When I sit down to write about the Lions, I don’t see it as a stand-alone kind of thing. And by that, I mean each post from me on this site is just a small piece in a larger story. Everything fits together and hopefully when it’s all over, there will be some sense of coherency to that story. In order to understand the end you must understand the beginning, and you must follow the journey from the beginning to that end. This is wildly ambitious and arrogant and stupid on my part, but this is just the way that I am wired. It doesn’t lend itself well to the occasional pop-in. I imagine that new readers probably just scan my posts and think “What in the hell . . .” and then they slowly back away from their computers. A few stick around and hey, I love you dudes and lady dudes, but I’ll admit, this isn’t for the faint of heart, the weak of mind or those bereft of spirit. This is a crazy place full of crazy people and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Fortunately, for me, by some cosmic miracle, the way I approach this is also the way I approach football and more specifically Detroit Lions football. To me it is an epic story. It’s not just a series of meaningless games, given shape and depth by stats and scores. It’s a battle between good and evil, between happiness and despair, between the parts of ourselves which are noble and good and powerful and the parts of ourselves that are callow and weak and afraid. It’s about pain and ecstasy, often living side by side. It’s about Hope and Fate and slaying powerful dragons which live only in the darkest parts of our hearts. It is utterly ridiculous and it is sublimely beautiful. It exists in both slow motion, with classical music playing, and in fast motion, with Yakety Sax playing in our heads. To understand the end, you must understand the beginning, and you must follow the journey from the beginning to that end. And the hope, the ultimate hope which keeps driving me forward, forward, forward, is that there will be vindication at that end, that it will somehow all make sense and that football won’t just be football but something glorious and meaningful and profound and that my fandom is worth something. And not just in that “Hey it’s just sports” way, but in a real, meaningful way that makes your insides feel warm and which causes you to smile as you drift off to sleep because even though the rest of the world might not make sense, on the football field it does.
All that is ridiculous and is probably symptomatic of a diseased and dangerous mind but like I said, this is just the way that I am wired and so you’ll get no apologies from me. The story of the Detroit Lions is to me a staggering epic. There is tragedy and there is triumph – albeit brief – and the triumphs are tinged with a pain and a regret that are so unique that they themselves become something of a tragedy. Barry Sanders is a heroic figure, slashing through the muck and the mire towards glory and honor. But he’s also a tragic figure, because he never could quite escape and he died in the forests of despair which we know all too well, where the trees are so thick that the light of Hope never manages to shine through. But, still, throughout that story, Hope remains. And not because we can see it but because it flickers – faintly, most of the time – inside of us, and it is that flicker, that tiny light of Hope that is the current which drives the whole damn story forward.
Today, it feels like a giant chunk of that story, a massive chapter which has consumed much of our lives as fans, is about to draw to a close. The Vikings are coming to town, exhausted, beaten up, broken in ways that mark them as the new wretched of the Earth, led by a legendary quarterback who is just as broken, just as sad and just as ruined, and they must be utterly destroyed in order for this chapter to truly draw to a close.
I am investing a lot of emotional currency into this game, which on the surface seems utterly absurd considering that one team is 6-9 and the other – my team – is only 5-10. There is nothing concrete to be gained here. It is nothing but the last act of another sorrowful season and when it is over, football will still be played between the powerful and the noble while our dudes listlessly disperse and wander back to their homes and their wives or stripper whores or meth labs or whatever the fuck they do in their off time. But that is all surface level bullshit, existing only in relativity to other teams and their fans. Take those other teams away, take the records away, the stats, the upcoming playoffs, and what we’re left with are two teams heading in opposite directions, and two stories which began at the same time, were divergent for so long, and which finally will both come to their ends at the same time in the same place.
This isn’t about the Vikings so much as it is about Favre, and his nearly 20 year rampage through our souls. One of the reasons Lions fans hate Favre so much is because when they see him, they see what was stolen from us. His legacy, his time with Green Bay, was supposed to be ours. We were the team of the future, coming off of a playoff triumph over the Cowboys with a transcendent player named Barry Sanders, a young blue chip Heisman winning quarterback named Andre Ware, a young phenom at wide receiver named Herman Moore, a defense led by Chris Spielman, Bennie Blades and Jerry Ball, and the world seemed open and beautiful in front of us. Anything and everything was possible and all we had to do was reach out and take it. But then a young heathen from the hell mouth of Mississippi showed up in Green Bay and before we knew it he was winning MVP’s while our blue chip quarterback faded into obscurity and our dreams and our fate slipped hopelessly through our panicked fingers. The world began to blur and we tried desperately to hang on but we blinked and it was somehow over, the heathen Favre and his Packers were winning the Super Bowl and the future was hidden from us behind a curtain of sadness which had fallen over our hearts.
