Detroit Lions end NFL season as lambs after their record losing run

216-game blank sheet deepens gloom in Motor City
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The Independent Online

With its once-proud car industry on government life support, unemployment soaring and home foreclosures amongst the worst in the US, Detroit hardly needed anything new to feel bad about.

But now it is official: the Detroit Lions are the worst team in the history of the National Football League.

The dubious honour was sealed with the final game of the regular American football season yesterday, as the team sank to a typical defeat and ended without a win in all 16 league games this year. It is the first time since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule that a team has ended with a blank sheet, and the first time since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers went0-for-14 in 1976 that a league team has suffered such ignominy.

The Lions' 31-21 defeat by the Green Bay Packers cements the team as a national joke and a grim metaphor for a city in crisis. For the descendants of Henry Ford, the pioneer who turned Detroit into the Motor City of legend and one of the biggest industrial centres in the US, it is an extra blow, at the end of a year in which their car company has stared bankruptcy in the face.

William Clay Ford, grandson of Henry Ford, has owned the Detroit Lions for 44 Superbowl appearance-free years, and his son, Bill Ford Jr, is both vice-chairman of the football team and chairman of the Ford Motor Company. Ford Field, the Lions' home stadium, sits amidst Detroit's downtown, part of an attempted urban renaissance that has so far failed to spark.

Just five days before Christmas, after a month of pleading in Washington, George Bush handed a $17.4bn (£11.6bn) lifeline to Detroit car industry, saying that the US economy could not withstand the bankruptcy of General Motors, Ford or Chrysler. The three had to go cap in hand to the government after sales crashed by a third this autumn, capping a long period of decline as US drivers switched away from gas-guzzling SUVs and pick-ups that have been the staple of the city's production for many years.

The commentary on the Lions' defeat yesterday included a nod to the tens of thousands of workers out of a job because of the industry's accelerating program of factory closures – and to those fearful for their future as the government demands more cuts in return for its loans.

"No competitor wants to go through something like this," said Lions coach Rod Marinelli, who declined to discuss his future with the team. "This is not fun to go through, obviously. But there's people going through a lot worse than this."

The slow slide towards this season's 0-16 record has long appeared inevitable, the result of an ill-coordinated team with no star names, derided from all sides, most recently by the New York Times as a "vaudeville act masquerading as a football team".