Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Detroit Lions. Rotating stompers

Detroit Lions' center Dominic Raiola got suspended last week for one game after blatantly stomping on an opponent. He would tell his coach Jim Caldwell it was "inadvertent". That made him not only a stomper, but a liar. Caldwell bought it. After preaching responsibility all year, that made him not only a hypocrite, but a fool. The video left ZERO doubt that it was intentional.

The current NFL rule of thumb, or foot, suggested Raiola should be bounced for two games. But he caught a break and it was only one. In the meantime, Raiola had the utter gall to appeal his suspension, but it was rightfully upheld. He would miss the most important game the Lions had played in many years in their regular season finale against the Green Bay Packers.

In his place, the Lions started young center Travis Swanson. Though Detroit would lose again at Green Bay, Swanson played very well. How do we know this? Because we didn't hear his name mentioned by the TV announcers. Typically, offensive linemen only get noticed for bad things. Like holding, false starts, missing a blocking assignment that gets their QB decked, personal fouls and/or unsportsmanlike conduct. Swanson performed admirably in a tough environment against a tough team. The question now becomes -- why do the Lions need Raiola anyway? He's just a loud-mouthed loosed cannon and likely the losingest player in the history of the NFL. Plus he's 36 years old -- geezerish by NFL standards. But he'll be back when the Lions take on the Cowboys down in Big D in the opening round of the playoffs next Sunday.

One stomper back, another repeat stomper back out. That would be Ndamukong Suh. In the game against Green Bay, Suh stepped not just once, but twice, on the widely known injured left calf of Packer QB Aaron Rodgers while he lay helplessly on the turf. The boy named Suh denied intent to injure, of course, and Preacher Caldwell once again turned the other cheek -- praise the lord and pass the playoff offering plate. After all, this was a member of his own flock, fer chrissakes. One could make a case Raiola, Suh, and Caldwell resemble the three wise monkeys. Hear no evil, see no evil, and speak no evil -- at least as long as they're all on the same team. All was forgiven. Again.

Not so with the NFL. Upon further review, the league office suspended Suh for one game. Given his sordid history, that seemed fair enough. That means he'll miss the Lions first playoff game in three years. Or will he?

Suh had three days to appeal the suspension and he exercised that right almost immediately. A supposedly neutral arbitrator will review the tape, hear arguments from both sides, and make a final decision. Will Suh be back in, or remain out? We'll all know within a few days. It's amazing how fast final justice can be expedicted in the NFL when average citizens typically have to wait months, and even years for some of their cases to crawl through the labyrinth of the legal system.

Of course Suh was going to appeal. After all, he has nothing to lose. Between the lawyers from the Players' Union and his own agent, it's not like he has to fork over big bucks for representation like average working stiffs do. And what's the worst that can happen? The suspension is upheld, as I suspect it will be. But you never know which way an arbitrator will jump. It's entirely possible both Lions stompers will be back on the field against the Cowboys.

But there's other irony afoot as well. In recent weeks the Lions have been playing mediocre football at best. Da Boys have been on a roll. Certainly Dallas will be favored. It might well be the curtain call for the Lions' 2014 season.

The irony is, it might also be the last games both Raiola and Suh (assuming he's even available -- no given) play for the Honolulu blue and silver. He can flap his gums all he wants, but Raiola's expiration date has come and gone. In short, the Lions don't need him anymore. He's just baggage waiting to drag them down again.

On the other hand, Suh will be a free agent after this year. He might have already played his last game for Detroit. Where he will land is anybody's guess, but the Lions would be foolish to resign him, given the huge salary cap hit they would have to take. And that for a player whose personal stats have eroded in the last couple years. Throw in the ticking time-bomb that could go off again at any time -- either on the field or off -- plus his not-so-good reputation -- and why would the Lions do such a thing?

Funny, or maybe not, how only the Lions seem to have stompers in their midst. They come and they go, especially the last couple weeks.

With any luck, they'll both be gone in 2015.

And Jim Caldwell will be able to go back to his pulpit to preach his sermons about honor, decency, and owning up to one's sins. In the absence of the stompers, maybe next time around they might even become believable.

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