DETROIT (AP) – The Detroit Lions’ tradition of playing on Thanksgiving dates to 1934. History goes only so far, though, making the matchup with the Miami Dolphins hardly seem like must-see TV.

Joey Harrington, however, gives people outside of Detroit and Miami a reason to tune in.

The quarterback’s return today to Ford Field, where he was booed last year at a practice, provides an intriguing story line for those searching for a reason to watch two teams that are eight games under .500 combined.

“I would be lying if I said it was going to be just another game, because I’d be ignoring the obvious,” Harrington said. “It’s not going to be a sterile game where I walk into Jacksonville, or someplace that I had no connection.”

Detroit gave up on Harrington just four seasons after drafting him third overall, and had to settle for a conditional pick from Miami that might end up being a fifth-rounder.

The Lions didn’t want to give Harrington a $4 million bonus in June, especially when they signed free agents Jon Kitna and Josh McCown to replace him.

Harrington wanted to leave, too.

Lions cornerback Dre’ Bly blamed him when coach Steve Mariucci was fired following last year’s Thanksgiving game, and the new coaches didn’t seem to be behind Harrington, just like previous staffs.

“I felt like what had happened in the past wasn’t addressed and I was a bit uncomfortable with that,” Harrington said.

Bly, who is usually talkative, said he wasn’t doing interviews this week.

“Hopefully, the crowd will still be behind us, but it might turn against us and cheer Joey on,” Detroit center Dominic Raiola said. “Who knows? That doesn’t matter. What matters is what we go out there and do. We’ve got to give them something to cheer about.”

The Lions (2-8) have lost two straight and are an NFL-worst 23-67 since 2001, when president Matt Millen took over the once-mediocre franchise.

Detroit drafted Harrington in 2002, hoping he would end a decades-long search for a star quarterback. Since winning a title in 1957 with Bobby Layne, the Lions have the same number of playoff victories as Pro Bowl QBs – one.

Harrington was 3-3 in his first six starts with the Lions, the same record he has in Miami, before finishing 18-37 as a starter on a flawed team.

“I was the person that they drafted to come in and save the franchise,” Harrington said.

Harrington said the Lions’ problems are the same ones he noticed after starring at Oregon.

“There’s an attitude that existed in the city, an attitude about the Lions,” he said. “When I first came into town, there were three things that were told to me: One was that … the two toughest jobs in the city are goalie for the Red Wings and quarterback for the Lions. Two, we haven’t had a quarterback since Bobby Layne. And three, as soon as we started losing the game, the first thing you heard was, “same-old Lions.”‘

Lions president Matt Millen, in an interview with The Associated Press last year, agreed with Harrington’s assessment.

The Dolphins were happy to take Harrington off Detroit’s hands in May as an insurance policy behind newly acquired Daunte Culpepper. It turned into a wise move.

Harrington replaced Culpepper, who was struggling with a surgically repaired knee and a bruised shoulder, and helped a turnaround.

Following losses in his first three starts, Harrington and the Dolphins (4-6) have won three in a row. He threw four touchdowns and three interceptions in the victories and had three TDs and seven interceptions in the setbacks.

“I see a very confident quarterback,” Detroit safety Terrence Holt said. “I see the quarterback that I saw when he was at Oregon, a guy who is jubilant after making big plays.”

Harrington started off that way in Detroit, sprinting to the end zone following scores and was dubbed “Joey Blue Skies” for staying positive after losses. But last year no one wanted to celebrate with Harrington or help him up off the turf after he was knocked down, and his smug personality continued to bother this blue-collar town.

The Lions like Kitna much more because he played basketball with them last summer and gets involved in card games in the locker room, two things Harrington didn’t do.

When Kitna was hit while sliding against Atlanta, he reacted angrily and his teammates were quick to support him in a brief scuffle.

“I don’t know if the reaction would have been the same from the guys,” Williams said of Harrington being in Kitna’s place.

Even with the popular Kitna, the results have been just as poor. That doesn’t mean the suddenly surging Dolphins are cocky.

“We’re three weeks removed from being thought about as the worst team out there,” Miami defensive end Jason Taylor said. “Who are we to underestimate somebody? This is a good football team that can beat anybody on any given day, just like we can. It’s amazing how three or four weeks changes everybody’s view.”


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