Thursday, February 3, 2011

Reflections On Fandom, Friendship And The Revelations Of Perspective

The Old King And The Prince

Being a fan can drive a dude or lady dude crazy. I submit my entire body of gibberish on this here website as evidence. I have ranted and raved like a deranged lunatic for so long that there are times when I feel like I have lost all sense of perspective, and sometimes it takes something brutal and hard to make me look at what I have as a fan and then pat myself down to make sure that all my vitals and, uh, special parts are still intact. These don’t happen often, but when they do, they are kind of a spiritual fan cleanser. I know that doesn’t make any damn sense, but fuck it, since when have I specialized in making sense?

I, like every other Lions fan, have bemoaned the fact that the Lions are run by incompetent boobs, and that our owner is a 268 year old man who has never won anything and who seems chronically incapable of providing any sort of lightning bolt like spark to revive his team, his beloved company or his city even though devotees and citizens of all of the above have been practically begging for it for years. Indeed, the Fords eat a lot of shit, mostly for being ineffectual. But there is no sense of malevolence behind this general futility, just a general malaise that even they don’t know how to break free from. It permeates everything about them – and about us – from our team to our city and to the company that defined that city for so long. That all sounds vaguely sad, and it is, but dudes and lady dudes, it could be so much worse.

You see, the Fords are just like old, withered kings, slumped on their thrones, tired, their time passed, but they are still worthy of being called kings and they still command a certain level of affection and respect. They are not tyrants, incompetent and blood soaked, meddlesome and terrible, getting in their own way because their own colossal egos constantly whisper in their ears that they have to rule the world. And because of this we are lucky.

I was recently reminded of this fact when our own Raven Mack, who is a king amongst kings, took it upon himself to post Daniel Snyder’s office number in a desperate attempt to get his voice heard. At first, I kind of felt like it wasn’t that cool. I mean, that shit just isn’t my style. And I told him so as I devolved into a paranoid beast, afraid that at any moment Daniel Snyder’s storm troopers would come repelling out of internet black helicopters and have us e-killed. After all, my e-mail address (or at least one of them) was the contact info over to the right of the page there. I just didn’t need the hassle in case things went stupid. I mean, let’s face it, Daniel Snyder is a dude who has sued his own fans and who is currently involved in a huge lawsuit against a newspaper because one of their writers said mean things about him. Fuck that, you know?

But then I realized that I behaved shamefully, because Raven Mack is my bro and I should have understood better what he was going through as a fan. His own despair over his realization that Daniel Snyder makes success for his favorite football team impossible drove him to such lengths. His posting of that phone number is a condemnation of the brutal soul sucking reign of Daniel Snyder more than anything else. Raven Mack knows that his Redskins can’t win in the long run because Daniel Snyder can’t get out of his own damn way. That will drive a man to desperate measures and who am I to condemn him for it? I understand sports pain and I understand the panic that comes with feeling like your team will always be a giant shit heap, rotting under a hell sun. Raven Mack deserves my empathy and he has it. Fuck everything else.

The more I thought about it, the more I put myself in Raven Mack’s shoes and the more I put myself in his shoes, the more I realized that shit, I don’t have it so bad as a fan right now. The Fords offer nothing in the way of excitement or positive energy. They aren’t going to make a difference for the betterment of my favorite football team. They just aren’t. They just don’t have it in them. But they aren’t actively going to make shit worse either. They are just sort of there, and when I look at what my dude, the poor put upon Raven Mack has to go through, that’s not that bad, you know?

The worst thing you can say about the Fords is that they are too loyal and that they are stubborn. They stick to their guns and they don’t fly off the handle and freak the fuck out if things aren’t going well. This can result in grim, torturous death if they make the mistake of putting their faith in the wrong people. Say hello to the last decade and The Devil Millen. This has happened far too often and has resulted in much gnashing of teeth and beating of the breasts and hey, that’s a fair criticism, you know? At the end of the day, the decision to keep a guy or to set him on fire and dump him in the Detroit River lies with them. But at least there is a sliver of hope in all that. I know, I know, what the fuck am I talking about? That’s a ridiculous thing to say. But it’s true. There was always the chance that the Fords would one day get lucky, that they would hire the right guy, the right people, to run this team. And somehow, someway, it looks like that finally happened.

