The day before the Jets game, I was at a wedding, and in between getting stupendously drunk and making an ass out of myself, I made the usual small talk with strangers that people do at these sorts of things and one of the topics that came up was the Lions – largely because this is the sort of safe zone subject that people pick so they don’t have to talk about anything meaningful or potentially offensive. Of course, this all happens early in the evening when people are still feeling each other out. After several hours of hard drinking and horrible music from a million years ago that gets all the 75 year olds up and dancing and fuckin’ on the floor, people begin to have weird conversations about old people fucking (This is on my mind, because it’s an actual conversation I had.) and they stop complete strangers in the bathroom and slur things like “You’re drinkin’ wine? That shit gives me heartburn!” And then after you stare at them blankly for a moment, they point at their chest and to a casual observer it looks like they are declaring their love to you in the middle of the bathroom, surrounded by other men with their dicks out. These are the sorts of things that happen at wedding receptions when the night wears on, love is in the air and people begin to feel overly comfortable with one another. But I digress. Before all that nonsense happens, people talk about things like sports, and so on that Saturday, I had several conversations about the Detroit Lions.
Now, normally, whenever people talk about the Lions, it is done one of two ways. The first way is to shake your head in a mixture of sympathy and disgust and then behave like somebody just died. “Oh man, can you believe the Lions?” That sort of thing, which is then followed by everyone else shaking their heads in that same disgusted/sad way. The second way is to act like a sarcastic asshole about it. This is the most popular road taken by people when talking about the Lions. “Hey, how ‘bout those Lions?” That sort of thing, which is then followed by elbow nudges and smirks and shitty jokes that probably got old sometime around 1965.
But this time, when people talked about the Lions, they did so with genuine enthusiasm. “Hey, how ‘bout those Lions?” wink wink, nudge nudge, turned into “Hey, how ‘bout those Lions!” smile smile, vigorous head nod, vigorous head nod. It felt kind of like a scene from Major League. You know, the one which shows all the people of Cleveland starting to believe in the Indians? Yeah, that one. Not the one where Rick Vaughn fucks Dorn’s wife or Lou Brown pisses on Dorn’s contract or Jake fucks his ex-girlfriend after getting her all hot with talk about Moby Dick, or the scene where Cerrano beats the shit out of Eddie Harris with a baseball bat for fucking with Jobu and then has him buried alive in a voodoo ceremony in Haiti. (I may have imagined that last one.) Well, I mean I guess talking about the Lions could remind you of all of those scenes – I am certainly not one to judge – but this is starting to spin out of control, so let me just pause for a couple of seconds, pretend to straighten my tie, take a deep breath and then we’ll start talking again in the next paragraph. Cool?
Okay. Anyway, the point I was trying to make before my mind inexplicably wandered to scenes both real and imagined from Major League is that people – real people, not people like you and me, obsessives who are constantly looking for reasons to believe – found themselves believing in the Lions. This was hammered home by the sellout of Ford Field the next day. It felt like things were different, like the Lions had finally turned that corner, and goddammit, people were excited. That’s what made the loss to the Jets, and especially the way it happened, feel so utterly brutal and cruel.
But that was all two weeks ago. Why am I talking about it now? Well, I’ll tell you. In the wake of that disaster, so many of us took a few days to mourn and then we pumped ourselves back up and began nattering about committing war crimes against the people of Buffalo. I feel semi-responsible for getting everyone all hot and bothered again and for that I apologize. But the reality is, is that most fans checked out as soon as that Jets game ended – hell, I’m guessing they checked out as soon as Santonio Holmes caught that pass, or maybe it was when Julian Peterson’s brain exploded, or maybe it was when Ol’ Plucky slow motion rolled out, or . . . you get the point – and they weren’t coming back no matter what. And so while the Bills game ripped all of us apart anew, for most of them it was no big deal. Same Ol’ Lions. Ho-hum. One more season gone, and one more year closer to death. Yay.
That was hammered home after the game when I mourned in another corner of the internet and was met with a response from a fellow Lions fan that basically amounted to “Eh, whatever, I basically expected this after the Jets game.” This made me sad. Not because the dude had checked out following the Jets game. I can understand that. I really, really can. Only a masochistic lunatic would keep throwing himself on the block for the Detroit Lions. Unfortunately for me, I am that masochistic lunatic and so are many of you. We can’t help it. It’s just the way we are wired.
The reason why that made me sad this time is because I thought we were done with that. I really, really did. I said before the Jets game that progress was not linear, that it was parabolic. I was right and I was wrong. Progress is not linear, but it’s not necessarily parabolic either. Both of those are too neat, too orderly. It is brutal and unpredictable and strange and sometimes the line curls back on itself and sometimes if you look closely enough, you can see tiny little men on fire jumping to their deaths from the edge of the line, whether it’s straight or curved or backwards or who the fuck knows what. I did not want to face this reality because, frankly, it’s fucking painful. I thought we wouldn’t have to do this anymore, that we wouldn’t have to dig and dig and dig and then realize that we were digging in the wrong spot all along.
We haven’t come to that realization yet. I’m still confident that if we keep digging, we’ll find what we’re looking for, but the possibility at least exists now – in our minds, and more importantly in our hearts – that we haven’t been digging in the right place and that soon enough we will be forced to try to climb out of this hole and move a couple of feet to the left or right and start digging all over again. That is a horrifying thought, a revolting thought, and it should send a chill up each and every one of your spines.
After 0-16, I think we had it in us to start digging one more time – and one time only. I think that’s why so many of us have almost religiously attached ourselves to the Schwartz/Mayhew gang. This has to work. It can’t fail because our wounded little souls cannot take it. We cannot start over again. No. Just thinking about it makes me feel like a petulant little boy, ready to throw a hissy fit and start screaming and yelling and shooting snot all over the room before an adult grabs me up and spanks me and . . . this is starting to get out of hand.
