Thursday, March 3, 2011

The City Of Our Dreams

Draft day is getting closer and with that everyone and their mother’s uncle’s roommates’ dog’s turds are opining about who the Lions should take with the thirteenth pick. My opinion? I don’t really have one right now. Of course, of course, I wouldn’t mind seeing the Lions pick up a player who fills a position of immediate need, like cornerback, but I’m not stressing about it either. I’m just not. It’s a weird feeling. I’m so used to expecting the Lions to accidentally draft a ham sandwich or a waffle with their first round pick that it’s easy to let my anxiety spike and to start gibbering like a lunatic on a cocktail of speed and fear.

But I’m not going to do that this year. Fuck that. I trust the dudes in charge. I trust Martin Mayhew and I trust Jim Schwartz. I believe they know what they’re doing, I believe that they have a plan, and I believe that whoever they draft with the 13th pick will be someone who they feel confident can help the team. Or they could trade the pick. I’d be cool with that too. You see, it’s not just that I trust them, it’s that for the first time in years it doesn’t feel like this pick is a desperation pick, a winning lottery ticket that the Lions absolutely must cash in if they want to ever become anything more than the screaming shitheap on fire that they’ve been for so long. Joey Harrington, Charles Rogers, St. Calvin, The House of Spears, these were all dudes who had to pan out. They were all potential saviors. A couple of them didn’t and, well, we saw what happened.

Those have been the stakes for us as Lions fans whenever draft time rolls around, but it’s not like that this year. The Lions are as close to being a complete team as they have been in a long, looooooong time. Are there obvious holes? Definitely. Especially on defense. But they are holes that – for once – seem like they’re capable of being filled with minimal effort. (I’m trying really hard here to not fly off the rails and take this filling holes talk in a really weird direction. Just so you know.) That’s sort of the point. The Lions holes now are not really any different than any other team’s holes. In the past, the Lions had to move heaven and earth and also parts of hell to try to fill even half of their holes. It was an unwinnable battle, an impossible fight and we all knew it. The best we could hope for was that we could drag our corpse closer to Dr. Frankenstein’s lab. But that also meant that the holes that we prioritized - those positions which we felt had to be filled, even if it came at the expense of other holes – had to be filled without fail. We couldn’t afford to miss. The dudes we picked had to come through. If they didn’t, it was back to screaming and clawing at the dirt while the Failure Demons dragged us back down to hell.

It’s not like that now. It just isn’t. We can afford to be a little more choosey. We can afford to take the guy who’s the right fit rather than the guy who’s just available right now. We don’t have to be desperate. We don’t have to be frightened. We don’t have to be manic. We just have to be smart. Fortunately, I think that describes our dudes in charge pretty damn well. They’re smart, they’re patient, they’re calm and they believe in what they’re doing. That’s the necessary formula for building a quality NFL football team and it’s amazing to realize that this is honestly the first time I have ever been able to say that about the dudes running my favorite team.

It’s amazing and it’s unfathomably sad. But it’s also calming and it also fills me with an almost indescribable sense of sports fan giddiness. I have spent so long agonizing over the past that I just don’t want to do it anymore. I don’t want to focus on the things we’ve never had. I just want to smile and be happy that we have them now. Mayhew and Schwartz aren’t gonna fuck this up. They just aren’t. I feel incredibly confident about this. I just do. It’s a hard thing to explain. It really is. But when I think about the Lions right now, I am overcome by a tranquil, peaceful easy feeling.

Is this all just a hilarious setup concocted by Fate? Maybe, but fuck it, I don’t really care. This may just be a way to get me in a place as a fan where Fate can destroy my football hopes and dreams once again, but I want to be in that place. I want to have faith. I want to believe that this time everything will be okay. This not a stupid dream, not some half-assed and desperate attempt to grab hold of something just because I’m afraid of the nothing. This is a calm, reasoned outlook. I’m not half expecting the ground to suddenly open up and to be sucked down to hell to be poked at by laughing hordes of Failure Demons, which is how I have always felt as a Lions fan, even during those rare times when I’ve been cautiously hopeful. There is no caution here. There is just certainty that the ground beneath my feet is real and safe and that all I have to do is to keep standing, keep walking on it, and the city of my dreams will be glittering on the horizon before I know it.

