Sports Sermon: The Bills, Lions… and the Hoyas

September 29, 2011

In an action-packed week of football, no story was more surprising (and exciting to fans in economically anemic post-industrial Great Lakes towns) than the unexpected and oddly simultaneous emergence of the Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions as winning teams. Along with the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers, the two long-hapless franchises are the only undefeated teams in the NFL.

While looking at a “zero” in the loss column must be a new and bizarre feeling for Lions and Bills players, the Bills organization, at least, has some familiarity with success. Between 1988 and 1999, the team made the playoffs a remarkable 10 times, including four straight Super Bowl appearances, an achievement unparalleled in the history of football. However, they also hold the dubious distinction having lost all four of those championship bouts—a feat unmatched in all of pro sports.

The Lions, meanwhile, have never been to the Super Bowl, having made the playoffs just 14 times in more than 70 years of history. You have to go back to the ‘50s to find the last Lions team that mounted a real championship challenge. The Lions have been so bad for so long that arguably their greatest player ever, the immortal Barry Sanders, quit football well before his time was up, just before clinching the all-time rushing record, simply because he couldn’t take the culture of losing that permeated the organization.

To make matters worse, in 2008 the Lions went an appalling 0-16, the first winless season since 1976, when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, an expansion team, was unable to win in its first season of existence.

But 2011 has thus far been an entirely different story for the Bills and Lions. After three weeks, both stand at a comfortable 3-0, in first place in their divisions and with confidence bursting through their Under Armour. They have filled the underdog void in a season that looked set to be dominated by the usual suspects.

But the Bills and Lions are far from alone in the quest to overcome their culture of failure. This year the Hilltop has its own underdog story in the making as Georgetown football–the perennial Lions of the Patriot League–stands at a cool 3-1 and is legitimately in the running for a shot at the conference title.

Actually, the Lions and Bills might even be a bit offended to have their records compared to Georgetown. Georgetown’s brief history as a Division I-AA football program offers few highlights. The team has never had a winning season—never even a winning conference record. And just a year after the Lions set their mark of futility in the NFL, the Hoyas followed suit with their infamous 0-11 2009 campaign.

But it isn’t just its past records that make the Georgetown team such an underdog. The team also plays in front of the smallest crowds, on the smallest field, with one of the smallest budgets, in one of the worst conferences in all of Division I. If that doesn’t suggest that the odds are against us building a juggernaut, I don’t know what will.

Nevertheless, the Hoyas stand a cool 1-0 in conference play heading into the thick of their Patriot League schedule. The record is eerily similar to last season when the team started strong, only to fade down the stretch. In fact, the Hoyas look perfectly set up for another embarrassing finish after breezing through the warm-up portion of their schedule. The impossible doesn’t just happen overnight so there’s no logical reason for thinking the Hoyas have a shot at making history.

But then again, the Lions and Bills are 3-0—what’s been logical about this football season?

So while it may be a farfetched idea to even pencil the Hoyas in for a Patriot League title run at this point, don’t let it catch you by surprise either. Winds of change are swirling around the gridiron these days. Who knows what could happen?

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