Detroit Lions Start The Season Strong

Three years ago, the Detroit Lions were the worst team not just in the NFL — but in NFL history. They finished with 16 losses and no wins. Robert Siegel talks to Detroit Lions fan Leonard Lark about his team's 5-0 start this year.

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GUY RAZ, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. And now, the big turnaround in Detroit, and we're not talking about the auto business. Three years ago, the Detroit Lions were not just the worst team in the National Football League, they were the worst team in NFL history. They finished with 16 losses and no wins, a perfect season.

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LEONARD LARK: I guess that all depends on what you call perfect. O and 16 to me is a perfect mess.

SIEGEL: That's Leonard Lark, a long-suffering Lions fan. We spoke with him back in 2008, a day after his team made history. Well now, the Detroit Lions are making a different kind of history. They beat the Chicago Bears last night. And for the first time since 1956, they are 5 and O. Mr. Lark was kind enough to join us when times were bad, so it's only fair we give him a chance to crow now. Welcome back to the program.

LARK: Thank you very much, Robert.

SIEGEL: Tell me, from O and 16 to 5 and O in just three years, what is going on in Detroit?

LARK: I tell you what, it has quite a few people around town wondering themselves. You have to give credit where credit's due, and the coaching is phenomenal. The players are obviously motivated. We've had a few different ins and outs. Ndamukong Suh, what a attribute to our team.

SIEGEL: That's the great defensive player out of Nebraska, I believe.

LARK: The gentle giant, yes.

SIEGEL: Certainly.

LARK: And then, of course, Calvin Johnson. What would a team be without a Calvin Johnson?

SIEGEL: A rather large, wide receiver, Mr. Johnson is.

LARK: Yes.

SIEGEL: Tell me what the mentality is there among Lions fans? Do you look at 5 and O and say, I can feel it, I can feel it, we're going make the playoffs, or do you say I know this is going to end any week now, it's all just illusory?

LARK: Well, quite honestly, Robert, everyone is waiting for the other foot to drop. I work in a Ford factory here. And, of course, there's a lot of rowdy Lions fans, and everyone is very excited. But again, what happens when they lose?

SIEGEL: Now, the last time that the Detroit Lions won the NFL championship was in 1957. You must have been 2 years old when that happened.

LARK: I was a mere child of 2, yes.

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SIEGEL: This is the year, which, of course, you remember well, when Tobin Rote filled in at quarterback for the great Bobby Layne, who was injured late in the season. The NFL is supposed to be a league in which the draft equalizes things, and bad teams get to pick first so they get better. How did it take 54 years since they won a championship?

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LARK: That is an extremely interesting question, and you need to ask the handful of coaches between then and now.

SIEGEL: Now, last night, the Lions hosted a "Monday Night Football" game for the first time in a decade, and at the end, fans were counting down the last seconds like it was the Super Bowl. I assume that after so many years of futility, it feels pretty good to be a Lions fan.

LARK: Well, we haven't had a lot to be excited about, so, yes, we have to treat each victory as if it's our last. And I mean, my gosh, I remember going to Tiger Stadium back in the day to watch the Lions play.

SIEGEL: You know what happens, of course. On Thanksgiving, the Lions play the Green Bay Packers in a traditional game. This year, the Packers are the defending Super Bowl champions. That's got to be a big date on everyone's calendar.

LARK: I was having that discussion with several of my friends earlier this afternoon, and quite honestly, we won't believe the Lions are good until we beat the Pack.

SIEGEL: So you're just going to all be on tenterhooks until Thanksgiving in that case.

LARK: Well, you know, we took care of Da Bears, and they were supposed to be good. If we can do this to the Packers, then you know what, I will wear my O-and-16 shirt backwards so that it reads 16 and O.

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SIEGEL: OK. Thank you very much, Mr. Lark, and good luck to you.

LARK: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: That's Leonard Lark of Livonia, Michigan, this year, for the time being at least, a very happy Detroit Lions fan.

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