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Unable to Generate Much in the Way of Stability, Fan Support or Even Offense, the NFC Central Champions Have Many Wondering . . . : What Drives Detroit?

January 08, 1994|BILL PLASCHKE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Except nothing with this team is as simple and straightforward as a bottom line. The Lions do not have one personality trait, but several:

--They have Fontes' unorthodox coaching.

After the loss to the 49ers, he stunned the players by announcing that they would not have to watch the game films. He even gave them an extra day off.

"And even if we have to play the 49ers in the playoffs, we ain't watching that film. It's terrible," Fontes said. "The 49ers played a bunch of other games. We'll watch them."

His stability helped him guide the team through recent tragedies--the death of lineman Eric Andolsek and the paralyzing injury suffered by lineman Mike Utley.

But Fontes' emotional reactions at other times led to what the players call "musical quarterbacks" and the firing of Henning.

"I know some people look at what's happened here this year and think we're in total disarray," Fontes says. "I do a lot of things that aren't done in the NFL.

"But I ask you, look at what has happened after every move. Look where we are now. My moves might not be normal, but they work."

--They have Spielman's ability to adjust.

The scruffy Spielman is famous, not merely for being one of the league's best inside linebackers, but for wearing other's clothes.

On a recent day, everything he wore was borrowed, from a faded T-shirt to an old hunting jacket.

"I once threw an old pair of San Diego Chargers sweat pants in the garbage, holes in the knee, crotch missing," Richards said. "Next day I come in, Spielman's wearing it."

Sounds like the Lion offense, which replaced the irreplaceable Sanders with castoffs Derrick Moore and Eric Lynch.

With Moore the starter in three games and Lynch in two, they have combined for 139.6 total yards per game. Sanders averaged 120 yards in the Lions' first 11 games.

Not that the two young players have avoided locker room grief. When reporters surround Lynch, other players chant, "Lynch mob! Lynch mob!"

--They have Kramer's strength.

When Kramer is told that it is a miracle he is starting, he solemnly shakes his head. He has his own idea about miracles.

Last summer, he skipped two weeks of training camp, ruining his chances of moving higher than third string, because he was back home in Southern California, caring for his seriously ill infant son.

Griffen Kramer is fine now and is always there in mother Marshawn's arms when Erik looks up in the stands during games.

But for several weeks after his birth on June 24, Griffen battled a serious staph infection that caused him to be temporarily bloated, misshapen and close to death.

Kramer's eyes still tear when he talks about it.

"I appreciate a lot of things now that used to slip by me," he said. "I have become more focused. I see things differently."

As do his teammates, both in crazy ways and in ways that have helped them endure.

Perhaps that is their secret.

"You play on this team long enough, you develop a scar," Spielman said. "Nothing gets through that scar."

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