Martin Mayhew and Jim Schwartz have shown me enough the last two years to make me believe in the future, which is really kind of an amazing thing to say given the last decade – hell, a whole lifetime – of sports misery and pain. I believe in them and I believe in the future, and with dudes like them in charge, I can look at the Fords and say hey, maybe these guys aren’t so bad after all. I mean, when it comes to everything else – to community activism, to their relationship with their players, to their honest and genuine desire to be noble stewards of something larger than themselves – they are good owners. They’ve just been fucked by their own misplaced sense of loyalty and their inability to accurately judge the capabilities of the people they hire.

I’ll admit that’s a pretty big stain and it is one that will forever tarnish whatever legacy they have as owners. But, like I said, there was always the chance that they could get lucky and if they did, and if they found the right people in whom to place their trust, then there was no reason why we couldn’t be a kick ass franchise. I mean, everything else is in place. The Fords run a classy and downright decent organization. All you have to do is look at how efficiently they managed to pull off that game between the Vikings and Giants after the Metrodome roof caved in a couple months ago for evidence of that. Compare that to the fiasco the Vikings faced in trying to put on their next home game after that and you can see, pretty damn clearly, that when it comes to the off the field stuff, the Fords are pretty damn good owners.

And now the on the field stuff – which let’s face it, is all we really care about – is starting to look like it has a real future, glittery and bright, a world full of diamonds and candy and blowjobs. The Fords don’t pose any real threat to that. They have shown that they are incredibly loyal and patient people – mostly to their and our detriment – but with Mayhew and Schwartz running things, those black marks are actually now assets. It’s crazy to admit, but the Lions management situation is actually really, really good right now from the top on down.

Just think of poor Raven Mack and what he has to go through. Or my boy, Harpo Garza and the madness of the terrible, never-ending reign of that leprous vampire, Al Davis. (Seriously, goddamn, just find a recent picture of Uncle Al. That motherfucker’s skin is falling off. It’s horrifying.) Or, hell, even Cowboys fans. Jerry Jones and his ego will not let them get back to the holy land. Everyone knows this. These are dudes who all believe that they should be the ones making the final decisions about their football teams, about the dudes who actually play the damn games. They have been convinced by their own monstrous egos that they are brilliant misunderstood geniuses who know better than anyone else. Sometimes this is rooted in past glory, like in the case of Al Davis. Sometimes this is rooted in hubris and a fundamental misunderstanding of why you were once successful, like in the case of Jerry Jones.

Davis was once a football visionary, a man who turned the Oakland Raiders to gold, and who was the driving force behind the ascension of the former AFL. At least he’s earned the right to believe that he’s the king, even if he is just perpetually chasing a ghost. And besides, at least he’s liable to shuffle off to Valhalla sometime before my boy Harpo, which means my boy Harpo has at least a chance of getting his football team back.

Jones is a rich old redneck who was a half-decent college football player at Arkansas a million years ago and he got lucky because one of his old teammates was a dude named Jimmy Johnson. That connection is what created the success of the Dallas Cowboys in the early ‘90s. Jimmy Johnson shaped that team through sheer force of will and a keen understanding of what makes a team successful. Jerry Jones just happened to be there. Once Johnson was gone, the Cowboys began their decline. Sure, they won another Super Bowl with Barry Switzer – another contact from Jones’ days at Arkansas – but they were still huffing the fumes left over from the Jimmy Johnson days. Once those fumes dissipated and drifted off into the great unknown, the Cowboys were fucked. Of course, Jerry Jones’ ego tells him every day that he played college football so he understands the game well enough to be the Man Who Gets Things Done. And it tells him that he was the owner when the Cowboys won three Super Bowls, so fuck it, he believes. It is a delusional belief, completely absurd and obviously dumb to anyone paying attention, but at least it is rooted in something.

Daniel Snyder’s belief in himself however is rooted in . . . well, shit, you tell me. He combines the worst traits of Davis and Jones – that arrogant and unshakeable self-confidence of a tyrant – with a complete lack of anything to point to as a reason for that self-confidence. At least Davis and Jones have reasons for believing they are capable of being dictators of their teams, no matter how shaky those reasons may be. Daniel Snyder’s reasons seem to be that he’s rich, he’s the owner and fuck everyone else. How is a team supposed to ever succeed with that at its heart?

