As the Raiders are now set to move, let’s take a look at the roots the Lions have in Detroit…
Today the Oakland Raiders officially became the Las Vegas Raiders. Some time after 2018, the Raiders are moving again. There is no stadium for them to move to yet, but the municipality and the league are more than willing to help out. The support for the move among the owners of the NFL was overwhelming. There is a strong financial case for the move, which is the third franchise relocation in three years. But that is not what I felt like I should write about regarding the occasion. I wanted to take another look at something that Lions fans seem to be universally in agreement upon, but need to look at in a new light. I want to take a look at William Clay Ford.
A History Lesson
On March 9, 2014 William Clay Ford died. The internet offered it’s usual tasteless and anonymous commentary on the occasion. Things like “now the team might actually be successful” or “finally the franchise has a chance to get better” were said. On a virtually continuous basis those looking for low hanging fruit have repeated it. Most assumed that his son would take over control whenever his passing occurred, but his wife Martha Firestone-Ford took over the team. Finally, last year began the overhaul of the organization. People have opined that the overhaul would never have occurred while William Clay Ford was alive. There is another thing that would never happen while William Clay Ford was alive. No matter how much sense it made, William Clay Ford didn’t move the team.
I don’t need to go over the city of Detroit’s recent financial arc in great detail for you. Chances are that if you’re a Lions fan you know it. HERE is a link if you somehow don’t. Suffice it to say that times have been rough in the motor city. Coinciding with those tough financial times, the Lions were not a very good team. They missed the playoffs for more than a decade, and won only a single playoff game in fifty years. Meanwhile other sports teams in Detroit were finding unbelievable success.
The Red Wings will miss the NFL playoffs this season for the first time since 1990. The Pistons have won multiple championships in that same time-frame. Even the Tigers busted off a run of four straight division titles. The Lions had the Millen Era, and then the less awful, but inconsistent Martin Mayhew era. Not surprisingly in a city where finances were stretched and only one team of the four major professional sports franchises couldn’t get its shit together, people stopped coming to games.
As late as 2013, the Detroit Lions were losing money. In a business where the league shares massive TV deals, 31 teams turned a profit. The Lions spent to the salary cap, or very close to it through the entire Matt Millen era, and continued to do so through the Mayhew era. Given the performance of the teams on the field, it’s difficult to imagine that their owner or the league thought they were getting what they paid for every year. The Oakland Raiders were not losing money. The St. Louis Rams were not losing money. The San Diego Chargers were not losing money. And despite having supported their franchises well enough to keep their ledgers black those three markets lost their teams. Lifetimes of support, season ticket purchases, generational bridge building during family rough patches, weekly friendship rituals, and countless other bonds built around the teams were altered forever.
There has never been a stronger case for moving a team than the one for moving the Lions throughout the last few years of William Clay Ford’s life. The man may have had his flaws as an owner, but greed was not one of them. Today one of the league’s most iconic franchises moves for the third time in its history. The owner of that franchise said today that he believes his father “would have been proud.” On a day like today, be glad that the Lions have a different family tradition at the helm. Be glad you still have a team to root for.