It’s that time of year when Kris Kringle slides his way down the chimney into the homes of all the good little boys and girls…or something like that.
Jolly Ol’ Santa also maintains two lists: the nice list and the naughty list. Suffice to say, you know which one you want to find your name on.
Where will some of our favorite Detroit athletes find their names this Christmas season?
NAUGHTY – Jim Schwartz
The Lions’ head coach has had a bad season, most of it over the last six weeks. Lil’ Jimmy isn’t a particularly happy boy all the time anyway, but his cocky swagger and defiant attitude this season hasn’t made him any friends (outside of his locker room, at least). Blowing a big lead in the NFC North and failing to guide the talented Lions to the playoffs should be the fatal blow to Schwartz’s tenure in Motown. But be careful Santa, Jim won’t be happy to see you fly by his home. He’s known for his outbursts at his critics:
“What are you ho-ho-ho-ing at, Santa?”
NICE – Torii Hunter
Every free agent who signs with a new club should take lessons from this guy in how to endear themselves to the hometown fans. Hunter fit in immediately, and he had little trouble asserting himself as the veteran voice of this team. From his defense of Prince Fielder in the media to his celebration-cheerleading in the postseason, to his clutch hits and steady play on the field, Torii is a true Tiger.
NAUGHTY – Jhonny Peralta
Cheaters don’t get X-mas gifts. He did the right thing by apologizing and taking responsibility ASAP, and his postseason hitting helped Detroit get as far as they did, but Jhonny was a bad boy this year.
While Santa may have had him on his naughty list, the St. Louis Cardinals did not, and Peralta has been rewarded with a 4-year multi-million dollar deal despite his transgression with PEDs.
NAUGHTY – Scott Linehan
The Lions’ offensive coordinator has to take some of the blame for the mediocre play of the Detroit offense in crunch time. With explosive weapons like Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush, and the emergence of Joique Bell as an all-purpose back, the Lions should be more than a toss and dump football team. Linehan has refused to use a fullback, even though his offensive 11 frequently face 3rd and short situations. Defenses are able to key on Bush/Bell and double-team Johnson, knowing a big back isn’t in the mix, or often because the backfield is empty. Linehan has had five years to tweak this offense, and he’s brought them a long way, but his love affair with the pass and the quick back scheme is forcing Matthew Stafford to try to do things he can’t always do well. With millions of the Ford’s money owed to him, Stafford isn’t going anywhere. Linehan should be on the naughty list and the fired list.
NICE – Henrik Zetterberg
Last spring when the Red Wings seemed as if they might (gasp!) miss the playoffs, Zetterberg would have nothing of it. He shrugged off the pressure and carried the team to key victories down the stretch. Then, in the second round series against the Chicago Blackhawks, Zäta skated his ass off and almost led the young Wings to an upset victory. When fans forgive Zetterberg for not being Yzerman, they’ll realize that Hank is one of the greatest to wear the Winged Wheel.
NAUGHTY – Jimmy Howard
Next to being the Lions’ quarterback, being the goalie for the Red Wings is the most thankless and stressful job in Detroit. Howard was given a grace period to settle in, since he had to follow some great goalies into that net at The Joe, but the time for growth is over. The time to b a star is now, and Jimmy hasn’t answered the bell. Says here he never will, he just doesn’t have the chops for it. His frequent lapses and inconsistent play leave him well shy of being the type of goalie who can carry a team through the playoffs and to the Cup.
NICE – Doug Fister
One of the really, really nice guys in sports, Fister will be missed in Detroit. It remains to be seen if the trade that sent him to the Nationals for three players will pan out (we owe Dave Dombrowski the benefit of the doubt), but it’s a testament to Fister’s character that in less than three seasons he became so popular. He deserves a bike, a train set — everything Santa can fit under the tree.
NAUGHTY – Nate Burleson
The wide receiver had a pretty much wasted season after he missed several weeks with a broken arm suffered when he was trying to keep a pizza from sliding off his passenger seat while driving. The accident occurred at an early hour, which raised eyebrows. Burleson’s uneven play upon his returns has raised even more eyebrows. The Lions don’t have a solid #2 to fit in behind Megatron, and as long as they don’t, teams will stack two deep against the #1 man, which in turn forces Matthew Stafford to gun sling the football into dangerous territory. Burleson’s bizarre injury is a fitting epitome of the 2013 season.
NICE – Calvin Johnson
Only Johnson rivals Miguel Cabrera for stardom in Motown, as both are the best in their sports at what they do. Megatron won’t break his own receiving record this season, and he’s starting to show the wear and tear of being a big time receiver in the NFL who takes a pounding, but he’s still a freak of nature who can jump, run, and catch better than it seems it should be humanly possible. He’s a future Hall of Famer, and we should appreciate his incredible skills while we can.
NAUGHTY – Avisail Garcia
The promising young outfielder who looks so much like Miguel Cabrera that he was dubbed “Mini-Miggy” had a very naughty year. Reportedly, it was his transgressions with Mrs. Fielder that precipitated that marital split and helped put Prince in a funk for the ’13 campaign. His punishment for breaking that commandment was exile to Chicago, as Dombrowski quickly sent him packing at the trade deadline. Fielder’s gone now too, and we’ll never know how much this drama played a role in his trade, but the entire “affair” is a black mark on what is usually a pretty squeaky clean team.
NICE – Ndamukong Suh
Surprised? Suh probably is too, after so many years on Santa’s bad list. But the big lineman has had a great season on and off the field. Sure, he still gets scrutinized by the NFL for various rough plays, but much of it is unfair. His foundation and charity work is helping thousands of young people in Detroit, and he genuinely cares about making a difference in people’s lives. For that, Santa has a few special items for Suh. (Hopefully one of them is a new head coach).
NAUGHTY – Fairweather Pistons’ fans
This spot on the naughty list isn’t for the fans who stick with the Pistons, nor the fans who still appreciate what their basketball team has done over the last 20-something years. No, this is for the fairweather fans, and there are lots of them, who abandon the Pistons and kick them while they’re mediocre. Shame on you.
This isn’t the Lions we’re talking about folks. The Pistons have won three NBA titles and been to the finals five times in the last 25 years. As recently as FIVE YEARS AGO, the Pistons were playing in their sixth straight conference finals. That’s six years in a row in the pro hoops Final Four. But you’d think the Pistons were still being coached by Dick Vitale and losing 70 games a season by the way the casual fan dismisses them. Even Joe Dumars, the architect of several trades that put together The Starting Five that led the Pistons to back-to-back finals and those six consecutive conference finals, has been targeted with criticism. It’s unfair to expect this team to win 55 games and challenge for the Eastern title every single season.
The Pistons are younger and more talented this year. Andre Drummond is going to be a star (probably quicker than anyone realizes), and Josh Smith, Brandon Phillips, Greg Monroe, and rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are skilled players who can play roles on a playoff team very quickly.
For their fickleness, casual Pistons fans get two lumps of coal this Christmas.