A Detroit radio station gave the Matt Millen era a proper burial today, complete with a Harley-drawn carriage lugging the “Fire Millen!” sign in a custom-painted Lions’ casket.
“This is a special moment for us as we say goodbye to a legacy, to a reign of a general manager that brought us frustrations, brought us tears, brought us everything but a trophy,” DJ Spike, from the Mojo In The Morning program on WKQI-FM (95.5), said as the funeral lined up at 8 a.m. at Eastern Market.
An $85,000 Harley-Davidson hearse led the procession south on Gratiot Avenue to Ford Field. Inside, a gleaming, custom painted, Honolulu Blue casket held a photograph of Matt Millen’s face on a white padded silk pillow.
As about 30 people standing around the casket snickered, Spike invited fans to put mementos in the casket “to be buried forever along with the bad memories of seven years of Matt Millen’s reign.
Aaron Tobin, 47, of Oak Park laid his “Fire Millen!” sign next to Millen’s face.
“As the person who started it, I’m glad it’s finally over,” said Tobin, who claims to have been carrying the sign to Lions, Tigers and Pistons games for the last three years. “It’s euphoria now in the city of Detroit.”
The idea of a funeral started Monday at the radio station, first to mourn what promised to be dire season for the losing team, Spike said Friday.
But when the football franchise fired Millen Tuesday, they decided to put Millen in the casket and called on listeners to help celebrate.
Dan Dwyer, 43, of Flat Rock brought his Harley hearse after his 13-year-old daughter, Alex, heard about the funeral on the radio.
As funeral director of Michigan Memorial in Flat Rock, he travels throughout the Midwest and on the east coast, delivering the departed to their final resting place.
He gladly donated his time today to send Millen on his way.
“It’s about time,” Dwyer said. “I want to see a new era for the Lions. He was a great football player and a terrible manager.”
Megan Clement, 26, of Warren drew on her trumpet training at Hazel Park High School to play “Taps” at today's funeral, even though she wouldn’t have called herself a Lions’ fan.
“Now I am; I wasn’t when they sucked,” she said after her notes echoed off the brick of Ford Field. “They were an embarrassment to all of Michigan.”
Custom painter Bryan Gunn, 43, of Tecumseh immediately got his spray gun and air brush out Wednesday night, working 38 hours straight to paint the Millen casket.
His artwork of little tombstones line the outside of the casket walls, denoting the athletic demise of nine former coaches. Starting in 1978 with Monte Clark, Gunn’s list ends with Millen’s tombstone on the lid. Next to Steve Mariucci and Dick Jauron, coaches to come are memorialized with the words “Next” on other headstones. Plans are for the casket to be auctioned on eBay, with a portion of the proceeds donated to charity.
“It was fun,” said Gunn, who painted the casket at Westborn Collision City in Dearborn. “It was a real tight time-schedule because I only had one day’s notice, but other than that, it was fun.”
Hearse enthusiast Stan DeJohn, 43, of Troy offered to deliver the casket to today's ceremony in the gold 1970 Cadillac hearse — the “Golden Ghost” — he drives every day in Metro Detroit.
Today's funeral director, Spike, wasn’t surprised at the outpouring.
“Not at all,” Spike said. “With the attitude of the miserable Lions’ fans, we knew they’d be just as enthusiastic as we were to put this era to rest.”