Detroit was walking the high ground in September. The Lions were 4-0 and snapping their fingers while dancing to the tune of their new theme song—Another One Bites the Dust. Their sensational rookie, Billy Sims, looked as if he'd run right out of the Silverdome. A local paper ran a contest to choose a nickname for Sims. Silver Streak edged some 37,000 other entries, including Bye Bye Billy, The Renaissance Man, The Roaring 20, Dandy Lion, Secretary of Offense, Quick Silver, Billy The Kid and The Flyin' Lion. The Silver Streak couldn't save Detroit. The swamp got the Lions, too. They lost seven of their next 10 and watched Minnesota creep by.
Last Sunday the Lions kept their wildcard hopes flickering—their only chance was for Los Angeles to lose its final two—by beating Tampa Bay 27-14 in a game that was notable only because 1) the Lions were the NFL's No. 1 rushing team but gained only 68 yards on the ground, and 2) Detroit Kicker Eddie Murray hit the crossbar on one field-goal try and the upright on another.
As for Chicago, it took six weeks for the Bears to find a quarterback, but by then they were 2-4 and sinking out of sight. "If I were the coach, I'd bench me next week," a disconsolate Mike Phipps said after his four interceptions set up a 13-7 loss to the Vikings in the sixth week of the season. Nobody argued. The next week Vince Evans was at quarterback, and on Dec. 7 he led Chicago to a 61-7 rout of the Packers. At half-time the Bears found out they had been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, and then they went out and scored 33 points. There was much head shaking and finger pointing on the Green Bay side, something about running it up.
But last Sunday the Bears regressed. They didn't bother to try a medium-range field goal that could have beaten Cincinnati at the end of regulation time, throwing an end-zone interception instead. They lost 17-14 in OT.
The Packers had been everyone's choice for NFL Worst in '80, but one rule of the NFC Central is that if no team rises too high, none sinks too low, either. Mediocrity has saved Bart Starr's job for one more year.
In mid-October Minnesota was 3-5 and had scored exactly one touchdown in its last 12 quarters. The sharpshooters were saying, "It's finally come. The ultimate fade." But, no. The Vikings have now won six of their last seven.
And so, in ascending order, this is the NFC Central with one week to play:
TAMPA BAY (5-9-1)—Three weeks ago McKay said he might resign after the 1981 season. He said he'd quit after this year if he determined he was the cause of the decline. He says a lot of things. Not to worry. Before the end of last season his contract reportedly was extended by five years, through 1984. The kicker is that if McKay quits as coach, he gets to move into the president's office. Don't get jumpy, Ron, that's president of the Bucs. McKay has gotten really mad only once this year, when a Texas writer said Buc Quarterback Doug Williams is dumb. The rest of the time he has kept the pencils busy with his one-liners.
Before a preseason game with St. Louis: "I think Jim Hanifan made a good decision in naming Jim Hart as his starting quarterback. How the hell do you spell Pisarkiewicz?"
When the Bucs traded for Gary Davis, giving them four running backs named Davis: "The reason for the deal is pure and simple: we have four shirts with Davis on them. It's cheaper to trade than to change the name on a shirt."