Daunte Culpepper shouldn't make way for rookie Matthew Stafford just yet. (Daniel Mears/The Detroit News)
Finally, after all these years and all those 4-yard completions on third-and-8, the Lions have what fans have dreamt about since donning their first pair of Honolulu Blue footie pajamas.
Yes, finally, a quarterback debate actually worth the breath.
Oh, the Lions have had quarterback quandaries in the past, but the options generally were unappealing, like choosing between garbanzo beans and pickled beets on the salad bar. (Not that I'm overly familiar with salad bars.)
Now, Daunte Culpepper looks healthy and mobile again, which means he could be a legitimate NFL starter again, which means the opening-game job is his to lose. At least that's the way it should be, if Jim Schwartz and GM Martin Mayhew are smart about it.
Rookie Matthew Stafford appears to have all the tools to defy the franchise's horrid history, if handled properly. In fact, I'll declare him the Lions' most-promising quarterback prospect since, um, well, let me double-check here, since ever.
Schwartz started Culpepper in the exhibition opener and likely will start Stafford Saturday night in Cleveland. Nobody's saying anything for sure, but the nature of the competition is obvious. It's also spirited, and along with third-stringer Drew Stanton, who has shown flashes, the position could be -- dare I type the words? -- in fine shape.
Stafford's time will come
I asked Schwartz if it would be a difficult decision if he had to name a starter right now. He sort of grimaced and sort of smiled and deftly refused to stir. Good for him. Also, darn him.
"I wouldn't want to put a hypothetical on that, because we've said we're not gonna make a decision too quickly," Schwartz said. "My expectations for Daunte were pretty high. And any time you draft a player No. 1 overall, your expectations are gonna be pretty high. The bar is pretty high for both those guys."
Two thoughts here. No. 1: Arrrgh, no more talk about bars being high!
No. 2: Stafford is making a seemingly easy decision -- start the veteran Culpepper -- tougher and tougher.
Mayhew and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan sound pleased with the battle. Culpepper doesn't like to talk about it. Stafford politely says little, and reiterated Thursday, "I'm fine with the pace it's going."
No one's speaking the full truth here but no one's denying it either. Stafford will win the job soon enough, which defeats the purpose of a long-term debate, but heightens the importance of the short-term debate.
There are lasting implications based on how the Lions handle this, and they're in no apparent rush, thank goodness. After all their losing, they simply can't afford to mess this up. Stafford will have to be ridiculously advanced to warrant the risk of starting right away. Culpepper's presence provides a cushion, one the Lions should use for the opener in New Orleans and about half the season.
Position of strength
This debate has legs because the Lions actually have arms, a far-better situation than all their infamous classics. Ah, from Greg Landry-versus-Bill Munson in the '70s, to Rodney Peete-versus-Erik Kramer-versus-Andre Ware in the early '90s, to Charlie Batch-versus-Scott Mitchell in the late '90s, to Joey Harrington Myth-versus-Joey Harrington Reality in the '00s.
You might notice a common theme. The winner didn't really win anything, only one Pro Bowl spot (Landry) and absolutely no legacy. (Did you know the Lions haven't had a franchise quarterback since Bobby Layne? And Stafford played at Layne's high school in Texas! This might get mentioned occasionally!)
Culpepper went to three Pro Bowls with Minnesota, which automatically makes him the best-credentialed Lions quarterback in half a century. He has dropped 30 pounds and gained a healthy chip on his shoulder -- do not count this guy out, please.
Stafford made strong, deep throws in the exhibition opener, with several of his best ricocheting off Keary Colbert's hands.
I'm afraid if Calvin Johnson had been in the game, Stafford would have a bronze statue today.
Patience, my friends, no matter how painful it is, especially for Stafford, whose supreme confidence should be tempered by the Lions' low talent.
There's also the little matter of a 17-game losing streak, dating to 2007, and the Lions shouldn't toss a prized youngster into the middle of it.
Harrington was thrown in the third game as a rookie in 2002 partly to generate excitement. The cool thing about 0-16 is, it sufficiently dulls any hype, which should mute the clamor for Stafford.
In New York right now, the Jets might be compelled to start No. 5 overall pick Mark Sanchez because his competition is so weak (Kellen Clemens, ugh).
Maybe that'll work. It's never worked here, which is why Lions fans should stick to visions of a rumbling Culpepper for a while longer.
More Bob Wojnowski
- After a little rest, donít count Red Wings out yet
- Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard is up for the challenge against Blackhawks
- Red Wings' steely resolve belies their youth; Blackhawks up next
- Wings-Ducks series has been good to the last gasp
- Wings duo of Zetterberg, Datsyuk steadies teammates through emotional win
- Exasperating gets best of exhilarating in Red Wings' Game 5 setback
- Young Red Wings aggressive from get-go -- and it pays off in big way