The Fords were always capable of getting lucky, of finding the right people to salvage our sunken ship. Daniel Snyder doesn’t have that. It doesn’t matter who he hires because at the end of the day, it will always come back to him. He wields absolute power and the Redskins fortunes are inescapably tied to him. Think about that and then think about the desperate sadness of my friend, Raven Mack. Think about it. He has no hope. None. The only thing left to him is to post a dude’s phone number in savage desperation, a mournful howl in a thunderstorm, one last terrible wail as his universe explodes all around him. I love that dude. He is a true fan and he deserves so much better. Hell, he started this blog. It’s his world and I’m just allowed to live in it. And it’s a great world, and it’s a world in which I hope he is somehow able to smile again one day and believe in the future that he deserves as a fan.

It’s sad that it takes something like this to realize how good I have it right now as a fan. I’m sure some of you are laughing or scoffing or shaking your heads in disgust and calling me a stupid ass right now, but fuck it, it’s true. I have hope. I have faith. I believe in the future. Some fans – some friends of mine – aren’t so lucky. One of the beautiful things about this blog is that we can share our pain as fans, and even as my fortunes rise, I will be here to bear the sadness and the desperation of my fellow fans, dudes like Harpo Garza and Raven Mack. Because I have known their pain, I have known their sadness, their hopelessness, their desperation and that makes us brothers, fighting together for a better world as fans, a world where we can all believe in the future and where that future is one without limit or end.

(Also, a quick, tacky note: If you want, you can check out an article I wrote for Guyism, about the 10 Most Degenerate Super Bowl Winning Quarterbacks. Doing so – and maybe posting it on your facebook or twitter or digging it on digg,com or whatever – would help me tremendously by providing me with what the ancients referred to as Dollah, Dollah Bills. Also, just so you know, there was originally a fucked up tangent in that piece about Goofy whipping his dick out at Disneyland, but it was cut out, which let’s face it, was for the best. I don’t know why I’m telling you this, other than I feel like I should. It was in the Ben Roethlisberger section, naturally. Anyway, check it out and look for more stuff for me at Guyism in the future. I’ve got a couple of more things brewing too, so hopefully, every corner of the internet will be crawling with my distinct brand of wild gibberish. Thank you, and as always, Vaya con dios, friendos.)


UpHere said...

It's maybe a strange quirk, but I have a lot of thoughts on this. It's not so much I'm pro-Ford, I'm more anti anti-Ford. There's no question that hiring and keeping Millen is a sin on a " build a 100 bridges" level, I'm not arguing that. But the Lions have a fancy new stadium despite a sinkhole of a local economy and the Vikings have a collapsing roof. The practice facility is top notch and all the draft picks get signed before camp is two weeks old. These are not minor achievements. What else do you want the dodling old bastard to do? He can't don a helmet.

He made a horrendous series of mistakes regarding Millen and it's unlikely he'll live that down before he takes the big dirt nap. But this was at the same time the 100 year old company that is his full time job was about to collapse. If he had of looked 100% engaged with the Lions then, the possibility of being gunned down on the sidewalk by a fired UAW member would have become a probability.

Neil said...

All very, very true. I think there is something that could probably be written about Lions fans anger with Ford extending to the plight of the city and the state as a whole as well as something about tilting at windmills and struggling uselessly against decay and the withering of a dream and ... really, I'm just throwing out buzzwords here because this is all very ambiguous in my head, but the larger point, I think, is that people don't trust the Fords because - within the state of Michigan anyway - we have learned to view everyone with any sort of authority or weight in the community as an ineffectual loser incapable of inspiring anything more than disgust and general apathy. This is all a long way of saying that some of the public's disdain for the Fords - not all, but some - has to do with our tortured self image and the heroes who have failed us the last several decades.

Which is all interesting because the Fords have actually done as much as they could off the field to make the Lions a viable franchise, which flies in the face of the general image I think people have of them. Your points about the stadium and the practice facility speak to that and I touched on it in the post up there.

Their legacy - at least as far as the Lions are concerned - will be forever tarnished by their simple inability to hire and fire the right people at the right time. They will never overcome this. But that is all a matter of perception and while perception often is synonymous with reality, it is not actually reality and so the good thing is that there is always a chance that this is something that could change, which brings me back to a theme which I have begun to hammer at lately, which is that the past is not the future. Our hopes and dreams and perceptions of what the future can be are tainted by the past, certainly, but the future is not dictated by that past. Even if you fuck up the first 99 times, there is no real reason why you can't get it right the 100th. And really, all it takes is getting it right that one time and I think that's what the Fords managed to do this time around. I'm not going to pat them on the back for it or anything, because honestly, Matt Millen, Matt Millen, Matt Millen, but there's no reason to believe that they'll get in the way either or that their presence is somehow a detriment to the future progress of this team. Like I said in the post, as long as Mayhew and Schwartz remain capable and continue to drive this team forward, the Fords' general flaw when it comes to personnel - their willingness to let the people they hire do their jobs no matter the result - will actually become an asset.