Favre strutted into legend, a cocky smile on his face, his balls on the chin of every sportswriter and broadcaster in the land while we descended into self-parody and mockery. He was Favre, the Golden Child and we were “The Lions” and everything that phrase means when you speak it to your own heart. As fans, we know what it means. We know what everyone else means when they say it, and for too long it hasn’t been just the dark side of our once brilliant dreams chasing us down, which it was for much of the ‘90’s, but our terrible reality, stark and brutal. We have wandered in a daze wondering how and when it would all end. Much of the time, it has felt like it would never end and that we would all grow old and then wheeze on our death beds and rant incoherently about Lions Disease and curse the name Millen with our final breaths before our Spirit Horses showed up to gallop away with our souls to the Great Unknown.
Nothing made sense. Even Hope seemed like the cruel tip of a knife blade, turned around on us and driven deep into our already wounded hearts. Matthew Stafford, our Franchise, our Future, our Hope, was revealed to be a man made out of glass and defective shoulders. The Failure Demons which have haunted us for so long continued to follow us no matter how fast we ran from them and they always seemed to catch us just when it looked like we might elude them, like in that terrible game against the Jets. It finally reached a point where Hope faded and our fragile dreams died and we accepted, with bitter tears, that the world would never be ours and would never, ever make sense.
But then we beat the Packers, 7-3, in a game in which Hope was absent. I was unsure how to take this, how to feel, and I lumbered through a tortured postgame piece that was neither positive nor negative. It was just sort of there, unsure of itself, which was the perfect reflection of my own fandom. We had already died and to the dead Hope is a pointless concept. But a couple of days later, I was reading about the Buccaneers and I realized that they were afraid of us – of Ndamukong Suh more specifically – and I realized that although we had died, it was not the end for us, but rather the beginning of the end of our own terrible and tragic story. It was a necessary evil. The Lions had to die so that they could live again. We had to have our hopes stripped away from us so that we could stand, grim soldiers of the damned, and haunt and destroy the living. It was necessary to take away our hopes because with it, our fear was also stripped away. We became a fell team with nothing to lose, deadly and vicious, and this is the only way these last few weeks could happen so that we could finally – finally – see this miserable story resolved.
You see, this is the only way that it can be resolved, with our pain, our failure visited upon those who still have hope. They must lose so that we can unburden ourselves. They must walk away with our sense of bewilderment, with our anger, with our bitter sense of loss. The Packers had to be wounded so that they could take our disappointment and so that we could know what it felt like to be the ones inflicting that sense of disappointment. The Buccaneers had to have their hopes crushed so that they could take our bitter sense of failure and so that we could understand what it felt like to ruin the hopes and dreams of another team and its fans. The Dolphins had to unravel completely and have their coach and quarterback blown apart so that they could take our hysterical and farcical failure, bewildering and strange as it is, and own it for themselves and so that we could understand what it looked and felt like to watch a team falling in the wrong direction. All of those games provided shape and texture to our own story. They allowed us to see our own progress, our own inexorable march towards something beautiful and glorious. We had to see all that, had to experience it, so that we could know that we were headed in the right direction and that our pain could be left behind for others to take up. It is theirs now, not ours, and we are free to write our own future.
Nearly. Because there is one more game to play, one more dragon to slay, and it is the most important game and the most important dragon of all. This is the end of Favre and with it, the end of his epic story. And when his story ends, so will ours. They began at the same time and they will end at the same time. Our future was stolen from us, but now that future is just the past and a whole new future, a whole new story waits for us on the horizon. All we need to do is close this book and leave Favre inside of it and leave our own tortured story inside with him. This is the tale of two stories that began at the same time, divergent for so long, finally coming together again at their end.
The Symmetry of Fate. I have blathered on and on and on about this lately, but that’s exactly what this is. It may sound ridiculous – hell, it may be ridiculous – but it makes sense to me. Finally, the whole stupid arc of my fandom makes sense, and I know – I just know – that this is how it was supposed to happen all along. I acknowledge the absurdity inherent in such a statement, but like I said at the beginning, this is just the way that I am wired.
What’s left is watching the final act play out. Naturally, Fate has decided to make things interesting by allowing the Vikings to beat the Eagles on Tuesday, giving them the appearance of a team still willing to fight, but prior to that game, it was clear that the Vikings were a team in free-fall. Their issues still have not been cleared up and at their core, they are a defeated team. What you saw on Tuesday was the last gasp of the doomed. It was a team playing hard and tough in a game against a team that didn’t want to be playing. The Vikings, for all their problems, are still an NFL team, and that means that if you don’t show up to play, they will still beat you. The Eagles wanted no part of that game. I think that was clear. It was cold, it was ugly, and they were coming off of that ridiculous comeback against the Giants and all the emotion that came with that. It was Tuesday – not Sunday – and so everyone’s internal clock was all fucked up, they were already locked into the playoffs, and hey, you can kinda see why they just wanted to get it over with. Meanwhile, the Vikings were playing for pride, to prove to everyone that they weren’t just the comical sideshow to be laughed and gawked at which has become their identity this season. And well, they proved that point. Good for them. But now what? It’s the last game of the season, they have proven their pride and now I’m guessing they just want to get this horror show of a season over with.
