There is a link between today's announcement by Red Wings star Nicklas Lidstrom at Joe Louis Arena and what needs to happen on the Lions' home turf at Ford Field not far away in downtown Detroit.
A press conference was held Thursday in which Lidstrom bid farewell to hockey after a 20-year career. All of them were spent with the Wings as one of the NHL's greatest defensemen of all-time and a captain of the storied franchise who exerted his leadership as a guiding force with an understated but forceful resolve.
The Red Wings have benefitted from strong captains - Lidstrom the last six seasons, and Steve Yzerman for the previous 20 seasons.
While the Red Wings are losing Lidstrom as their captain at a time when the franchise's arc of excellence is trending downward, the Lions are trending upward - but seeking to develop the internal leadership that binds a team and keeps it afloat in good times and bad.
Hockey and football are different sports in almost every way. Their players come from different backgrounds and cultures.
Football is a national passion. Hockey is mostly a niche sport, with local appeal. Tell me how many office pools there are for the Stanley Cup Finals between the Kings and Devils.
Hockey teams are built with players from different countries. Football teams are built almost entirely with players from different colleges in the United States.
The combination of shorter careers and larger rosters make it harder for leadership to emerge in football than in hockey. But harder does not mean impossible.
Ray Lewis is the unchallenged leader of the Baltimore Ravens. The late Reggie White set the standard in Green Bay, even as Brett Favre was rising as one of the NFL's dominant quarterbacks.
The recent misdeeds of
In that regard, I agree with the statement Coach Jim Schwartz made on Tuesday: "What I think what we have here is a case of a few guys tainting the reputations of a lot of others."
The other 87 players on the offseason roster aren't responsible for the bad behavior of three teammates (four, counting an arrest earlier in the year by
But even before those events of this offseason, it was my belief that the Lions needed a stronger core of leadership that they can count on for the next few years.
The Lions have a good team, and it is positioned to be good for the next few seasons. But no team can remain good for an extended period when the head coach and veteran players have to spend their time explaining the behavior of their teammates.
None of this is intended as a knock on any individual. The work ethic of the players cannot be questioned. Even in 2008 when they made history with a horrid 0-16 record, they worked hard in the offseason and practiced hard. They just didn't have the talent to compete.
Schwartz and his staff inherited that work ethic and have shaped it in a more positive direction - with the help of an infusion of talent.
The Lions are at a tipping point in their development - talented enough to contend for a championship, but faced with enough distractions to block their own path.
This is when true leadership surfaces, and not in the form of public statements or team meetings that turn into gripe sessions.
As a quarterback with the ability to be a superstar,
But leadership cannot come from the quarterback alone. Quarterback is a leadership position on its own.
They pass those qualities along to younger players who carry it forward.
When the Lions were good in the 1990s - they made the playoffs five times in seven seasons from 1991-97, won two division titles and had three seasons with double-digit win totals - they had strong leadership in the locker room.
On defense, safety Bennie Blades was known to call out teammates who didn't carry their load or weren't tough enough. Chris Spielman led by work ethic and preparation. On offense, center Kevin Glover wound speak out - to a coach or teammate - when he felt things weren't going right.
Barry Sanders wasn't comfortable with a defined role of a captain, but he had a way of leading. He did it by example - which included running sprints full out after every practice.
There is one enduring example of that. As Barry lined up to run sprints after a long practice, a teammate grumbled about the extra work.
"Come on," Barry said, tapping his teammate on the back. "This is the fun part of the day."
And off they ran - together.
This many years later, someone has to take the baton from Barry and run with it.