Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 12, 2009

James Cook: Lions, fans may need shrink


So, you're a Lions fan.

There probably are worse things to be.

I can't think of many right now, but there has to be.

"Research shows that the sense of belonging, even if it's a losing team, is actually good for you and has positive effects on health," says Dr. Eddie O'Connor, Chief Sports Psychologist for Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital. "So I encourage people to stay avid fans, but back away from the expectation and enjoy the process of competition."

So it can be healthy.

Perhaps not for your television or whatever inanimate object that bears the brunt of your frustration, but for you, that 42-7 beatdown the New Orleans Saints put on Detroit last year can actually be a good thing. Provided you aren't actually a Lions player.

"It's going to hurt anybody," O'Connor said. "Every time a player loses, they take it very personally. ... There is a tremendous amount of pride, because this is their livelihood at this level. So a loss, let alone 16 of them, would be taken pretty personally."

The mental hurdle for Detroit may be bigger than the oncoming defensive tackle. With even the slightest setback, fans and haters alike will be trotting out the "same ol' Lions" talk.

"For them to get past it, they need the mental toughness to be able to focus on the here and now as opposed to being distracted about what everybody is talking about in the past," O'Connor said. "Focusing on the here and now is the biggest factor and the things you can control is really the most critical factor for the Lions' players and front office."

To help the Lions -- or the few remaining ones who suffered through the NFL's first 0-16 campaign -- the team cleaned house in the offseason.

Only 21 players from last year's infamous squad remain, as Detroit's new/recycled front office regime sought to rid the team of most of the players that contributed to the worst Sweet Sixteen present ever.

The team has gone to lengths to distance itself from the 0-16 team, off and on the field. The franchise changed the team's logos, altered the uniforms and even redesigned its Web site.

"They are really trying to establish a new identity," O'Connor said.

But even new players will constantly be barraged with questions about playing for the worst team in NFL history.

And if something can take your mind off being a loser, it's if someone else is a bigger loser. So 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, you can thank the city of Detroit now.

But Detroit may not be all alone in loser oblivion for long.

According to Las Vegas betting site, the St. Louis Rams are underdogs in all 16 of their games this season, whereas the Lions are dogs in only 14.

Then there's always the Raiders. You don't have to be a sports psychologist to see 12 different kinds of crazy coming from that franchise.