If it's true that you're remembered best for what you do last, the Detroit Lions have the opportunity to silence lingering doubts, fulfill fledgling hope, and establish something heading into next season they haven't enjoyed in years: relevancy.
And all they have to do is win on Sunday.
A season that was rife with disappointment, fueled by injuries, bad calls and general frustration, has surprisingly turned efficacious. Who knew that Detroit's laundry list of injuries, deemed cataclysmic at the time, would create the stage for standout contributions from Alphonso Smith and Bobby Carpenter? The Lions will be markedly deeper entering 2011 than they were in 2010, principally because of opportunity. Who knew that a 2-10 start, including disheartening, close losses, would yield a more resolute, determined bunch?
If Detroit Lions football in 2010 is remembered for anything, it should be character. And that they have a 300-plus pound rookie defensive lineman capable of convincing the entire sport of tackle football to force prized, thoroughbred athletes to wear flags.
Not many pegged this bunch as a post-season contender, but, although it would have been nice to see quarterback Matt Stafford remain healthy, everything else accomplished should be considered the best consolation prize; the gift that might keep on giving.
"It’s one of the things we talked ... was to find a little bit about who we are and where we are as a football team," said coach Jim Schwartz, whose team has won three straight games, including two on the road. "We’re not playing for the playoffs but it doesn’t mean that we can’t get this experience of playing tough games on the road, playing against playoff teams and things like that."
Schwartz and his staff break the team's 16 games into four quarters. After a hapless first three, they're close to doing something they've finally learned to do this season, which is finish.
Minnesota has battled its own demons in 2010. The embattled ball club, thought to be Super Bowl contenders by pre-season prognosticators, have won just six games. The head coach was fired, a dubious Randy Moss experiment ended in disaster, and their aging quarterback was embroiled in turmoil both on and off the field.
It might also be the last game as a Viking for several of the team's defensive starters, who become free-agents in February.
Neither team is playoff eligible, but the division rivals wouldn't mind departing 2010 on a positive note.
"I’d like to finish with a win," offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. Linehan has done an admirable job considering the circumstances, successfully juggling three different quarterbacks and saddled with a lack of weaponry in the backfield. "I personally believe in momentum, I think it’s a big part of this league. So I think it’s really important to play well and finish the season off the right way.
"I really felt a year ago that we were still trying to find our identity. I think we’ve (taken) a big jump in that category. I think we know what we want to be and who we are and what it’s supposed to look like at the end of the day this year."
A win aganst the Vikings would solidify that effort.
"We talked a little bit about Minnesota and the expectations that they had this year, and they still have that kind of talent, and our ability to go finish a year in a Week 17 game and play a team of that caliber," said Schwartz. "We almost sort of put ourselves in a position of being faced with a must-win.
"Obviously it’s not a must-win for anything other than that particular week and our pride and our record, but there’s a lot of things that we have to play for and I think sometimes you need to manufacture those things but any win that we have, we gain from. There’s an experience that comes from that."