Remember Margaret Hamilton? I'll get back to that.
It's another crazy week in the NFL. The undefeated Packers -- lost -- to Kansas City, of all things. The surviving members of the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins team can breath another sign of relief. Their record is safe for at least one more year. The winless Colts -- won.
Meanwhile, the Lions seem be strolling happily down the yellow brick road, oblivious to the carnage all around them. Let's call them Dorothy.
In the NFC, where the Lions reside, it's all but a given that the Packers will be division champions in the North, the 49ers in the West, and the Saints in the South. The only question seems to lie in the NFC East. Somebody has to win it, but who?
The Atlanta Falcons look to have one wild card spot, but not so fast there either. They have to go to New Orleans next week, where Drew Brees is quickly closing in on Dan Marino's single-season, all-time passing yards mark. Not exactly an easy place to play. And consider Detroit's competition for the other. Tom Coughlin and the NY Giants losing to the Redskins could be likened to the Scarecrow playing with fire one too many times.
Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys? Week to week -- who knows what team will show up? After handling the absolutely terrible Tampa Bay Bucs on the road, they host the Philadelphia Eagles, never a pushover despite their record, then have to go to NY against the Giants the following week, and the Giants recently beat them in their own backyard. Hard to say what will happen with such intense division rivalry games. When the smoke clears, if they finish with the same record as the Lions, the Lions hold the tie-breaker, having defeated the Cowboys head-to-head. For no other reason than Jerry Jones yapping all the time, let's call them Toto.
The Chicago Bears are the Tin Man. Without Jay Cutler, out with a broken thumb, and Matt Forte, sidelined with a leg injury, they don't seem to have a heart. Lions' fans might say, "Wait a minute, Leach, our running backs have been decimated with injuries". That's true, but none amongst them was anywhere near the dominant force Forte was. On top of that, Da Bears were primarily a rushing team, while the Lions are pass-happy. Try deleting Calvin Johnson from the equation, where opposing defenders can focus more evenly on their other mediocre receivers, and things might look a lot different these days. In a way, it's ironic that QB Matthew Stafford of the Lions, who seemed to be quite fragile, has stayed relatively healthy this year, while Cutler absorbed beating after beating, and always getting up, wound up side-lined with a freak injury to his throwing hand.
The Cowardly Lion? Well, there WAS that stomping incident, amongst other bits of mayhem that the guy still doesn't want to own up to. Even at that, his 2 game suspension couldn't have come at a better time for the Lions. Chances are, they weren't going to beat New Orleans on the road, with or without him. Conversely, the Lions were heavy favorites to dispatch the woeful Minnesota Vikings, at home, again, with or without him. Perhaps Roger Goodell got it wrong with the suspension anyway. A better punishment would have mandated he play those 2 games -- but in sparkling red slippers, and every time he didn't click his heels together 3 times before a play -- fine him 10 grand. Now THAT would have got his attention, not to mention ours.
Then the Lions had to go to Oakland, to face the Raiders, historically considered The Wicked Witch of the West. That role was played by Margaret Hamilton in the original movie, by the way. And what happened? Trailing late in the game, with no time-outs, and needing a touchdown to win, Stafford threw up another prayer to the aforementioned Calvin Johnson, and it was answered -- again. Throw in a pass interference call on an ensuing play, and this was no "drive", ala John Elway -- it was dumb luck -- perhaps bordering on Divine Intervention. Does the name Tebow come to mind? He gets mentioned later in this column. Game over? Not quite. In the remaining seconds, the Raiders had a chance to kick a field goal to win it. Granted, it would have been 65 yards, a new NFL record, but their kicker Sebastian Janikowski, co-owner of the existing record of 63 yards, is generally regarded as long having had one of the strongest legs the league has even seen. He could get it there. We'll never know if the kick would have been successful because, alas, it was barely tipped by the "thumb" of -- none other than the Cowardly Lion. Hmmm. These recurring subplots are getting confusing. At any rate, ding-dong, the Wicked Witch is dead, and Dorothy merrily skips down the yellow brick road for a few more miles.
San Diego comes to Detroit next week. Like the Cowboys, they're another team that probably gets the odds-makers in Vegas running for their Xanax. Some weeks they're super-charged, as evidenced by quothing the Baltimore Ravens "nevermore" in a beatdown today, one of the best games they've played in many years. Other weeks, they look more like AAA battery chargers. Not much juice. Prediction? After a high like that, they're due for a letdown when they hit Detroit.
After that, the Lions will finally reach the end of the regular-season road, and, considering the team color there, arrive in Emerald City, Green Bay. Yet, they caught still another break. The Packers welcome the Bears next week, where they'll likely take out their frustrations over this week's loss, thereby sewing up home field advantage throughout the playoffs. When Dorothy arrives the following week, the Packers won't have much to play for. A few reps for the starters to stay sharp, while minimizing the chances of any significant injury, would seem to be a probable scenario. Though the Lions haven't won there in a very long time, what better chance than when they're playing against the other team's "subs"?
It's like the Lions have a guardian angel looking over them this year. An anti-Murphy's Law aura, if you please. Everything that can go right -- WILL go right. If anybody should be giving prayers of thanks, recently labelled "Tebowing", it's the Lions. (On that subject, there was no 4th quarter magic in Denver this week. Not sure, but it might have had something to do with Tom Brady and Co. being in town, and we all know what heathens Bill Bellichick and those dastardly Patriots are -- the Wicked Witches of the East).
So yes, like the 1939 classic, Dorothy will finally get to meet the Wizard, AKA the playoffs. Nobody seems to have considered what comes next. Let's remember, the Wizard's powers were not what Dorothy thought them to be. After making them all collectively feel good about themselves -- what did the Wizard ultimately do?
Quickly sent them home to Auntie Em, currently known as Martin Mayhew. Throw in Mariucci, Mike Marotz, Matt Millen, Marty Mornhinweg, etc., and it doesn't get anymore "emmish" than that. That's ancient history, you say, because everything's changed? Perhaps, but consider some other comparisons to the movie. Like the Lions, the film is shown on TV every year too. The Lions haven't won a championship in over 50 years. In fact, during all that time, they've never even played in a game to GET to the Super Bowl, much less win it. Over 70 years later, The Wizard of Oz still never won the Oscar for best picture, but at least it was runner-up, and no matter how many times you watch it and hope it ends differently -- well -- there's a word for people like that.
The movie that won the Oscar that year was Gone With the Wind, which yours truly thinks is going to be exactly what happens to the Lions when they get to the playoffs. Many will disagree with that assessment, but like Rhett Butler said -- frankly, I don't give a damn.
It's always been one of my favorite songs, but the bluebirds from Detroit aren't quite capable of flying somewhere over the rainbow just yet.
Sorry about the bump on your head that's coming, but you're not in Kansas City anymore, Dorothy.
These guys are good. Wait a minute. That was Michael Jordan. How did HE get into this?