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The Detroit Lions are a refreshing, organic evil

BY IAN MARTIN | NOVEMBER 03, 2011 7:20 AM

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Evil has been missing in sports for some time — at least, genuine, merciless, evil has.

Sure, the Heatles were supposed to be the foils of the NBA, and the Yankees are perennial rapscallions, but how genuine are these efforts? The vitriol against these franchises stems more from a feeling of undeserved success — a.k.a., buying championships — than actual malice committed by its players.

But finally, the void is being filled genuinely.

The newest "villains" are the Detroit Lions, as declared by Yahoo Sports. The NFL itself has gotten in on the action; the league's website called last weekend's Lions/Broncos affair "Good vs. Evil."

And unlike the Heat or Yankees or any other team sold as "evil" lately, this depravity is organic.

There's been a rash of alleged trash-talking by star defensive end Ndamukong Suh. An anonymous quotation calling football's presumed saint Tim Tebow "embarrassing" and a "joke" after Evil defeated Good last weekend in Denver. Detroit linebacker Stephen Tulloch even imitated Tebow's kneeling prayer pose after a sack, with the temporarily immobialized idol lying on the ground nearby.

This is not a hatred of a uniform or a franchise or anger based on a rivalry. This is the franchise in American sports that, for the past decade, has been pitied, not objectionable. Moreso than even the Chicago Cubs — whose fans can sometimes irk casual observers — the Lions have done nothing to warrant anger besides ruining the early Thanksgiving game every year by being blown out.

But now the checklist for a perfect villain is taking shape.

First off, the team is vengeful. The Lions have been the NFC Central/North's punching bag since 1991, the last year they won a playoff game. The fans are the same ones who witnessed merciless beatdowns by the Packers while they cheered on Dan Orlovsky.

Second, the team is good. It's 6-2, ranks fourth in the NFL in points per game with 29.9, and has inarguably the NFL's toughest receiver to defend in Calvin "Megatron" Johnson. Mix that with a now-feared defense, and this is team is nails, not thumbtacks.

Last — and most important — the team is embracing its evil. Similar to the 2007 Patriots, the Lions are not just accepting the title and then avoiding it. They're actually owning up to it.

"Evil won," Suh said after the Broncos game. And don't forget how, just a few weeks ago, Lions head coach Jim Schwartz almost fought 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh after an overly enthusiastic postgame handshake.

Honestly, there's a sadistic pleasure to see a genuine scoundrel in the American sports league that most carefully manages its image. With penalty regulations and retroactive fines for plays Commissioner Roger Goodell considers "dirty," the NFL has made clear that there's no room for insubordination.

But victories are what matter most — look at the "Just win, baby" Raiders of the 1970s and '80s — and fans of a successful team will come to a stadium regardless of a team's morals. Real Ws outweigh scarlet letters.

So Detroit, please continue to embrace this genuine swag coming to fruition at Ford Field. Good football is a lot more exciting with at least one evil team competing.


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