Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Narrative of the Stafford-Era Lions

Two years ago, coming off an 0-16 season, everyone who talked about football used the exact same phrase to discuss the Detroit Lions: "There's no where to go but up." Then the person would pause for dramatic effect, and then chuckle as they said "Literally!"

Last year, it was a different catchphrase. Actually more of a buzzword. And it drove me absolutely crazy. It was of course "unflappable," a word bizarrely used to describe quarterback Matt Stafford, who had in fact been 'flapped' throughout his entire college and pro careeer. The words 'Stafford' and 'unflappable' were used in combination more often than the words 'Tebow' and 'Jesus.'

This year, we have a new phrase that people can't stop using. In fact, I have literally not heard a single human talk about football over the past six months without using these exact four words. If. Stafford. Stays. Healthy.

Congratulations America, for the third straight year, we've missed the point completely. In 2009, "no where to go but up" didn't make any sense, because the team still didn't have any decent players to build around. We went 2-14 but probably played worse than we did in '08.

Last year, Stafford put on a clinic in "flappability," becoming the most oft-flapped quarterback on the planet. Call him "rocket-arm" or "backwards-hat" or even "chubby face," but please, never, ever, EVER again call him unflappable.

This year, the phrase makes the least sense of ever. "If Stafford stays healthy, the Lions will make the playoffs! If Stafford stays healthy, we'll go 12-4!! IF STAFFORD STAYS HEALTHY, Calvin Johnson will catch 35 touchdowns!!!" On and on and on. What the hell are people talking about? What makes anyone believe that Matt Stafford is actually any better than Shaun Hill?

Sure, he's got more potential, and I WANT him to stay healthy, and if he does, he might be very good. But the operative word is might. We still have no idea. He's essentially a third-year rookie right now, with 100 fewer career passing attempts than Sam Bradford. And in his limited starts, he hasn't exactly lit the world on fire. His career passer rating of 67 is 2 points higher than JaMarcus and 2 points lower than Harrington.

So why do people act as if he's a perennial Pro Bowler with a slight proneness towards shoulder separations? Why do people just assume that he'll play lights-out, mistake-free, perfect football, when he's never done that before? Wouldn't this be like saying "San Francisco will be awesome if Colin Kaepernick stays healthy?" It's stupid. Only one phrase that begins with those four frustrating words actually makes any sense. And here it is.

If Stafford stays healthy, then we will finally be able to tell whether or not he's any good.

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