Mitch Albom: Ex-Detroit Lions in playoffs gives us heartburn
I think the tipping point came last week, near the end of the NBC broadcast of the Bears-Eagles game, when Golden Tate caught a touchdown to propel Philadelphia into the second round of the playoffs.
“The trade…was officially…worth it!” exclaimed Cris Collinsworth.
Collinsworth had jabbed another dagger into the heart of a serious Detroit Lions affliction, something this year we call “Ebronitis.” In previous years it’s been called other things: “Avrilitis,” or even “Belichickitis.”
It’s all the same disease. A dictionary would define it as “The maddening success of a football talent once he leaves Detroit.” The illustration would be a Lions fan pulling the hair out of his head.
“Ebronitis,” this year’s version, was triggered by tight end Eric Ebron, who for four years caused Detroiters to cringe every time a ball headed his way. His penchant for dropping important passes was legendary. He was booed and booed again — especially since the Lions seemingly wasted the No. 10 pick in the 2014 draft by choosing him. The next four selections were Taylor Lewan, Odell Beckham Jr., Aaron Donald and Kyle Fuller — a virtual All-Star team. Every one of them became a Pro Bowler.
And now, Ebron is a Pro Bowler — but with another team. He signed with Indianapolis this past off-season, and suddenly, he can catch! Ebron had more receptions, yards and touchdowns this season than any season he spent in Detroit. And, despite the poor showing he and the Colts put up Saturday vs. the Chiefs, Ebron has already seen more playoff games this month than the Lions have seen in the past four years.
This is a typical symptom of “Ebronitis”: Last Saturday, during Indy’s win over Houston, he caught his team’s first touchdown, and the ESPN announcer exclaimed, “Ebron! What a year for him!”
I mean, are they TRYING to drive us crazy?
We've seen this before
Ebron is not the only itchy sore in this year’s virus. Tate is another. Let go for a third-round pick, Tate has gotten to ride the Eagles' ascension into the postseason, while the Lions imploded into a 6-10 record.
Then there’s Kyle Van Noy, a bust as a linebacker here in Detroit, who now leads the New England Patriots in tackles. Leads them in tackles? How does THAT happen?
The Lions traded Van Noy in 2016 for — get this — exchanging their seventh-round pick for New England’s sixth-round pick in the 2017 draft. All they did was move up one round — for a guy who would lead the Patriots in tackles! That makes the beans Jack got for his cow look like the deal of the century.
(In case you’re wondering, the Lions used that pick on Brad Kaaya, a quarterback who didn't last one year and now plays elsewhere.)
Meanwhile, Van Noy has been to two Super Bowls, won one, and could go to another this year.
Excuse us while we step outside and puke.
There’s also Haloti Ngata, often injured here but now in the playoffs with the Eagles, and Ndamukong Suh, the Lions' former top pick famous for disappearing during stretches of games at Ford Field, but now part of a formidable front line for the L.A. Rams.
Of course, if you step back in time, there was “Avrilitis,” after the former defensive end Cliff Avril, who was part of the worst Lions team ever, the 2008 squad that went 0-16, but who signed with Seattle and won a Super Bowl and a Pro Bowl nod.
And if you go back far enough, there was “Belichickitis,” because the man who is arguably the greatest NFL coach of all time once worked for the Lions. He had the foresight to make an early exit.
Belichick goes for his 29th playoff win Sunday. The Lions, during that same stretch, have one.
But who’s counting?
Ebronitis. Avrilitis. Lionitis.
Now, sure, there are other teams and towns that watch their exes find success elsewhere. Just not so darn consistently.
It doesn’t help that in the last few years, “Ebronitis” has seemingly infected our baseball franchise. The Tigers have become known as the Johnny Appleseed of other teams’ championships, seeing Justin Verlander land in Houston (won the 2017 World Series) and David Price, Rick Porcello, J.D. Martinez and Ian Kinsler land in Boston (won the 2018 World Series.)
We should change our motto: “Detroit Gives, Your City Celebrates."
Of course, it would be nice if other teams reciprocated, and their recognizable names played well here. Instead we get a Pat Swilling, a Daunte Culpepper or a LeGarrette Blount.
But then, it wouldn’t be an affliction without feeling afflicted.
There’s a German word that psychologists use called schadenfreude. It means a feeling of pleasure watching other people fail. We suffer from the opposite here in Detroit: a feeling of failure watching other teams’ success.
Ebronitis. Avrilitis. Lionitis. It’s a curse. No cure. My only prescription is this: if you see a pass heading Golden Tate’s way today, click off the sound.
Contact Mitch Albom: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his latest best-selling book, "The Next Person You Meet in Heaven," available online and in bookstores nationwide. Download “The Sports Reporters” podcast each Monday and Friday on-demand through Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and more. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.