossy photo print of Lomas Brown?

I could also purchase a glossy photo of starting quarterback Scott Mitchell, but why would I want to do that when the Lions already gave me this totally fucking sweet poster of him? This is the second reason I love the package the Lions sent me and it might be my favorite item that I've received from any team. Period.


It is a hilariously awful and kitschy product that represents the essence of 1990s football marketing. Much along the lines of the ad Bill Parcells did for Apex in my Patriots mail, this poster of Mitchell, who was both a perfectly good and yet eminently forgettable player echoes to a bygone era when Starter actually produced paraphernalia for NFL teams. And it was available at J.C. Penny. Not only is the sideline merchandise he's modeling in the lower left corner a heartwarming reminder of watching football as a child but perhaps most importantly, look at that hair.

Seriously, look at how awesome that is.

Lastly, and this is one of the most amazing parts of the poster, while playing an NFL Game, it really looks like he's wearing, yup, you guessed it, Reebok Pumps. Come on, you remember Pumps, right?

What this package contained was not only a decent amount of swag but about three dozen cheerful reminders of watching football in my childhood. Aside from a few laughs, a walk down football memory lane is really about the best I can hope for while sifting through these.

In the case of the Lions, even if they can no longer do it on the field, at least in my heart this was an unmitigated success. Reading through all of it was just the right thing to cheer me up after I realized that I slept through all of Geelong's season opening win over Essendon this morning. Don't worry, lets you watch replays of it. I speculate that I slept through it because I was just too exhausted by last night's phenomenal Kansas State-Xavier Sweet Sixteen game.

And so, because of this, I thank the Lions for getting my day started properly. If this didn't excite you, dear reader, perhaps learning about tonight's Sabres-Senators match will, though I'm skeptical.

If neither of those do the trick, well, I'm sure you'll all find some way to survive. It is Friday after all. Have a good weekend, everyone.

No comments:

Post a Comment