Meanwhile, the Lions are playing for something bigger than simple pride. They are playing for the resolution of 20 years of misery and pain. If they can win this game, if they can bury Favre once and for all, they can leave all of that behind and start fresh next September. I think they know this even if they don’t know it, if that makes any sense at all. They can feel it. They can taste it, can smell it, can hear it, see it, touch it. It’s right in front of them and all they have to do is grab it.
We have been here before, on the eve of that 1992 season which saw the rise of Favre and the betrayal of our Hope, and just like with everything else, it shows how symmetrical and mischievous Fate can be. This is a cosmic redo, a chance for redemption and resolution at the same time. All we have to do is reach out and grab it. It’s right there. It’s almost over. We just have to finish the journey and the arc, the great circle of Fate, will be complete.
There has been a lot of speculation about Favre and whether or not he will play. He’ll play. He has to. It’s his last game in the NFL. He knows that and he is not going to sit on the bench and watch his world die. This makes him dangerous but it also makes this that much sweeter. We will be getting the last desperate charge of Brett Favre and it is our destiny to slay him and watch him drop to the ground, lifeless and beaten, just as he has beaten us so many times throughout his career. It will be the final act of two epic stories and it is the only way either can end.
Meanwhile, the Lions are dealing with their own injury issues, but this is something that they have had to deal with all season long. They are down to a rusty can and a senile goat at cornerback, all of their quarterbacks are wounded, our Saint of a receiver, St. Calvin, might not rise from the dead in time to play and this last step, this last wounded march upon the gates of tomorrow might be the hardest of them all, but again, this is just the way it had to be. All of the injuries, all of the disappointments, all of the misery, the heartache, are just Fate’s way of telling us that we can get through anything. The last few weeks have proven that. Nothing and no one can stop us now. Brett Favre is just a name, a symbol of the past which must be destroyed before that past can be truly left behind. He has no power to hurt us anymore and whatever magic is left in him exists only to allow him to put up one more ceremonial fight. The forces of time and the future and the massive push of the Detroit Lions defensive line have doomed him to a singular fate, and although he may fight, it is a fate that is bigger than any one man, even one named Brett Favre and on Sunday, that fate will close in all around him and when it does, the last 20 years will rush together in a noisy blur and Favre and the Lions and all his fans and our fans will feel it all and then it will be over, he will be staggering off the field, beaten, dead, and our players will be celebrating and the future will be now and the past will be just a memory, sealed behind a wall made impenetrable by Time, Fate and the promise of tomorrow.
It’s time. In order to understand the end, you must understand the beginning. The beginning was a peak and a crash and a death and the rise of a supernova named Brett Favre. The end is the light from that supernova finally dying and a rebirth and the beginning of a new world for those who crashed. There is a new peak, far off in the distance, and it is up to us to climb it, but it is ours to climb and finally – finally – when we beat Favre and the Vikings on Sunday, we will be moving towards something instead of running away because we will finally understand that one irrefutable truth which has eluded us all this time, which has kept us from truly moving forward, and that is that in order to understand the beginning, you must understand the end of what came before.
FIVE NO DOUBT TERRIBLE PREDICTIONS
1. Shaun Hill will complete 22-34 passes for 265 yards and 2 touchdowns. He’ll also throw 1 interception.
2. The Lions running game will account for 120 yards and 1 touchdown. Again, no one back will exceed 15 carries. Maurice Morris will run for 55 yards to lead all backs while Jahvid Best will have one 15-20 yard run in between a bunch of nothing.
3. Calvin Johnson will play but he’ll only catch 4 passes for 65 yards and 1 touchdown.
4. Brett Favre will die as he lived: naked and without shame. Okay fine, throwing the ball. He’ll chuck and chuck and chuck and he’ll get the shit beaten out of him by the Lions defensive line. He’ll complete only 20 of 42 passes for 215 yards and he’ll throw 1 touchdown to go with 3 killer interceptions. After the game, The Great Willie Young, draped in the robes of the Grim Reaper, will drag him to hell. Peter King and Chris Berman will drive off a cliff together Thelma & Louise style once they realize they will have to live life without Favre’s balls bouncing against their chins.
5. Adrian Peterson will run for 95 yards on 17 carries. He’ll score 1 touchdown but he’ll also lose 1 fumble.
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: LIONS 27, VIKINGS 17