Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The First Day Of The Sun

One day, soon, little one, you will be King.


Not only is Schizophrenia the lost Def Leppard album, it’s also the one word that describes our weird fanbase the best. And this season has epitomized that schizophrenia more than any other that I can remember. The highs have all been way too high relative to what has actually happened and the lows have been way, way too low. One week, we are standing in the bell tower, crazily banging the shit of that bell, naked and screaming while all the birds and bats in the tower fly away in a frightened frenzy. The next week, we are trying to burn down the bell tower and speaking in tongues and hoping that the bats just bite us and turn us all into vampires. Hell, forget about it being week to week. That wild mood swing often takes place within the terrible confines of a single game.

It’s a bipolar kind of mania, an unpredictable and schizophrenic wave that tends to run through the entire fanbase, infecting everyone, from the smartest of us to the dumbest, from the sanest to whatever the hell I am. I’m surprised we haven’t all been collectively institutionalized for our madness. But this is what the Lions have driven us to over the years and man, it’s really, really not our fault. We have no idea how to deal with either success or failure on a rational level because our team’s failure was unprecedented. No one knows how to act. No one knows how to behave, how to respond, what to believe, how much they should believe, what they should be afraid of, who they should trust. The only thing that any of us have to go on is our own gut, our own wounded and traumatized psyche which has been through so much and shouldn’t be informing anything at all. That son of a bitch needs a rest, but instead, he’s charging at the head of our crazed rabble, gibbering and drooling on himself and we have no choice but to follow him because there is no one else.

When the Lions lose to the Vikings, he collapses in tears, shits on himself and half of us commit suicide while the other half rock in the fetal position and then eat the dead. When the Lions beat the Redskins, he starts screaming with joy, takes off his pants and begins playing with himself and we all laugh and start stripping and . . . you don’t want me to take this further. Trust me.

We have no frame of reference, and no one else understands. They might say they do but they don’t. The past few days have been an excellent example of that. We have been all wildly celebrating and carrying on like a bunch of damn fools and everyone who is not in that bubble of crazy is just staring at us like we are some sort of exotic zoo creature, their brows furrowed, trying to make some sort of sense of our behavior. “Why does he climb the cage and then flash his genitals before hooting and scampering back to his cave?” “I don’t know, Bob, but it’s better than when he gets depressed and starts spraying shit at everyone.”

They just don’t understand, and how can they? 0-16 changed things in a way that even Lions fans don’t truly understand. A win for us is not just a win. It’s an event. My boy Raven Mack keeps telling me to chill the fuck out, because it was just the Redskins and I know he’s right. I need him to reign me in and check me because I can’t do it for myself. I am like a retarded child, and he has to make sure that I don’t take my pants off in the middle of the mall or try to eat the head of a puppy or a baby. It’s completely undignified but that is what 0-16 did to me.

On the other hand, a big part of me knows that it was just the Redskins and that I should be able to place that in its proper perspective, but the truth is that I don’t really want to. I’m tired of trying to be realistic, tired of waiting, of looking for a future that never comes. I want gratification. I want to believe in Hope and I want to revel in the messy childishness of it all. I want to make a complete ass out of myself and I want to bathe in pure joy, whether it’s deserved or not. After 0-16, every win feels like our Super Bowl. Every win – all four of them – have felt special and amazing and . . . and . . . it’s simply impossible to explain to people who didn’t have to live through 0-16 as Lions fans what it feels like. There is nothing to compare it to, no frame of reference, and maybe that’s a beautiful thing. Maybe our reactions have become somehow purer, untouched by the weight of expectation, free from the bonds of convention. We are all behaving like idiot children on the first day of the world. Everything is new and beautiful and wonderful. Oh shit, the sun! Ha ha ha! That thing is so bright and warm! Isn’t that awesome? We are like the Double Rainbow guy, all gibbering on like lunatics while the rest of the world laughs at us. But then we hear thunder for the first time and we start to shake and cry in fear and oh, shit, what the fuck is that? I think I’ll call that a snake. That motherfucker just tried to eat me! Oh God, this must be hell!

