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Pro football: Fed-up Lions fans creating a stir

Pro football: Fed-up Lions fans creating a stir

Associated Press

DETROIT - The Lions have been the NFL's worst team the past five seasons.

Instead of pushing fans to apathy, the team has sunk so low that its followers are fed up and furious.

In Detroit's loss Sunday at home to Minnesota, the crowd chanted for team president Matt Millen to be fired - after tiring of booing quarterback Jeff Garcia - and created a scene with banners, signs and shenanigans.

The loudest roar came when the first of many fans held up a "Fire Millen" sign, and the jeers could not be ignored when security confiscated it.

Then, stadium personnel scurried to take away other anti-Millen messages that popped up throughout Ford Field, where the Super Bowl will be played in two months.

The commotion carried on as one fan shuffled from section to section, dodging security, with a "Fire Millen" sign hoisted to the delight of most spectators while the Lions were in the middle of a rallying drive.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Tuesday that the league's policy manual compels teams to prevent banners or signs, but how they are removed is left up to each club.

Ford Field spokeswoman Risa Balayem said even pro-Lions signs have been confiscated.

"The problem is not with the messages, it's when those messages start to go around the stadium with somebody running with them through the stands. That potentially creates an unsafe environment for our guests," she said. "Our No. 1 goal is to create a safe environment and a fan-friendly experience for our guests, and that priority is at risk when we have an incident such as the one we did on Sunday.

"That illustrated why this policy is in place, because he could've tripped and hurt himself on concrete steps, or fell on a kid or an elderly person, or made the situation escalate in another way."

At Joe Louis Arena on Tuesday night, during the third period of the Detroit Red Wings game against New Jersey, a fan held up a "Fire Millen" sign and the crowd responded with loud "Fi-re Mil-len!" chants.

The Lions (4-8) will get a reprieve from the hometown scrutiny Sunday night at Green Bay (2-10).

The Lions insist banners or signs of any kind are not permitted at their games, but that is not stopping their fans from planning to show how angry they are with the lowly franchise. The Lions have had only one playoff win since 1957.

Some fans have painted messages on their faces, and more plan to come to the next home game with "Fire Millen" printed on hats, T-shirts and sweat shirts.

Local radio station WDFN is sponsoring an Angry Fan March before the home finale and is taking suggestions for a Lions-related message to put on a billboard it has reserved near the downtown stadium.

"People are sick of letting the Lions waste their Sundays and watching them become a national joke over the past five years," said WDFN host Sean Baligian, who came up with the idea for the march. "The Lions don't want fans in the stands with signs, and we're cool with that. So we're going to walk around the stadium before the Bengals game because we want the Lions to make changes.

"Matt Millen is a good guy with good intentions, but he doesn't have a clue when it comes to running an NFL franchise."

Westbrook out for season

PHILADELPHIA - Running back Brian Westbrook will miss the rest of the season with a foot injury, the fourth Pro Bowl player the Philadelphia Eagles have lost for the season in the last month.

Westbrook hurt his foot in the first half of Monday night's 42-0 loss to Seattle. An MRI on Tuesday confirmed he has a Lis Franc sprain, an injury more common in automobile accidents and equestrian sports.

Westbrook joins quarterback Donovan McNabb (sports hernia), cornerback Lito Sheppard (ankle) and left tackle Tra Thomas (back) on the injured list.

The Eagles also are without All-Pro wideout Terrell Owens, who was suspended four games for conduct detrimental to the team and told not to return.

Westbrook signed a five-year contract extension worth almost $25 million last month.

Westbrook leads the Eagles (5-7) with 617 yards rushing and three touchdowns. He also had a team-high 61 catches for 616 yards and four TDs.

A fourth-year pro from Villanova, Westbrook had a breakout year in 2004 with 812 yards rushing and 73 catches for 703 yards in 13 games. He signed a one-year restricted free agent offer for $1.43 million in the offseason.

Rookie Ryan Moats likely will take Westbrook's spot, though he could share time with Lamar Gordon and Reno Mahe.

Union fights for T.O.

WASHINGTON - The NFL Players Association filed a grievance against the Philadelphia Eagles on Tuesday, claiming the team breached Terrell Owens' contract by trying to get back part of the wide receiver's signing bonus and by leaving him inactive for the rest of the season.

The union said the team was breaching the maximum discipline clause in its agreement with the NFL.

Owens was suspended for four games by the team after run-ins with quarterback Donovan McNabb and coach Andy Reid. The suspension was upheld in arbitration and the team has said it will make him inactive for the rest of the season.

But the union alleged that the Eagles' request to return a portion of signing bonus money constitutes "double discipline."

Owens' suspension without pay cost him $764,706 of his $3.25 million base salary for this season. He is owed $955,882 over the final five games.

The Eagles reportedly informed Owens he must repay $1.725 million of the $2.3 million signing bonus he received in March 2004.

The team could withhold his pay the rest of the season because he never returned the signing bonus.

Copyright © 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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