||06-27-2007 01:31 PM
Lions Should Win 10-12 Games Easily
So say Mike Furrey and Jon Kitna:
Lions' Furrey having fun in the driver's seat
June 27, 2007
BY NICHOLAS J. COTSONIKA
FREE PRESS SPORTS WRITER
DUBLIN, Ohio -- Mike Furrey sat in the driver's seat of his black Ford Mustang, revving the 500-horsepower engine and smiling. He looked like he couldn't wait to peel out and take his new, souped-up toy on a joy ride.
And he sounded like he felt the same way about his football team.
Quarterback Jon Kitna has drawn a lot of attention lately for saying he thinks the Lions will win more than 10 games this season. But he isn't the only one with great expectations.
"Right now, on paper, we look like we should win 10 to 12 games, easily," Furrey said Tuesday.
Win 10 to 12 games? Easily? That sounds far-fetched. The Lions went 3-13 last season. They have gone 24-72 since Matt Millen became team president in 2001. They have won one playoff game in a half-century.
Furrey understands if you roll your eyes and say, "Here we go again." When he came home from an off-season workout and told his wife, Koren, the Lions were going to make the playoffs, she said, "Well, you said that last year."
But Furrey thinks the Lions are poised to leap forward in coach Rod Marinelli's second season. He thinks he, Kitna and fellow wide receivers Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson are jelling. And look how far Furrey has come in a year. Did you even know who he was last June?
If Furrey worried about far-fetched, he wouldn't be where he is now. He wouldn't be in the NFL. He wouldn't be the NFC's reigning receptions leader. He wouldn't have a new multiyear contract. He wouldn't have the means to put together a foundation and kick it off with a charity golf tournament Tuesday.
"We're seeing what we have, and we have guys in there now that believe in Marinelli," Furrey said. "They believe in what we can do. And if you ask every one of us, we expect to win 10 games."
By now Furrey's story is familiar. Walked on at Ohio State. Transferred to Northern Iowa. Didn't get drafted. Got cut by the Colts. Played in the XFL and Arena League. Spent three seasons with the Rams -- two as a wide receiver, one as a safety. Broke out with the Lions last season.
But that's just the outline.
In the spring of 2003, Furrey was leading the Arena League in major receiving categories. He was on pace to earn $30,000 to $40,000 in incentives -- a huge deal, because he and Koren had to pay for their upcoming wedding.
Then another Northern Iowa guy called. It was Kurt Warner. Rams coach Mike Martz was interested in giving Mike a shot that off-season. The Furreys were worried about quitting the Arena League. Give up those incentives? There was only a month to go in the season. They needed the money.
"Kurt's like, 'If you wait, you might not make the team because you have to learn the playbook. Our offense is so complicated, you need to get out here tomorrow,' " Koren said.
Mike quit the Arena League. Not only did he give up the incentives, he had to repay his $10,000 signing bonus. He went to St. Louis -- and scrimped.
Koren was living in Cincinnati and working for Ford Motor Co. as a zone manager in Indianapolis. She racked up hotel points. At first, they were able to use those points so Mike could stay at a Hampton Inn in St. Louis for free. Then the points ran out.
On weekends, Mike would drive to Cincinnati to stay at Koren's house. Sometimes, he would drive to Indianapolis to stay in Koren's hotel room. Other times, he slept in his Ford Expedition in the parking lot of the Rams' practice facility.
"He would be there early to take a shower," Koren said. "Nobody knew what he was doing. They just thought he came from the hotel."
After the wedding and honeymoon, Mike went to training camp -- and suffered a sprained ankle. Koren came to St. Louis for cut day with everything they owned packed into the Expedition.
"He's like, 'When I come back, we're either going to look for an apartment or we're going to drive back to Cincinnati. Either I'm in or I'm out,' " Koren said.
Mike's locker had been cleaned out, and his stuff was in a bag. He started crying. An equipment manager asked what was wrong, and Mike said, "What am I going to tell my wife?"
"The guy's like, 'Hey, I just moved your locker next to Torry's,' " Koren said. "Mike's like, 'What?' "
Mike was now next to star wide receivers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce. He had made it.
"What you did see is the hard work and the determination to be good," former St. Louis running back Marshall Faulk said. "Mike's a competitor. When the ball's in the air, he's going to compete for it, whether he's on offense or defense."
When the Rams asked Mike to move to safety, Koren said, "Why don't they just cut you now?" But after the Rams' fifth game, Mike was a starter. In the end, he was the team leader in interceptions.
The Rams released Mike afterward. Koren read it in the paper and woke Mike to inform him. Mike didn't know where he would end up. What city? What position?
After Martz became the Lions' offensive coordinator last year, he brought in Mike as a wide receiver. Mike emerged as a starter -- beating out top-10 picks Charles Rogers and Mike Williams, among others -- and caught 98 passes for 1,086 yards.
Furrey signed a three-year contract extension in February. It allowed him to buy the Mustang and start building a new house not far from where he grew up in the Columbus suburbs.
It also allowed the Furreys to fund the Mike Furrey Foundation and get to work.
Mike flipped open the yellow pages, called companies, introduced himself and asked if they wanted to sponsor his golf tournament.
"People were like, 'Who? What?' " Koren said. "You could hear them on their keyboards, Googling 'Mike Furrey.' "
"I didn't want to hire people to do something that I love to do," Mike said. "I wanted to be hands-on."
The tournament sold out a month and a half early -- 34 foursomes at $1,400 a pop -- and Tartan Fields Golf Club was first class Tuesday.
There were luxury cars parked on the lawn -- a Ferrari, an Aston Martin, a Maserati, a couple of Bentleys -- with Furrey's Mustang in front of the clubhouse. A bagpiper played. The celebs included Faulk, former Ohio State coach John Cooper and a few Lions. There was an auction featuring a number of autographed items from athletes like Warner, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Chauncey Billups and Nicklas Lidstrom. The money is going to Lutheran Social Services of central Ohio.
The Furreys, who already visit Children's Hospital of Michigan once a week, plan to do much more. Help a Detroit school. Help a Detroit adoption agency. Hold a celebrity bowling outing in Detroit around Halloween. Take a couple of Make-A-Wish families on vacation with them.
Sitting in his Mustang, talking about how far he had come, what the Lions could accomplish, what he could accomplish on and off the field, Mike felt like he was in the driver's seat, all right.
"It's the greatest," Mike said. "Who wouldn't want to be me right now, you know?"