Friday, August 21, 2009

Just Win? Oh Hell, Why Not?

For as much as I derided the first preseason game against the Falcons as a meaningless glorified scrimmage, the truth is that there was a lot of anxiety amongst Lions fans heading into that game. After all, all we had seen for the past year was a nuclear wasteland of dead bodies and cruel winds, a desert of bleached skulls being picked clean by terrible mutant beasts who laughed in our faces and shit in our salads. And when it was all over, we were promised that we would get some new age Moses as a coach who would guide us out of this desert and into a lush wonderland filled with candy canes, mermaids and blowjobs. But, as excited as we all were, and as much as we looked forward to this happy new future, the sad reality is that until we started moving again, we were still trapped in that desert, and while Rod Marinelli and Matt Millen were no longer skulking about, whipping us with their chains made of failure and sorrow while we wept and begged for mercy, their ghosts still remained and when those ill winds would pick up, we would be forced to deal with their stench all over again.

But then the game against the Falcons came and it went, and with it, a lot of the foul hopelessness of the past went with it too. We were no longer in that horrible desert. We hadn't reached the promised land yet, but we were finally moving. Unfortunately, even though we are moving, we are moving slowly, and as much as want to believe that we'll make it, we're still unsteady, reeling from a lifetime of sorrow and pain. All it takes is one glance back, and we see those horrible beasts gaining on us, devilish smiles on their horrible faces, and we start to panic and wonder if they will overtake us once again. Because as much as we hope and as much as we try to be good, optimistic happy fans, the truth is that we just don't know. We don't know if this whole thing will work out. We don't know if this will finally be our chance to escape the nightmarish hell we have been stuck in as Lions fans for the majority of our fandom.

And that brings us to this weekend's preseason game, the annual tilt against the Browns, in which - at least it's my understanding - the winner gets control of Lake Erie and the loser is boiled in acid. Or maybe it's the other way around. In any event, I'm fairly certain that Lake Erie is involved somehow. With one game out of the way and some of the questions that have hovered over this team all preseason starting to be answered, now comes the time when we all start to worry whether or not the good things that happened in the first game can be duplicated, or whether they were just a mirage in this terrible desert and we will once again be dragged back into that miserable past to be tortured by those horrible beasts.

The terrible thing about failure, especially failure on the unprecedented scale that we just experienced, is that it just makes the future seem even scarier. It shouldn't. I mean, what else is there to be afraid of as football fans after going 0-16? But the sad reality is that the clock doesn't just reset after 0-16. Every loss after that just feels like a continuation of 0-16. Every fuck up, every dumb decision, every fumble, every interception, every missed opportunity feels like a carry-over from the hell of the past, instead of something new and correctible. It makes the prospect of success seem almost absurd, a ridiculous dream that will only make us hurt all the more in the end, when our heroes are dead and broken once again and we are weeping and praying for an end to all the misery.

But, as terrible and as depressing as all that is, the other side of the coin is that failure tends to breed desperation. We know what it feels like to lose on the most absurd scale possible. The players know it, the fans know it, anyone connected with this team in any way knows it. And so when each new practice, each new game, each new player comes along, there is a crazy sense of hope attached to it, a feeling that maybe this will be the one that rockets us out of this hellish desert and into the lush green land full of puppies and grenade launchers filled with good beer. We get excited because we want to win so very, very badly, and any sign that we can actually do this makes us giddy.

In the first game against the Falcons, the defense played well and the offense moved the ball. A couple of rookies made big plays and some unheralded names on defense stepped up and stuffed the Falcons when it mattered the most. Hell, after the game the Lions even brought back Swayze Waters. Such a happy day, all is right with the football world. And now we are both excited and terrified as we wait to see whether they can duplicate - and improve upon - that first little litmus test.

I know it still doesn't matter. Last year's preseason and the ensuing debacle proved that in the most extreme way. Still, winning feels a hell of a lot better than losing, no matter the context, and especially for us.

I remember watching a special on the Big Ten Network about Lloyd Carr, the former Michigan head coach, and in it they were focusing on the '97 team that won the national championship. Lloyd recalled that Michigan had lost 4 games for 4 straight seasons and there were some whispers going around that Michigan was no longer among the elite in college football. And then, one day, Charles Woodson, the Michigan cornerback/receiver/punt returner who would win the Heisman over Peyton Manning in '97, decided that he was sick of losing. From that point on, Woodson, Carr and Michigan made it a point to win every day. And what that meant is that no matter what you were doing, you went out and you did your best. If you were in practice, you practiced as hard as you could. If you were in meetings, you paid attention as hard as you could. You did all the little things during the week so that when the game finally arrived, you were ready to win because you had been winning all week long. I know that sounds like some empty Marinelliesque DO IT THE RIGHT AWAY bullshit, but there is a world of difference between empty words falling out of the mouth of a man so wrapped up in clichés that he can't see beyond them to what really matters, and a team actually deciding to do it.

The Lions game against the Browns is meaningless as far as the record books go. Just like the Falcons game. But, man, winning sure beats the hell out of losing, so why not win now, whether it matters in the record book or not? Fuck the desert, fuck the beasts, fuck the ghosts, fuck the pain, fuck the misery, fuck the losing, fuck the failure. Just keep winning, keep moving forward, and one day, we'll be in that wonderland, celebrating, drunk and happy, and the ghosts of Millen and Marinelli will haunt a desert of failure that's empty and pointless, because the rest of us will have all moved on.

The Lions play the Browns, and just like last weekend, I want to watch Matthew Stafford throw a ball so hard he breaks the space time continuum, and I want to see Ernie Sims and Louis Delmas hit someone so hard he shits his pants. I want to see Kevin Smith truck some fool and I want to see Aaron Brown do a triple back flip using the goalpost as a prop. I want to see Jim Schwartz wrestle Eric Mangini to the ground and submit him with a rear naked choke - perhaps while naked, why not? - and I want to see Shaun Rogers rip off his uniform after the game starts to reveal a Lions uniform underneath. I want to see Brady Quinn beaten and hooked up to Sammie Lee Hill and dragged around the stadium like Hector behind Achilles, and I want to see Jamal Lewis get picked up and powerbombed through a table by an enraged Landon Cohen. I want to see Jim Brown drop to his knees and beg for the soul of his beaten franchise, and most of all, what I want is to watch the Lions win again. That is a lot of weird bullshit, but fuck it, I'm a weird guy, these are weird times, and it's weird to be a fan of a team that went 0-16 last season. But winning, for a Lions fan, is probably the weirdest thing of all. It's probably not as weird as Hitler jello wrestling with a werewolf on PCP or Tom Cruise or whoever, but it is still pretty weird, and if I can imagine those things happening(and so help me, I can, which is just terrifying), I can imagine these dudes who have caused me so much sorrow and so much agony over the lifespan of my fandom doing the impossible and actually winning. Why not? Like I said, we live in weird times.

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