This could once again turn into a problem ten-fifteen years from now when Schwartz/Mayhew and company are burned out and the game has passed them by, but shit, let's just pray that it at least gets to that point. And honestly, by then, who knows how Ford the Younger will differ from his father?

Jesus, this comment turned into a whole separate blog post, didn't it?

UpHere said...

Yeah, but part of it is no one's fault really, which is why I'm not that emotional about it. I mean, when you're Henry Ford's grandson - not his older brother as originally believed- you can't complain when people use you as a symbol for derision. You're a walking symbol and privledged because of it, and when things go full retard you have to expect to be a lightning rod. I give him credit for not whining publicly about it. Or suing his fans like that other asswipe. God help Raven Mack. I keep picturing him walking around the cabin with a loaded shotgun and a half- empty bottle of Wild Turkey, doing a lot of angry mumbling. A great man, temporarily laid low.

Raven Mack said...

dan snyder is not a true Redskins man, though he hires PR firms to make him seem so. we will outlast him. he is quickly killing off his golden goose, and shit man, maybe his goal is to take it to L.A. like someone said to me somewhere and hang out with movie stars, but this team will outlast his bullshit.
other than jack kent cooke, skins haven't had the best owners. george marshall was the last nfl owner to integrate, and uhh... the "redskins". but hey, you are born into a team, at least I was, and you ride that shit out.

Anonymous said...

I read your comment about leaving out the fact that Goofy whipping out his dick at Disneyland. Shame on you! If you know that this happened you have an obligation to present the information to the world so that the rest of us can protect ourselves from those degenerate anthropomorphic deamons that inhabit the horror land. I have photographic proof of such shenanigans happening at Disney (involves Donald Duck and Christina Aguliera. Would love to share it with you. How do I send you an email with a picture attached?

KoolAide Man

Neil said...

"I mean, when you're Henry Ford's grandson - not his older brother as originally believed- you can't complain when people use you as a symbol for derision. You're a walking symbol and privledged because of it, and when things go full retard you have to expect to be a lightning rod."

Yeah, I agree with this totally. I think this is heightened by the fact that he inherited his wealth and so he can't point to some glorious past of his own making. People view him as just sort of an old fuckup, and well, hey, that's just the way it is, you know?

Neil said...

Raven, your stubborn devotion to the Redskins even in your darkest hours as a fan reminds me that there are others out there like me and everyone else can go to hell.

Neil said...

KoolAide Man,

I know, I know, but what could I do? My editor made an executive decision and it is what it is. At the end of the day, I simply have to hope that someone, somewhere, will expose Goofy and all those cretins at Disney as the filthy degenerates they truly are. You're a good man for trying to call the world's attention to these furry fiends and one day hopefully we can all smile in satisfaction, our work done, as we watch Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy and company hanging from tree branches by their necks until they are dead, dead, DEAD. Normally, I'm not a proponent of lynch mob justice, but these are strange and terrible times and the world needs heroes.

HSOMGF said...

Just read your article at Guyism and Liked it on FB. The comments were a bit harsh. You obviously pushed their attention spans to the limit by not including any boob shots. Oh well. Fuck them.

Good post here, as well. "Daniel Snyder’s reasons seem to be that he’s rich, he’s the owner and fuck everyone else. How is a team supposed to ever succeed with that at its heart?" Amen.

Neil said...

Thank you so very much, HSOMGF. Both for the kind words and the linkage. And yeah, the comments at those sites are always people bitching and moaning, but the article already has, like, 200 Diggs and a bunch of Facebook links so, fuck it, you know? You should have seen the crazy dumb shit I used to get in the comments at I hope and pray that people were just trying to troll me otherwise we are doomed as a species. I think my favorite is either when I claimed that Babe Ruth was half-pig and a cannibal and someone got upset because they thought I was lying or when I claimed that James Joyce, that umpire who stole Armando Galarraga's perfect game, was present at the crucifixion of Jesus and somebody flipped out and told me that couldn't be true because he wasn't born yet. I do feel like I could have been funnier, but my style of humor lends itself better to weird, rambling screeds than pithy one liners. I try to work some of that in anyway, and sometimes it manages to stay in - the whole Kurt Warner section for instance, and sometimes it gets chopped out, like the stuff about Goofy whipping it out at Disneyland. Oh well.