Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Waylaid on the Road to Redemption

So I didn't go back and watch the horrors that likely ensued after I turned the TV off on Saturday. The Lions lost, and they lost pretty badly. I have seen that before. MANY times. It's easy to get all wrapped up in what went wrong and what needs to change and all that, but the truth is that we all just need to relax, and quit hi-fiving and parading down Main Street on giant tanks every time something goes right and quit foraging in the closet for the necktie that would make the best noose every time something like what happened on Saturday happens.

The Lions are a bad team. They are. They went 0-16 last season. You don't just bounce back from something like that so quickly. Look at it this way - if you concede that a 5-11 team is considered a miserable failure, it takes about a 4 win improvement to turn them into an up and coming competitive team at a modest 9-7. Most people would say that is excellent improvement from one year to the next. If the Lions improve by 4 wins this season, they will still finish 4-12, which would place them right at the top of the draft - or near it anyway - once again. That is how awful they were last season, and I think Lions fans are so desperate to run away from that, that they are willing to take any sign as reason to believe that the bad old days of losing are safely behind us, whether it's a reasonably decent draft, a coach who seems like he was made in a laboratory from parts of every genius coach from the past, or whether it's a one point victory in the first preseason game in which our second and third stringers outplayed the second and third stringers from another club in a glorified scrimmage. I include myself in this collective swooning. But I think it's all a little bit of a defense mechanism. We need to feel good about the Lions because they have made us feel so bad in the past. And we need to feel good right now.

Look, I know that no one wants to relive what happened last year, and on a larger scope, what has happened over the past decade, and on a still bigger scope, what has happened over the past half century(HOLY SHIT IT HAS BEEN GOING ON FOR THAT LONG), and I know that we are all sick and tired of the losing and the bad jokes, but man, this is going to take a while. The sheer size of this rebuilding effort is almost incomprehensible. There is no model to work from. Okay, I know everyone wants to point to the Falcons and the Dolphins of last season, but neither one of those teams went 0-16. 0-16 is something that exists in some remote corner of the universe that no other team and no other fanbase has explored. There are terrible space monsters hiding there who will suck out your soul and chew on your brains and then laugh at your desiccated corpse as it floats miserably away. It's a terrible place to be, and you don't just escape that kind of hell with a little hard work and a few key changes in personnel.

I said it last season, and I think I sort of let it get away from me in this off season with all the rhapsodizing that's been going on about Jim Schwartz and about the changes that have been made. I said that we weren't even at the level of an expansion team, that what we had to do was tear down this whole culture of losing, erase the misery of the last 50 years and then we could start to rebuild. It is a torturous process, full of horrible missteps and ridiculous pratfalls like the game against the Browns, and along the way we will probably be reminded time and time again of the horrors of last season. One moment you are basking in the glow of the kid with the golden arm at quarterback, the next you are shivering and shaking like a junky while a safety lets an opposing runner waltz right through his arms. It's a terrible swing, bipolar and awful, and it turns us all into mental patients. Hello doctor, my name is Neil and I'm GOOD GOD THEY'RE EVERYWHERE OH JESUS SOMEONE STOP THE MADNESS IT'S ALREADY 76-0 SOMEONE TACKLE HIM FOR GOD'S SAKE. And then the orderlies come, strap us all down, shoot us full of synthetic liquid happiness and we all float away to the land of Candy and Blowjobs.

I'm not sure what's going to happen next, but if Saturday's game did anything, it slapped me square in the face and told me to be a man, and stop pretending like we are just going to dance our way to glory while everyone hi-fives us and coos sweetly into our ears. We suck. And we're going to suck for a while. That is the way it is and the way it has to be. 0-16 is an unfathomable number, an unfathomable place, and yet, we reached it, and we have to deal with what that means. And what that means, at least for right now, is a lot more losing and a lot more tearing at the skin and gnashing of the teeth, the beating of breasts and all that nonsense. I think we will win, some day, but today is not that day. It sucks. It does. I understand that, and I don't like it, but sadly, I am used to it. The big difference is that, in the end, I think it will all be okay this time.

I know that's small comfort for those who are still battered and bruised from what happened last season, but these are the times that try sports fans' souls, and these are the times when we must pull our shit together and get ready to be pelted in the face by a storm of garbage and shit. But there will also be the times when something good happens, when Matthew Stafford throws an impossible pass for a touchdown, when St. Calvin runs wild and free behind a stunned secondary, when Kevin Smith bulldozes a linebacker on his way to six, when Ernie Sims soars like a cruise missile into some hapless ball carrier, when we actually win a game every now and then and Jim Schwartz walks proudly across the field and shakes hands with the other team's head coach and we know, deep in our hearts that our coach, for the first time I can remember, is the better coach.

This season will be a roller coaster of emotions, both exciting and terrifying, and along the way we will likely all stand up in our seats, arms raised, and cheer while we rocket along, and other times we'll vomit and sob when the ride gets out of control and we look over and there's nothing to stop it. I'm sorry, roller coaster analogies suck and I feel like a jackass for having just made one, but I am a Lions fan, beaten and confused, and it is a wonder that when talking about this team I don't just slobber on myself like a retarded chimpanzee and then start flinging my poop about the room. As it is, I devolve into enough weird gibberish to make me question my own sanity, and I imagine that this season will in many ways be even wilder than last season's hell ride. But I am dangerously close to making another roller coaster analogy, and this one threatens to include references to the devil, vampire apes and all sorts of weird shit and so I will just stop now.

We're only a couple weeks away from the first real game of the season. We will probably lose. But fuck it, we have been doing that for a long, long time. I just want to see those bursts, those small moments when we stick our heads above the storm clouds which are always there and see the sun. Those moments will be beautiful, they will be amazing, and they will make us all remember that when we do win, it will feel sweeter than any other fan has ever felt. Because when we do come back, it will be from a place no one has ever been before, and then we'll have something, a feeling, that only we can understand. And for once, it will be good.

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