And that’s the flipside to it all. We appreciate the wins more, but we feel the losses more deeply too. Everything is heightened. It is like riding a rollercoaster through a funhouse on acid. Sure, it’s exhilarating as all hell, and there will be moments that make us laugh, but there will also be moments that make us cry with unexplainable terror and we’ll probably end up vomiting on ourselves and then we’ll have to be led away by carny security while a gang of vicious hillbillies laugh at us and little idiot children recoil in fear at the site of our wild eyed degeneracy. There is nothing dignified in any of this but it’s where we are at as Lions fans and so I won’t apologize for any of it. If you’re in that bubble of crazy with me, then you get it. You feel it. If you’re not, I just sound like an idiot and you’re probably reaching for a tazer or getting the butterfly nets out, and hey, that’s cool. I was broken, utterly and completely by 0-16. As a fan, there is nothing sane about me. My world is both unfathomably beautiful and hellaciously dark. I walk with God and I am haunted by the Devil. I sing with angels and I weep with demons. I am a Lions fan.


So, uh, how about that Gerald McCoy? Hey, how you doin’ Trent Williams? I could go on and on and on, but how terrible would you feel right now if the Lions had outsmarted themselves and passed up Ndamukong Suh for someone who “fit the scheme better” or someone who “fills a bigger need”? To me, drafting Suh was a no-brainer. As long as he was available, we had to pick him. I said at the time that he was a once in a generation player, a dude of such singular ability that his mere presence would go a long way towards changing our terrible fortunes.

And then he held out. For less than a week. And everybody turned on him and called him a worthless shithead and abused his sister on twitter and claimed that they would never forgive him and that he wasn’t worth any of this. And I wrote a couple of pieces with the aim of nuking this bullshit and getting everybody to chill the fuck out.

Today, Ndamukong Suh is beloved by every Lions fan. He has 6.5 sacks through 7 games – and remember, that was the one thing people were worried he couldn’t do – his get the fuck off me stroll into the endzone is destined to be an iconic moment, and his very presence has, well, it has gone a long way towards changing our terrible fortunes.

I don’t say any of this to brag, to say “Hah, I knew it all along,” but to point out that I can enjoy Suh’s dominance with a pure heart because I have loved him from the start. It makes me so happy to see him being held up as the obvious choice at the (near) midway point in the season as the Defensive Rookie of the Year. It makes me overjoyed to hear some whispers about him possibly being the Defensive Player of the Year. It is a dream which thus far has come completely true. I have no shadow over my heart, no memory of cussing out his character or berating his poor sister. I have no residual fears that we picked the wrong guy. All I have is my love for and my loyalty to The House of Spears.

Again, I’m not writing any of this to shit on anyone. I’m not doing this to try to make anyone feel bad about how they acted only a few months ago. (Okay, maybe a little . . .) I’m just writing it to illustrate how beautiful it can be to embrace Hope sometimes, to say okay, I’m going to believe in this and then to ride it out. It’s an awesome feeling to believe in something and then to watch it happen. You can own it in a way that other people can’t. Everyone is a fan of Ndamukong Suh right now. His talent and his personality have combined to create something unique and wonderful and rare. He is ours and we are his and one day we will look back and we will smile at the Ndamukong Suh era and fans of other teams will talk about how “you guys had Suh” with that mixture of envy and awe that warms the heart and stirs beautiful memories. It’s only 7 games into his rookie season, but it’s already clear that Ndamukong Suh is something incredibly special and it makes me feel so, so glad that I was there from the start, that I believed, and that there is nothing in my heart other than joy. I stood for Suh, more than once, and now I feel like he’s standing for me.

That, of course, is ridiculous, but I don’t care. I’m happy as a fan and he’s a big reason why.


You didn’t think I was just going to sit here and play the harp and pick flowers all day, did you? I mean, as great as I feel, my mind still keeps flashing back to the Redskins returning kick after kick for a billion yards and I feel that old flash of righteous rage and I start psychically punching Stan Kwan in the face. Sure, he isn’t here anymore, but in my heart he will always be associated with special teams failures, and sweet Jesus did we ever fail against the Redskins.