We’ve invested so much emotionally into this working that it cannot fail. We took everything we had left, every last emotional penny, and stuck it into the Bank of Schwartz. If this fails, that’s it, we’re busted, and we’re wandering dazed and naked through the streets, gibbering to ourselves about Failure Demons and time traveling defensive ends and vampire apes, our minds witless, our hearts blackened and broken, our souls ruined. It will be just too hard – too damned hard – and although I would probably force myself to crawl up to my knees and then to keep going, as much out of some misguided devotion to inertia as anything else, it’s really, really, really something I don’t want to have to go through.
And that’s why these twin losses have been so horrific, and so, so brutal. Not only have they utterly nuked the casual fans, and those too wounded and broken by the past to take a leap of faith, they have planted doubts into the minds of even the most devoted. They have made us at least think that we might be digging in the wrong place – yet again – and they have utterly and completely stripped away the excitement that was slowly building around the Detroit Lions. Two weeks. That’s all it took to take so many fans back to the days of 0-16. It’s not the same as it was then. It’s just not. But for a lot of people, people who don’t give a shit about the whys and the maybes and the potential, people who maybe don’t know the name of the third wide receiver or who Gunther Cunningham is other than just a name that they hear every once in a while during the games, people who only look at the results right here and right now, it feels the same. To them, it’s the Same Ol’ Lions, and that fucking sucks, you know?
But these are the times that try men’s souls, as that famous philosopher Nixxi Sixx so famously said before snorting a line of ants and then shooting lighter fluid and molten lava into his jugular, and we have a choice to make. We can either keep digging and have faith that this is the right place, that we will find what we are looking for at the bottom of this terrible hole, or we can freak the fuck out and start beating the shit out of each other with our shovels.
This is something that has already begun to happen. There is one dude who is running all over the damn place demanding that everyone boycott the team until Ford the Elder sells the Lions to . . . to . . . who knows? He has taken to calling poor Ty a coward, chasing him all over the internet and bitching at him for not supporting his grand vision. The rest of us – me included – have been yelled at for not having faith. Faith in what, I’m not sure, but fuck it, you know? The dude is rolling. I’m about 90% sure that he will show up here to call me a coward after this is posted and hey, that’s cool. I’m not sure what he wants me to do about it – send The Great Willie Young back in time like some sort of Terminator to off poor old Henry Ford? – but really, it just makes me feel kinda sad, you know?
I mean, this dude is one of ours. He has been robbed of his senses by the Lions and the events of the last two weeks. He has been broken and now all that is left is a seething ball of pure rage and hatred and there’s nothing anybody can do about it. His poor, wounded soul was shattered and now he’s running wild, a rabid beast, and now we have to deal with this shit. He is one of us and he has been taken. It’s like a scene out of a zombie movie. One minute, we’re all just hanging out, making plans for tomorrow and the next minute, the dude is slobbering over himself and trying to eat poor Ty’s brain. It’s a sickness, Lions Disease, and oh, the horror! The horror.
I don’t really blame the dude. His poor wounded soul just couldn’t take this shit anymore and he snapped. He did. The poor old boy went off his nut. And there are many like him, people who just can’t deal with the disappointment and the anger anymore. They become crazed reactionaries who start demanding all manner of ridiculous shit. TAKE HIM OUT OF THE GAME AND FEED HIM TO THE SARLAC! LET’S ALL LYNCH SCHWARTZ! EVERYONE STOP BUYING FORDS! LET’S GO TO THE ZOO AND LYNCH A LION!
I actually understand all that. I do. I have sympathy for anyone who feels like that right now. I know how hard it is to keep believing, especially given how many times we have been burned in the past. And I know how tempting it is to just say Fuck Everyone and to start looking for people to beat up on in order to get some sort of release. I get it. Believe me. But, shit, what the hell are we gonna do if this thing doesn’t work? Who the fuck are we supposed to turn to? What next? That’s the thing. I can’t go through that shit again. I can’t go through crawling out of this hole and digging a fresh new one that might or might not be right either. I can’t do it, and neither can anyone else. I’m gritting my teeth like a maniac right now and I’m digging and digging and digging because shit, that’s the only realistic choice I have, you know? Other people are just flat out giving up, tossing their shovels aside and saying Fuck It or jamming their shovels into their own guts in misery and despair. Everyone knows we can’t start digging again, but some people are so angry that they don’t even give a shit anymore. They just want the whole world to burn because in their eyes, there is no hope, there are no other holes to dig, and this hole is filled with worms and failure and so since we’re all freefalling towards hell, everyone else might as well come along with us, right?
This is where we’re at as Lions fans. This is the situation we find ourselves in. It is grim and it is desperate and it is not happy. There are Failure Demons everywhere, Matthew Stafford’s corpse is rotting under a hell sun and while we dig, our friends and neighbors are turning into zombies and trying to eat our brains and beat us to death with shovels. I’m not going to sugarcoat this shit for you. It’s bad. It is. But fuck, all we can do is to keep digging and keep digging and keep digging because fuck everyone else, fuck everything else, and fuck the idea that this might not work. Even if we are doomed and this hole is just our grave and nothing else, I will dig until I hit the center of the earth and I will bare my teeth at Fate and I will snarl and I will dig and with every thrust I will say fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, because I am going to see this damn thing through to the end. If it is a bitter end, filled with death and tears, then so be it. My heart is still made of thunder and this is my hole and I will either live or I will die here but I will not be defeated.