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NFL Spotlight Week 17

OK, Last One Out of the Silverdome, Light the Fuse

January 07, 2002

The Pontiac Silverdome, after 27 seasons as the ugly duckling of NFL stadiums, was given a sendoff Sunday that it didn't deserve--a Detroit Lion victory.

The Silverdome represented just about everything that was wrong with domed stadiums constructed in the 1960s and 1970s.

A concrete jungle with steel cable jutting everywhere. An inflated white-and-gray roof made of a fiberglass fabric that looked like a giant spider web from the inside and the world's largest pot holder from the outside. A playing surface with a rug better suited for Romper Room than the NFL. Acres and acres of parking lot that Cal Worthington or Red McCombs couldn't come close to filling.

Fittingly, the Lions never won an NFL championship during their Silverdome era. Unfortunately, one of its finest moments--Barry Sanders eclipsing the 2,000-yard rushing mark in the 1997 season finale--was marred by the frightening neck injury suffered by linebacker Reggie Brown that ended his promising career.

There didn't appear to be a wet eye among the 77,512 in attendance after Detroit's 15-10 victory over the Dallas Cowboys--also the Lions' opponent for the first regular-season game at the Silverdome in 1975. The closest thing to a sentimental journey was Lion players mulling around the perimeter of the stands to exchange congratulations with a handful of not-so-teary-eyed fans for about 10 minutes.The scene was in direct contrast to when Detroit Tiger fans openly wept at the last game at the decaying but beloved Tiger Stadium--the previous home of the Lions.

They return to downtown Detroit next season to play in Ford Field, a new $315-million indoor stadium that will be the site of the 2006 Super Bowl.

"The Silverdome is a dump, it has no charisma," Lion fan Mike Naert told the Associated Press. "I'm excited about the new stadium because it brings new hope--we need it."

The Lions will also have a $40-million practice facility in Allen Park, about 10 miles from the new stadium. Among the many problems they encountered during a 2-14 season that started with 12 consecutive losses was getting barred from practicing in the Silverdome for several weeks because of a dispute over the lease.

The Lions ensured their escape from Silver Mausoleum by paying $27.2 million to get out of their lease four years early.

So the Silverdome will now have to be content with its claim as "The World's Largest Indoor In-line Skating Rink" and the site of Elvis Presley's last stadium concert.

The Lions have left the building.

When It Was Sims City

The biggest roar from Lion fans in the Silverdome finale came with 5:47 left when Johnnie Morton scored what would be the stadium's final NFL touchdown on a 16-yard pass from Ty Detmer, dropped to the turf and undulated his body with a dance called "The Centipede."

This brought back memories of the Lions' master showman, running back Billy Sims, who played for Detroit from 1980-84.

Among his routines: a goose-step strut in pregame introductions and the "Simbo Glide" in which he would swoop across the goal line with both arms.

There would be no role in "Jurassic Park" for Sims, however.

Final Trip Down Memory Lane

Some heartfelt Silverdome remembrances of Curt Sylvester of the Detroit Free Press:

* How the Silverdome seems like it's out in the middle of nowhere. Especially when you're walking from your parking place.

* The drips from occasional leaks in the roof.

* The lousy food, which might explain why Lion fans drink so much.

* All the great hitting--in the stands.

* Road rage--in the parking lot.

* The way the air pushes departing fans out the doors. It's only fair, since they've been sucked in for years.

A Re-Marc-able Turn of Events

The Cleveland Browns, four seasons into their return to the NFL, made a commitment to the future Friday by giving quarterback Tim Couch an $8.7-million bonus and exercising their option for the remaining four years on his contract rather than allow him to become a restricted free agent.

"Now is the time to make the move. Everyone was in total agreement. Not only is he our quarterback of the present. He is our quarterback of the future," team President Carmen Policy said.

The decision less than a week after Couch had one of the best games of his three-year career, a 41-38 come-from-behind victory over Tennessee. Couch, the first pick in the 1999 draft, passed for career highs of 336 yards and three touchdowns.

Now, flash back to Oct. 23, 1983. The Raiders replace a struggling Super Bowl XV hero Jim Plunkett with promising Brigham Young product Marc Wilson for a nationally televised game Sunday night against the unbeaten Dallas Cowboys at Texas Stadium. On this night, Wilson is America's Quarterback, completing 26 of 49 passes for a career high 318 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Raiders to a wild 40-38 victory. Afterward, it is learned that on Friday, the Raiders had signed Wilson to a then-staggering $4 million over five seasons.

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