I’m not really sure what went wrong. Before the season, the Lions made a point of going out and getting a bunch of special teams stars, guys who really can’t do anything on the football field other than running down it really fast and smacking a dude in the mouth. And it seemed like it had paid off. The Lions had done a decent job on kick coverage all season, to the point that one opposing coach – I can’t remember who it was but it might have been Tom Coughlin – said before we played his team something like our special teams unit was like a collection of special teams All-Stars. I can’t remember the exact quote, but that was the gist of it.

So what the hell happened against the Redskins? Well, I think injuries had a lot to do with it. And I mean injuries to both the special team standouts themselves and to the Lions starters on defense. Every time a starter on defense gets hurt, particularly at linebacker, the Lions have to grab one of their ace special teamers and insert him into the lineup. Zack Follett, Ashlee Palmer, Landon Johnson, Dante Wesley – these were all players who were supposed to be the backbone of our kick coverage units. Follett almost died, Palmer is starting in his place, Johnson got hurt while filling in for DeAndre Levy at middle linebacker and Wesley was executed for being an idiot and getting a late hit penalty in the Giants game. And then Isiah Ekejiuba, whose only role on the team is to be a kick-ass coverage dude, got hurt too, leaving us short virtually every big time special teams stud we had. And all that adds up to what we just watched happen on Sunday.

Still . . . Jesus! The Redskins had almost 300 yards just in returns. And that was after they had a 95 yard kick return called back for holding. Fuck. The Lions almost lost that game just because of the special teams fuckups. By my count, the Redskins had one drive – one! – in the entire game that resulted in points that wasn’t because of either A) a return for a touchdown or B) a return that set them up in really good field position. That one drive was the one which saw McNabb get chased out of the pocket and then throw up a 50 yard bomb to his receiver. That was it. But thanks to the Lions shittastic special teams play, the game ended up being a lot closer than it should have been.

The good news, though, is that our own return game has finally awoken from the deep sleep it’s been mired in ever since that evil charlatan Matt Millen exiled Eddie Drummond from the land and laid a curse on our fair kingdom. But fuck Matt Millen. He has been destroyed and his corpse is now on display every week on television as a reminder so that we never forget what he did to us. And we have Stefan Logan, who was inexplicably cut by Pittsburgh, and whose presence lifted the terrible curse of Millen and restored the lineage of Mel Gray and Desmond Howard and Eddie Drummond. Logan has been absolutely electric returning both punts and kicks and he helped to counter the Redskins vicious onslaught of runaway return men. If we didn’t have Logan, we might have lost that game. He’s just one more thing that’s different, one more thing we can look at that makes us sigh with relief. The Lions change has been wholesale. Every part of the team has been upgraded and Logan is the personification of that. Still, I kinda want to punch Stan Kwan in the mouth. And somehow, I doubt that will ever change.


steven said...


you have an uncanny knock for hitting it square on the head.. (the nail that is) lets not get you started on a tanget that I used to think was the only one who knew that PARTICULAR tangent existed...... ahh hemmm...

The one thing I seen missing was.... Matt, our "franchise" QB... I dont want to get all goofy eyed and start proclaiming him to be the next payton manning BUT.... and its ethereal, cant put numbers, words what ever... But for all the arguments i have heard(made of glass, yadda yadda) I cant help but think... holy shit this kids only 22yrs old.. and when he is out on the field (i watched kinda close during the washington game) there is an "air" about him... the team older vets/young guys... they seem to respect this young man. There are MANY things in the NFL that the guys that have been around many years will put up with (if your good).. but watch the body language and it will tell you a lot... I dont know... maybe i am part of the incohereance that surrounds lions fans like you so elequently described.

as a side note... I wasnt on any "side" of the fence.. with suh or stafford... i took the pragmatic approach to see how they did.... you nailed it on suh and i get the same feeling about stafford.

