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Lions on Thanksgiving: a tradition Detroit needs to keep

This is the week for two storied NFL traditions: the Lions playing on Thanksgiving, and people complaining about the Lions playing on Thanksgiving.

If I may sum up the general feeling here: You like to watch football. The Lions are unwatchable. Trying to watch the Lions play football causes a little piece of your brain to catch fire.

On behalf of the city of Detroit, let me just say:

We know you don't like it.

We don't expect you to like it.

And we don't care.

You think it's tough watching the Lions once a year? Try watching them every week. It is hard to fully appreciate the ineptitude of this franchise unless you see it on a weekly basis. It is the difference between using an outhouse at a music festival and using an outhouse as your everyday bathroom. Forget winning. Most of the time, the Lions don't even have a chance to win.

Some quick "fun facts" about the Lions: They play in Green Bay every year, but they have not won there since Brett Favre was a Falcon. They have not sent a quarterback to the Pro Bowl since Brett Favre was in diapers (Seriously: 1971). They drafted Charles Rogers one spot ahead of Andre Johnson. No Lion head coach has ever gone on to another NFL head coaching job, unless you count Dick Jauron, the Lions' interim coach at the end of the 2005 season.

In 2001, William Clay Ford Sr. asked Matt Millen to run the franchise, even though Millen was not qualified for the job in any way. (Some teams try to copy the Patriots; Ford apparently tried to copy Trading Places.) Since then, the Lions are 33-105, or as I like to think of it: four and a half perfect seasons away from .500. It is a stretch of incompetence that almost defies comparison.

And then the big one:

Since 1957, the Lions have won one playoff game.

OK, fine. They're awful. That is your point, too: you don't want to watch an awful team. But see, this is precisely why Detroit needs to keep its national-TV spot on Thanksgiving:

This is all the Lions have. The Jets have Namath's guarantee. The Raiders have Al Davis and a band of hairy, tattooed rebels. The Broncos have Elway and the Orange Crush.

The Lions have Barry Sanders and Thanksgiving. This is their whole identity, other than losing. (And even Sanders, as great and beloved as he was, remains a sore point for Lions fans, because the team squandered his career, and he retired early rather than play for this franchise.)

The Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving for more than 70 years, which means their Turkey Day Tradition actually predates their tradition of stinking by at least 20 years. Thanksgiving in Detroit means a parade in the morning and the Lions in the afternoon.

This is one of two days a year when the Lions seem to matter in the NFL universe. The other one is draft day.

I'll admit that the Lions' Thanksgiving tradition creates problems for the NFL, starting with this: who should the Lions play? Obviously, nobody wants to watch the Lions play a lousy team. Let's see which color paint dries fastest! But nobody wants to watch a blowout, either.

The NFL probably did the sensible thing this year: the Lions host the Packers, who have a marquee name but not a marquee team, so the matchup at least offers the faint possibility of holding your interest. But it will probably be a blowout anyway. Lions games usually are.

Lions fans worry about losing their Thanksgiving Day game. It is a big enough concern that every year the Lions issue a press release about the game which features roughly 900 quotes from people saying how important this game is to Detroit.

I'll offer another:

"The Lions' Thanksgiving Day game is the low point of most people's football-watching year, but it is a high point for Lions fans."

I don't think that will make next year's press release. But it is why Detroit should keep this game -- and why the rest of you should complain to each other, but not to Detroit.

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