DETROIT -- The Lions set a record for futility last year in compiling the NFL's first 0-16 season. They haven't reached the playoffs in a decade and have won only once in the playoffs since 1957. But their fans still love them.
Thousands of fans lined up outside Ford Field in persistent rain Saturday to wait to go inside and watch a team that can only improve on a dismal 2008 season. More than half the players are new, as is the coaching staff and front-office personnel. Small numbers of fans have attended practices at the Lions' training facility, but Saturday's two-hour open practice offered fans their first long look at the team.
"I've got hope," said fan Greg Kowaleski of Southgate, Mich. "There's a new coach and a lot of new players. Things are pretty bad around here, so maybe they'll entertain us."
Before practice, coach Jim Schwartz spoke with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who stopped by on his way to Canton, Ohio, for Saturday night's Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
Schwartz said he hoped the fans' show of support made an impression.
"Anytime I hear someone around the country talking about taking (the annual Thanksgiving) game away from Detroit, I want to remind the commissioner of 15,000 people standing in the rain for two hours to watch a practice," Schwartz said. "It says something about our fans."
Goodell said he didn't believe Detroit was in danger of losing the Thanksgiving game. He did say the league will not alter its blackout policy. Five Lions games weren't broadcast on local television last season because tickets to those games didn't sell out. They were the first blacked-out Lions games since the team moved to Ford Field in 2002.
The team's horrid season led to wholesale changes on the staff and roster.
Owner William Clay Ford fired team president Matt Millen three games into last season and sacked coach Rod Marinelli one day after the Lions finished with the league's first 0-16 record. Tom Lewand was promoted to Millen's position, Martin Mayhew became the general manager, and Schwartz, the Tennessee Titans' former defensive coordinator, was hired to replace Marinelli.
The winless season also added to the woes of the Detroit area, which has taken a beating in the economic downturn and has the nation's highest unemployment rate.
A winning season this year wouldn't solve all of the region's problems, but it certainly wouldn't hurt, fan Chris Moody said.
"The product on the field has been so bad the last several seasons, but the fans are so passionate," said Moody, who began following the team five years ago. ""If they get something worth cheering for, at the very least, I think people will feel a little better."
The Lions' last playoff appearance came after the 1999 season, and their last winning campaign was one year later. They have won just one postseason game since winning the 1957 NFL championship.
Notes: A Lions spokesman said 15,387 turned out for Saturday's program, which included an autograph session. ... Goodell said his office will address before the season whether defensive lineman Grady Jackson, whose name was on a list of players who tested positive last season for a diuretic, will be disciplined. ... CB Anthony Henry has seen reps at safety but said the move is precautionary. Safeties Louis Delmas and Daniel Bullocks have missed the last several days of practice with injuries. ... WR Derrick Williams and CB Eric King had a brief scuffle after a play, but it was quickly broken up.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press