Neil said...

Thanks Steven, and yeah, I totally agree with you about Stafford. There is just something about him. It feels like he is a star, if that makes any sense at all. And yeah, he's still only 22, he's only started a handful of games, he's never really gotten a chance to establish a decent rhythm with his receivers, and yet, it's obvious that he can win games for us. It's really, really exciting.

JP said...

Before the season started I didn't really think it was possible for the Lions to play for today. Year after year had so many of us conditioned to apologizing for the heaping pile of dung that Millen tried to pawn off as a football team. I mean, I literally apologized to the one guy I talked to out in Cali a couple years ago for how shitty the team was, but as I explained, I am a fan to the absolute essence of my being.

So, we get to act a fool when we get a little taste of success. We have earned the right to make asses of ourselves and feel great about doing it.

The Lions are playing for today, and we are living for it.

Neil said...

Fuck yes.

Jonathan said...

As Lions fans we are entitled...yes entitled to jump around with our pants around our ankles chanting SSSUUUHHHH like raving lunatics. It feels like we just got laid for the first time and it was with Jessica Freakin Alba! And really, it’s all because of Matt Millen. He lead the Lions like Edward Smith guided the Titanic; past the point of no return and into history with reckless abandon. We now know what perfection feels like and it gives us an appreciation for wins more than anyone else will ever know. Perhaps that is Millen’s lasting reminder; the syphilis of our brains as the gift that keeps giving. The constant pain of knowing a winless season. So I for 1 will take that entitlement and continue to dance around naked playing with myself at the conclusion of every Lions win because I know how precious those wins are. Thank you Neil for articulating this point so eloquently. Speaking as a Lions fan, bordering on being a nudist, I look forward to the rest of the year in eager anticipation for what is sure to be coming.

Neil said...

Right on, my dude. The unexpected side effect of 0-16 is that it made each win feel precious and awesome, like every drop of water does to a man who has been stranded in some hell desert for 100 years.

CJ said...

Because I have been possessed by the failure demon for the last two weeks, I acknowledge that everything I am about to write is most probably terribly wrong.

Suh is so awesome (no matter that I am captain of the failboat at the moment, this is not wrong). I am just smitten with the entire D line, and the fact that they brought in great veteran help for him in KVB (who has been AMAZING in my eyes). It's clearly paying off great dividends right now, but it was such a smart move for the future too. Having the backbone of the defense be a lions-disease-proof unit (I think) that they everyone can take pride in right away and they can build around? So much better than trying to catch lightning in a bottle with patchwork fixes. I'm biased though cause I've kind of loved the defense this whole year, even when they screw up.

Sorry to go back in time, but I just wanted to praise your post on the offense from a bit back. Really interesting, and I can totally see the benefits of an offense that allows the 'run' to be established via short TE passes on those days, when you know, the actual run is not going to be established. I really like that it demands everyone play and coach very smartly to make it effective--I've seen enough willfully dumb football under Marinelli alone to last me a lifetime. I am a bit worried that that's going to be the achilles heel though...if the play calling is as predictable as it has seemed at times this season, it's giving up the huge advantage of the offense as I see it (other than keeping the QB vertical which I hadn't thought of, but you're so right on, and WIN). There's not much point in having a complex offense where the ball could go anywhere if Linehan (or Schwartz)calls the same thing on every third and short. That seems to have really improved post-Minnesota though, so hopefully it won't be a big problem. If it means that Stafford throwing to Calvin goes back to a last resort (which has the same problem with predictability) though, I officially hate the offense again, and I will become exceedingly tiresome about it, I'm sure.

Great stuff about special teams. It's been painful watching what Millen did to what used to be the consistently best and also most FUN (excepting as always, the supernatural Barry) part of Lions fandom.

Great post, as always. It's been terrific reading the joy and insanity about the win in the posts and comments. The naysayers can stfu. As you said, they really do NOT KNOW what it's been like.

CJ said...

Oh, and the combo photo/caption is the most wonderful and ridiculously adorable yet.

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