The vertigo caused by that glimpse of an unlimited weapon soon passed, and Davis is now content to tinker with his basic run-and-shoot. "Football has been so good to me," he says with a smile, "that I don't feel any need for revenge at all against the skeptics."
Not so for the apostle, Jones. "There has been a constant pounding over the years from people saying, 'That crap won't work,' " he says indignantly. "Mouse has heard it longer than anybody, and he's built up some defense against it. But not me. I want success for him. That's why I came up here from Houston to help, because I felt this was the last chance."
At the afternoon practice, rookie quarterback Rodney Peete runs the offense under Davis's patient eye. A sixth-round pick who could turn out to be the steal of the entire draft, Peete has the natural mobility, toughness and leadership qualities to run the shoot. "This is gonna cause some people some problems," Peete says.
Receiver Chadwick is thrilled with the new offense, though he is exhausted from the running necessary to make it hum. "Today was the hardest practice I've had in my entire career," he says outside the dormitory at the Oakland University training facility after dinner. "There are guys flying around in this offense. There are many opportunities to make big plays. There's always somebody going long. I'll tell you, we're a different team. We don't feel like losers anymore."
Levy, a coaching veteran who was an offensive assistant with the San Diego Chargers from 1980 through last season, says, "People ask, 'What if you're stuck on your own goal line, facing a 40-mile-per-hour wind. What then?' 'Well,' I tell them, 'we're screwed.' But who isn't? This is the best offensive theory I've ever seen." He shrugs. "Of course, if you don't have people, you don't have squat. People blow theories out the window."
The Lions are definitely a few people short of being able to duke it out with the Minnesota Vikings and the Chicago Bears in their division. But they have enthusiasm. "Things are going so good I can't believe it," says the ever-bubbling Fontes. "People call my name, they're lined up outside my door. I love my coaches, everybody loves everybody, life is great...and we haven't played a game yet! The best thing that could happen would be to have an NFL strike and call off the season."
In the debut of the Stretch—Detroit's first preseason game, against the Cleveland Browns on Aug. 12—the Silverdome fans gave the Lions a huge round of applause just for lining up on the first play with four wideouts. Behind Peete, the Lions rolled up 298 total yards—155 of it in the air—in the first half and took a 17-15 lead. That halftime yardage was more than Detroit amassed in 15 whole games last season and the team got a standing ovation when the half ended.
Of course, the Lions ended up losing to the Browns, 25-24, just like old times. And the rest of the preseason had its share of embarrassments, like a 35-3 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in a game in which Peete didn't play. Still, there was a promise of better times to come. Running back Tony Paige, a reserve who gained 207 yards on 52 tries last season, carried the ball 13 times for 116 yards out of the Stretch formation in that first game, leading Fontes to note, "If he had some of those holes Tony had, Barry Sanders would still be running. By now, he'd be in Toledo."
Sanders, who sat out camp this summer while negotiating his contract, will get his chance to shine one of these days, and so too will Mouse and his men. As clearly befuddled Lion quarterback Chuck Long says of the whole program, "This should be interesting." If not a roaring success.