Monday, September 28, 2009
My first post on Armchair Linebacker is dated September 1, 2008. That is over one year ago. It was nine months before that long ago date that the Lions last won a game. So, yeah, it has been a long time. I have written over 100 absurd posts for this blog, weird, meandering things that have attempted to put into words what it means to be a Lions fan, and what it means to confront a culture of failure that exists on such a massive and ridiculous scale. This is the first time - ever - that I have gotten to write about the Detroit Lions, my favorite football team, winning a game.
Some players were driven to tears. Other players couldn't watch the final play. They, along with every Lions fan on the planet, have had their hearts broken too many times and have been on the other side after every game for almost two years, watching the other team and its fans celebrate. After the game, Jim Schwartz was given a bath - not with Gatorade, not with Champagne, but with a simple bottle of water. It was a fitting celebration for one lowly victory, and in some ways maybe it points out the perversity of the excitement over beating a team that, much to Raven Mack's dismay, appears to be a piece of shit. But the simple fact that they finally had something, anything, to celebrate after all this time is enough. It doesn't matter what it was, it doesn't matter that it was only against a shitty Redskins team, it was something real, and that's something that none of us - fans, players, coaches, ball boys, anyone having any sort of interest in the Lions - have had in a very, very long time.
After the tiny water bottle shower in the locker room, Schwartz sent his players out to celebrate with the fans. It was a nice gesture, and it is something that will stay with all of those fans for the rest of their lives. They finally won, and they celebrated with the same bunch of rich assholes who they have bitched about for so long. The Lions won and for one day and night at least, everything was okay, the fans loved the hell out of the players and the players loved the shit out of the fans. This team has let us down over and over and over again, in ways that other fans don't understand, can't understand, but fuck it, our team won this week.
As the game ended, every Lions fan had the same thought running through their head. Even with a 19-7 lead and five minutes left on the clock, we wondered how - not if, but how - they were going to blow it this time. And they almost did. There are things to bitch about here, decisions to criticize, coaches to complain about. But this is not the time for that shit. That can all come later, and really, for the first time in a long time, when we do bitch about these things, they will be the same things that every other fan gets to bitch about, real problems, human problems, not problems that exist on some absurd plane of the unreal, which, sadly, is all we have known as Lions fans for far too long.
When that clock finally showed zero and Ladell Betts was tackled harmlessly to the turf and everyone began to celebrate, it was tough to understand what it was I felt. Was it relief? I suppose. Happiness? Yeah, I guess so. But it was a happiness infused with terrible sadness, with the pain that comes from having been beaten up over and over and over again by this team. It was the happiness of a man reaching the end of the road after a journey down a path made of broken glass and snakes. It was the relief of a man when he finally plops down on his bed after having fire walked through hell. It's a tough feeling to describe. Perhaps it's akin to a soldier who has somehow survived the longest and ugliest battle in a terrible war. He's relieved and happy to have finally made it through, to find himself standing on the other side. But he still knows he has to fight again tomorrow and that battle will be hard and he will probably see some more of his friends killed and it's possible that he'll get his guts blown out too. But he also knows that it will never be as hard as what he just went through. It will never be that bad again, and so no matter what happens, he believes, deep down in his heart, that it will all be alright.
Okay, so that might be a tad melodramatic, and possibly even a little offensive, but you know what you're getting from me by now. Unless, of course, this is your first visit to this fucked up corner of the world, in which case, well, it is usually much, much worse. I haven't even blathered on about Hitler or werewolves or vampire apes or anything like that.
It's tough to know how to describe what this is like for me, what this like for all Lions fans. It's tough to find the right words, and I am probably failing miserably, but part of that is because the words don't really exist. You see, nothing like this has ever really happened before. This is all new. Sure, the Bucs had a longer losing streak, but that was when they were an expansion team. Their fans hadn't suffered for their whole miserable lives as fans of that team, or had their hearts ripped out over and over again by them from the time they were children. They saw failure, watched it and sort of understood it, but they didn't know failure. Not like this, not like us. No one has. This was unprecedented, an established football team bottoming out like this, losing like this. It was horrible and bizarre, strange and terrible, and it just never ended. Well, on Sunday afternoon, against the Redskins, it finally did.
It's not all sunshine and roses now. Not by any means. As happy as I was when that game ended, and as happy as I was to see the joy and the relief on the players faces, the camera cut to the Ford family celebrating in their luxury box, and it seemed like a scene from Arrested Development. Finally, the Bluth family had something to celebrate, but tomorrow, Buster will just get his hand eaten, GOB will be kicked out the magician's guild and Tobias will end up in a leather bar doing scenes from Cabaret. It's the nature of the beast. One victory, one moment of happiness, does not erase almost a half a century of terrible failure. It was a bittersweet moment watching them celebrate. On the one hand, you could feel for them. They were happy, genuinely so, and during a time when it seems like the world they both created and live right in the middle of seems to be in a constant state of decay and collapse, you couldn't begrudge them that happiness. On the other hand, they have beaten the shit out of this franchise and the fans for so long that it's tough to see them in any context and not feel at least a sliver of disgust. It's only human. Fans hate their owners. This is an almost universal truth. Sure, there are obvious exceptions, the Mike Ilitch's of the world for example, but for the most part fans see their owners as bumbling fools, meddling asses who just get in the way. There are a couple of dudes on this blog who, uh, feel pretty strongly about this in regards to their own owners. But at least there is usually a period of optimism when it comes to those owners. Al Davis used to be a genius before he became a vampire. Jerry Jones bought the Cowboys and won a handful of Super Bowls. Daniel Snyder . . . well, Daniel Snyder is rich and likes to throw around money so there is always the chance that, like Jones, he could get lucky. But the Fords? Well, shit, maybe there was a sense of optimism surrounding their ownership back in the 1870s or whenever the fuck it was they bought the soul of Detroit football. But it hasn't been there during the entirety of my life. I know that much. And so it's always hard to take complete joy when something does go right.
I don't know. Maybe that last paragraph was completely unnecessary, an ugly coda to a story of redemption and hard won happiness. But it is also reality and sometimes reality is ugly and it is brutal and it is cold and it is mean. It's the reality that we live inside of as Lions fans. I have hope that tomorrow's reality will be different, and Sunday's game was the first heartbeat for this new life that we so desperately want to have as Lions fans. Yesterday is brutal and terrible. It is also, finally, finished. We don't know for sure what the future will bring. We might be fools, stupid and broken, beaten and dumb, to believe that the future will be better. I mean, we haven't been given a lot of reasons to believe. But hope is all we have had to cling to, all we have had to lead us through this terrible and monstrous wilderness. The monsters are still there, they still haunt us, still come into our camp and drag away the innocent and the young. But on Sunday, we grabbed one of those biggest monsters by the throat and we throttled the shit out of him. Now, the other monsters don't seem so scary. It's a long road out of this valley of nightmares and tears, but with that superbeast of a monster out of the way, we can finally start to move forward. It's a new day. Smile. We won.