The Lions should award a free turkey to anyone who can figure out what coach Wayne Fontes was trying to say about Barry Sanders in the wake of Detroit's 24-17 victory over the Bears on Sunday at Soldier Field. "If he doesn't make the Hall of Fame," said Fontes, "then I won't either." Say what? Fontes will be lucky if he makes it to next season, much less to Canton. But that's Fontes. No matter what you might think of him as a coach, you have to like a guy who can fire off such a line even as his boss, Lion owner William Clay Ford, is standing by with blindfold and cigarette.
Fontes can largely thank backup quarterback Dan Majkowski for his latest stay of execution. You remember him. He's the former Packer who was good enough to make the Pro Bowl in 1989. By 1992, however, Majik had lost his stuff and was replaced by Brett Favre. He moved to the Colts in July 1993 and spent two years in Indianapolis as a sometime starter before signing with the Lions in April as an insurance policy for Scott Mitchell.
Before the Bear game Majkowski had been limited to mop-up appearances in three of the Lions' 10 games. Yet when Mitchell twisted an ankle with 5:40 left in the second quarter and the score tied 7-7, Majkowski came off the bench and played as if it were 1989 again. Taking advantage of a game plan that called for a lot of quick drops and routes underneath the coverage, he completed 15 of 19 passes for 161 yards and the game-winning touchdown.
Majkowski made light of his performance, acting as if being asked to run the Lions' offense was like being handed the keys to a Rolls-Royce. "It was so comfortable," he said. "When you've got guys like Herman Moore, Brett Perriman, Johnnie Morton and Barry Sanders, you've got so many choices. At Green Bay, I was always trying to get the ball to Sterling Sharpe."
Sanders was his usual balletic self, gaining 120 yards on 24 carries and joining Eric Dickerson as the only players who have rushed for at least 1,000 yards in each of their first seven years in the league. Sanders also scored two touchdowns, one on a lovely 29-yard burst in the third quarter that gave the Lions a 17-10 lead.
Asked if the Lions were trying to win this one for Fontes, Sanders said, "I don't think that had anything to do with it. We played for our own pride. We've had some tough losses, and I think all of us were playing for the team."
This may not be the most maddening team in Bear history, but it has to rank right up there. Why can't Chicago find a punter who can kick the ball 40 yards every now and then? Why does quarterback Erik Kramer turn into Cosmo Kramer with the game on the line? There's trouble, folks, in the Windy City. "We had as many opportunities to score points and to do good things as we've had all year," said coach Dave Wannstedt after the loss. "I don't know what to say. I don't know what to do."
Even Kevin Butler, the normally automatic kicker, hit the skids. After missing only one of 17 attempts in the Bears' first 10 games, Butler failed to connect in two of three attempts against the Lions. In the fourth quarter his 25-yarder was blocked, and he flat didn't get enough leg into a 52-yarder that would have given the Bears a 20-17 lead with 3:46 remaining.