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Detroit's DARLING
Michael Silver
November 11, 2002
Rookie Joey Harrington has all the tools—the talent, the toughness and the moxie—to bring real hope to the fans of the long-lost Lions
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November 11, 2002

Detroit's Darling

Rookie Joey Harrington has all the tools—the talent, the toughness and the moxie—to bring real hope to the fans of the long-lost Lions

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POS

PLAYER, TEAM

VOTES

OFFENSE

WR

Eric Moulds, Bills

14

WR

Terrell Owens, 49ers

7

TE

Tony Gonzalez, Chiefs

15

T

Jon Ogden, Ravens

14

T

Lincoln Kennedy, Raiders

3

G

Will Shields, Chiefs

11

G

Alan Faneca, Steelers

5

C

Matt Birk, Vikings

5

QB

Drew Bledsoe, Bills

8

RB

Priest Holmes, Chiefs

8�

FB

Tony Richardson, Chiefs

4

DEFENSE

E

Trevor Pryce, Broncos

12

E

Jason Taylor, Dolphins

10

T

Warren Sapp, Bucs

12

T

Kris Jenkins, Panthers

4

OLB

Derrick Brooks, Bucs

13

OLB

Joey Porter, Steelers

8

MLB

Brian Urlacher, Bears

7

CB

Patrick Surtain, Dolphins

5

CB

Chris McAlister, Ravens

5

FS

Brian Dawkins, Eagles

13

SS

Lawyer Milloy, Patriots

4

His palms are sweaty,
Knees weak, arms are heavy.
There's vomit on his sweater already,
Mom's spaghetti...
—Eminem, from his hit song
Lose Yourself

He's a promising kid in a pitiless pressure cooker, his every move scrutinized, his every fit and start entwined with the Motor City's fragile identity. No, we're not talking about platinum-selling rapper Eminem. Shattering hip-hop stereotypes may be daunting, but try being Detroit Lions rookie quarterback Joey Harrington each Sunday, staring down stage fright and quick, vicious, 300-pound dudes who can bench-press you and one of your kid brothers at the same time.

Is it any surprise that midway through his impressive debut season, Harrington, despite his subdued musical tastes (he longs to jam with Dave Matthews, and he recently attended a James Taylor concert), hopes to hook up with Detroit's other scorching-hot property? "I'd love to meet Eminem," Harrington said last week, slamming his bottle of water onto a table at the Lions' Allen Park training facility for emphasis. "He's the man around here."

Slim Shady, say "What up?" to Slim Savior: In a city always looking for pop-culture icons, in a sport always eager to anoint the Next Elway, Harrington, an accomplished pianist, carries the weight of his great-grandmother's restored 1911 Baldwin on his shoulder pads. When the Lions, coming off a 2-14 season, suffered blowout losses in each of their first two games this year with Mike McMahon at quarterback, coach Marty Mornhinweg went against his better instincts and gave the ball to Harrington, the third pick in the 2002 draft.

Detroit has hung in each of its six games since Harrington took over, winning three, including Sunday's 9-7 victory over the Dallas Cowboys at Ford Field. Though Harrington's performance wasn't pretty—he completed just 14 of 33 passes for 104 yards and threw two interceptions—he showed the poise that marked his stellar career at Oregon, during which he produced 10 fourth-quarter comebacks in 28 career starts. This time Harrington's 12-yard pass to halfback James Stewart set up Jason Hanson's game-winning, 43-yard field goal with 48 seconds remaining. "He didn't do much today, but trust me, this guy is going to be a damn good quarterback," Cowboys safety Darren Woodson said after the game. "He reminds me a little of Brett Favre: He doesn't have to set his feet when he slings it to get the ball where it needs to go."

In throwing Harrington to the Lions, and the Lions to Harrington, Mornhinweg brought hope and hype to a franchise that last had a marquee quarterback when Edsels cruised up 8 Mile Road. "We've had one quarterback get to the Pro Bowl [ Greg Landry in 1972] since this guy" Mornhinweg said last week, gesturing behind his desk to a photo of Bobby Layne, who starred for the team from 1950 through '58. "You can understand our fans' frustrations. So many rookie quarterbacks have gone down the slippery slope, and there's an extreme amount of pressure on them from so many directions. I know there have been times where he's felt like it's all on his shoulders."

Harrington's deft handling of the burden has been a striking and welcome development in a league that chews up and spits out precocious young passers. Some rookies, including former Lions quarterback Charlie Batch in '98, have had their share of success, but in the last three decades only Dan Marino of the '83 Miami Dolphins began with a bang and built on his early stardom. Though Harrington had a choppy starting debut in a 37-31 loss to the Green Bay Packers, throwing four interceptions in the Sept. 22 opening of the team's sparkling new dome in downtown Detroit, the Lions rallied from a 17-point deficit and nearly won that game, as they almost did in two of his subsequent road outings.

On Sunday, Harrington won his third consecutive home start, driving the Lions 38 yards in eight plays to set up Hanson's game-winner. It doesn't sound like much, but give the rookie credit for staying cool at the game's pivotal moment. The Lions faced fourth-and-three from the Dallas 43 with 1:54 to go when Mornhinweg went with Brown Left 51 Halfback Read X Dagger. The play called for Stewart to read the coverage and break inside or outside for a quick flare while wideout Bill Schroeder ran an in pattern behind him. The Cowboys blitzed two players from the strong side and dropped a defensive end into coverage. Harrington instantly recognized the coverage and determined that Stewart would break to the outside, and he zipped the ball to the halfback for a 12-yard gain. Said Mornhinweg, "To struggle through the game and then connect on that fourth-down pass, it shows he's got a little something."

The result is that in Detroit, exasperation has given way to anticipation. Virtually everyone in the organization, from team president Matt Millen to longtime NFL veterans like guard Ray Brown and cornerback Eric Davis, is convinced the Lions have found their leader—and they are not alone.

"I think he's going to be a great quarterback," says coach Jim Haslett of the 6-2 New Orleans Saints, who suffered their first loss at Harrington's hands on Sept. 29. "The thing that got me was how poised he was when he was getting hit. We pounded him, but nothing rattled the guy."

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