Friday, July 10, 2009

Strange Hope and Savage Despair

This might be a rambling mess of a post(yeah, yeah, what else is new), but I felt like posting something, and so fuck it, here we are. And as Lions fans, where we are seems to be a weird place, one moment full of wailing and despair, with people howling and gibbering about our mournful past, unable to escape its horrible grip, and the next moment, everyone is all sunshine and lollipops, with Jim Schwartz carried around on a throne of candy and blowjobs. It's an odd world to be stuck in, a strange mixture of hope and dread which causes our battered and fragile little minds to react like we are a gaggle of pregnant schizophrenics. It's a crazy world, and those who survive its horrors are both twisted and hardened. It takes both a certain kind of cynicism and an innocent optimism to survive. You have to both expect the worst and hope for the best to survive as a Lions fan. It is completely contradictory, and completely insane, but if you don't have both you will break down along the way.

It's a difficult thing to look at your favorite team and say "Yeah, these guys are probably going to stink." I hate it, and yet, year after year it's almost a necessity. It's simply the way it usually is, and only a great fool would put himself through the heartbreak of expecting great things from the perpetually putrid. And yet, most of us are great fools. We are Lions fans, after all. And despite our proclamations of doom and our gnashing of teeth and beating of breasts, when the season is getting ready to get underway, we always fall to our knees and start speaking in idiot tongues about how we're really going to turn it around this time, and about how we've got a real chance to be good. It's bizarre and inexplicable, and yet it happens every damn year. Hell, last year, everyone was all pumped up, figuring that we could build off of that magical 7-9 season, and then when those shitbirds went 4-0 in the preseason, everyone was getting ready to bask in the glow of the dawn of a new age of, well, of competence anyway. And then 0-16 happened.

So, which one is real and which one is the defense mechanism? Oddly, I think they are both kind of real and both a defense mechanism. We have watched too long and seen too much suffering and senseless death on that football field to truly believe that things are going to get better, and so it's only natural that we would see the four horsemen of the apocalypse thundering through the tunnel and through the end zone every time we chanced a glance down the field. And yet, there's a theatricality to it all, a sense that we have to bitch because that is what we are supposed to do. It goes so ridiculously far. If the Lions signed Tom Brady with Jesus as his go to receiver and Moses as his possession guy, along with a cheetah on PCP at running back, an offensive line consisting of Bigfoot, Paul Bunyan, Darth Vader, Goliath and Frankenstein's Monster and a defense made up of deranged vampire apes and pissed of werewolves, Lions fans would still doom the team to failure before they even took a snap. I can just hear it now, people calling into talk radio, screaming and gibbering about how Frankenstein's Monster is too stiff on the left end and that he'd get killed by speed rushers. A horrible thing, just horrible. Lions fans have to be so cynical in order to protect themselves. Having to go through those seasons is hard enough. Dealing with them when you are expecting glory is fucking heinous.

And yet, there is still that undercurrent of hope that travels through everything, that shrug of the shoulder and the "Oh hell, why not?" that invades every Lions fan before every single season. And that has to be real. It wouldn't exist if it wasn't. It speaks to how resilient as fans we can be. I mean, we have to be to support this team, right? Those of us who have stayed are crazy. There can be no doubts about that one, but the reason why we have stayed is because underneath it all, we are a bunch of eternal optimists, ready to see the sun shine again. Still, some of this optimism is the byproduct of our need to talk ourselves into something good happening. Without hope, we would go mad following this team. It has to be there, and if we have to manufacture some of that hope, then that's what we do.

Which brings us to this season, a season where we seem to be swinging between these extremes even more wildly than any other time I can remember. And really, can you blame us? We're in completely uncharted territory here folks, in a place where Kirk and Spock would be shitting their pants in mortal terror. 0-16 is a difficult thing to wrap the mind around and, yet, it happened and we have to deal with it. It's an incredibly difficult thing to feel optimism - it's absurd really - coming off of that kind of a season. But then we happened to go out and hire a head coach who everyone has fallen in love with and whose visage is currently doodled on the inside of all of our Trapper Keepers, and so we look at the future and see, for the first time that many of us can remember, an honest optimism, a sense that we can really believe in what's going on here. You mesh those two realities, 0-16 with the excitement of the new, and you get this weird, stormy world, where one minute(or one paragraph)someone will be predicting apocalyptic doom and the next they will be composing sonnets for Jim Schwartz and rhapsodizing about our glorious future.

Many of us have settled into kind of a groove with this whole deal, predicting yet another tragic season with a silver lining. We're not expecting us to be any good this year, but we are expecting the groundwork to be laid for a future rife with glory and parades and Jim Schwartz being carved onto Mt. Rushmore and ushering in an unprecedented era of peace much like that generated by those two sages, Bill &Ted. I think what we're hoping for here is something akin to what the Cowboys went through when they hired Jimmy Johnson, a team that struggles mightily, but after passing through the fire starts whipping the shit out of the rest of the league. That would be okay, minus the batshit crazy owner and the drunken hillbilly coach that followed anyway.

And yet, even those of us who see doom on the immediate horizon are looking at this season and saying "Hey, why not?" There are bright red arrows in our brains pointing to the Falcons and the Dolphins of last season, and there is Larry Foote and Julian Peterson and the brand new and improved Lizard King Cinnabon Sims at linebacker, there's St. Calvin, and the rookie with the arm that can throw the ball across Lake Michigan. There's Kevin Smith ready to rush for 4,000 yards and there's a competent group of coaches led by a wunderkind with an IQ of 912 who likes to drink beer and listen to Metallica in the parking lot with the fans and there is an owner who . . . okay, never mind.

And that's when the other halves of our brains descend like vultures and start telling us that the secondary is still pretty shitty, the defensive line is paper thin and soft like Downy, and that the offensive line is still the same group of put upon shell shock victims most skilled at running around in panicked terror. There is still an appalling lack of depth and a rookie quarterback who was kind of a gamble with the number one pick, a lack of gamebreakers aside from St. Calvin and a rookie coach who has still yet to win a game in the NFL, and of course there is the big one, that we are still the Detroit Lions and good things simply don't happen to the Lions.

It's a war between the better angels of our nature and the pile of broken bodies which lies hideous and terrible in our memories. We want to believe. We want it so very badly, and all we can do until hope blossoms into something tangible is to keep running from those terrible memories, run until they fade into just a vaguely unpleasant blob somewhere far behind us. They'll always be there, but we are Lions fans. We're tough, maybe a little crazy, perhaps a touch dumb for putting up with all this nonsense, but we're tough and we're dedicated and when the good times do start rolling, Jesus will it ever be sweet.

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