PONTIAC, Mich. -- The fans still sing a fight song here, in this place bereft of professional cheerleaders, and end zone dances, and quitters.
The star running back still has never spiked the ball. The coach is thick-jowled, jolly and smokes cigars.
More than an hour after important victories, players still can be found in their ragged game pants, their eyes filled with wonder.
"People had our whole team dead . . . dead and buried," Detroit Lions linebacker Chris Spielman said yesterday. "Call me biased, stupid, crazy. But I think we can play with anyone."
On magical afternoons like the Lions experienced against the powerful Minnesota Vikings, they can do better than that. How does a 41-19 rout of a team with the league's fifth-ranked defense sound?
Barry Sanders, the star running back, made moves that dropped Vikings to their knees. Mel Gray returned kicks that left them holding their heads.
Then quarterback Dave Krieg, 36, put it all into the context -- as the Lions do so well -- by conducting his post-game news conference while baby-sitting his two young sons.
"I think we surprised the whole NFL," Lions linebacker Pat Swilling said. "When they see that score, they aren't going to believe it."
The outcome, before a raucous Silverdome crowd of 73,881, virtually ensured that the Lions will make the playoffs despite having a 5-6 record a month ago. They are tied with the Vikings for first place in the NFC Central with a 9-6 record.
It also ensured that the Vikings, who began the season 7-2, still have not clinched the title going into next week's season finale at home against the San Francisco 49ers.
And they may have to win that game without quarterback Warren Moon, who suffered a strained knee ligament in the third period.
Backup Brad Johnson, when he wasn't throwing the ball 10 feet over receivers' heads yesterday, was heaving it out of bounds. He completed 14 of 29 passes for only 104 yards.
"Nothing against Brad Johnson, but if he was the better quarterback, he would be starting," Spielman said. "For their sake, I hope Moon comes back soon."
Like the Lions, the Vikings can clinch a playoff spot today if two of the following four teams lose -- Arizona, Chicago, Philadelphia or Green Bay.
But the Lions are not backing in. True to their 1950s personality, this team and its 1935 uniforms won not with gimmicks or tricks, but with steady punches to the midsection.
Most of them, as usual, delivered by Sanders.
"He does things that people will never, ever see," Spielman said. "People on other teams are always coming up to me after games and saying, 'Man, this guy is in his own league.' "
Sanders, the NFL rushing leader who was held to a season-low 16 yards in the teams' first meeting, scored on runs of 18 and 64 yards while gaining 110 rushing yards.
"We knew what they were doing, we knew what was going to happen, we even knew a lot of their plays . . . . and yet we couldn't stop them," said Roy Barker, Vikings defensive end. "It was just, basically, Barry."
On the first score, he avoided one diving defender, juked another, and carried a third across the goal line. On his second score, he simply found a hole on the left side and sprinted from the crowd.
"He literally drops defensive guys to their knees," said Lions guard Shawn Bouwens. "Just takes away their breath."
And he never, ever rubs it in. It has become the stuff of legends that Sanders' next spike will be his first.
His cocky statements yesterday?
"We're getting contributions from everybody," Sanders said. "We've kind of shaken the reputation of being one-dimensional."
He was speaking of Gray, whose 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the first quarter was his ninth career scoring return, tying Ollie Matson for the NFL record.
He was speaking of Krieg, 5-1 since taking over for injured free-agent bust Scott Mitchell.
Minnesota did have at least one bright spot. Wide receiver Cris Carter, who had eight catches for 80 yards, broke the NFL record of 112 catches by Green Bay's Sterling Sharpe in 1993. Carter has 119 catches this season.
But it wasn't enough.
"One day they are down, [coach Wayne] Fontes is getting fired, this and that are going wrong," Barker mumbled. "Then all of a sudden . . . . they are God's gift."
1% In this case, a charming antique.