It’s happening. I can feel it. You should believe me. I am an enlightened truth warrior. (By the way, fuck Charlie Sheen for biting my style. You son of a bitch, you may have tiger blood, but I am a fucking tiger and I will gnaw on your wicked bones.) I am in tune with the universe and I can interpret its cosmic energy for you. Never in my life as a Lions fan has that energy felt right. But it does now. I may be crazy. I almost certainly am. But crazy people are always the first to know when a change is going to come. They’re the ones standing on street corners gibbering back and forth with unseen voices. Dumb animals are the ones freaking out and shitting on the floor whenever disaster is about to strike. There is something subhuman about it, something elemental that the great big human brain refuses to accept. The brain overrides the instinctual and tries to reason with the world. But the world can’t be reasoned with. It is strange and it is whimsical and it doesn’t give a fuck what you think. That’s why only the dumb and the mindless – or at least those willing to tap into that part of themselves that exists below the brain – understand when the shit is about to go down.

What the fuck am I even talking about? Who knows? All I’m saying is that I feel okay – shit, better than okay – about what’s going on with the Lions right now. I feel it in my bones. I have spent my whole life trying to interpret these football feelings. I became so in tune with the pain of being a Lions fan that I am aware of even the tiniest changes. And this is not a tiny change. This is a great sea change. This is a seismic shift that even the most tone deaf of Lions fans should be able to feel and hear and see. This is not hope for hope’s own vain sake. This is a hope built on truth, built upon an inescapable feeling that the world has changed and that the future is ours and all we have to do is . . . is be.

I am well aware that I sound like Deepak Chopra on mescaline and angel dust. It’s kinda embarrassing but fuck all that. There is an element of truth in the midst of those ridiculous words. All we need to do is be. I firmly believe that. We don’t have to panic. We don’t have to freak the fuck out and demand that the Lions airlift Albert Haynesworth in using one of those giant harnesses they use to haul elephants. We don’t have to wring our hands in fear about what’s going to happen next. We just have to be. We just have to let it happen and live it when it does. Otherwise we’re gonna end up missing it all. I don’t want to be pissed off all the time, and miss the good shit. I don’t want to shit my pants and then throw the resulting feces at my fellow fans just because I’m worried that the Lions didn’t take an outside linebacker or tackle or whatever with their 3rd round pick. Fuck all that. I don’t want to bury my head in my hands and insist that the Lions will fuck it up because that’s what they always do. We’ve done that for too goddamn long and it has to stop. I don’t want to find myself watching a playoff game with the Lions in it and turning and sneering to my friends about how they’ll blow it because I’m a pussy. Because that’s all I’ll be if that happens. That’s all any of us will be if we allow ourselves to be consumed by all of our petty fears and deep seated misery.

I just want to watch this all play out, from beginning to the end. I want to be able to look back after it’s all over and smile at my memories of the beginning. I want to be able to say that I knew it all along, that I saw it happening and that I saw how the pieces on the chess board all fit together. I don’t want to have to look back after it’s all over only to realize that I didn’t enjoy any of it. After all, I have spent my entire life as a fan twisting in agony, bitching and moaning, beaten by misery and pain. I’ve had enough, goddammit. Enough.

The Lions will draft someone in the first round a month or so from now and we will all pick apart whoever it is like he’s the lone survivor of a UFO crash site. People will bitch and wring their hands and wonder aloud if the Lions should have done something else. They just will because that’s what fans do. I understand that. I will probably do this too. Fuck it. It’s how we stay invested as fans. It lets us feel like we have some sort of ownership in the team. But until then, I just want to sit back and see what happens next. I don’t want to miss to a thing. I just want to keep my eyes and my heart open and I want to feel the full force of what is coming next. That may make me a fool and I will be destroyed as a fan if things go badly, but there comes a time in every fan’s life where he needs to stand up out of the trenches, look across the field at his enemy, at the Failure Demons armed with machine guns, machetes and evil intentions, and smile defiantly because it’s better than dying of disease in a hole filled with the piss and shit of you and all your miserable comrades. If I’m going to die as a fan, I am going to do it on my feet, with a smile on my face, fire in my eyes and thunder in my heart. If I’m carried off to Valhalla on my spirit horse then at least I can look back and say that I lived as a fan and didn’t just cower in fear in my dark little hole.

I believe in the future. I believe in the now. The past is dead and the world is open and beautiful and there is a city glimmering on the horizon and all we have to do is be. All we have to do is keep looking at it and keep looking at it and keep looking at it and pretty soon, we will be at its gates and The Lord of the House of Spears will smile at us, swing those gates open and then everything will be beautiful and the world will finally belong to us.


UpHere said...

Don't know what else to except "what he said". I also think Mayhew's devious enough that he interviewed Bruce Carter to ask questions about teammate Robert Quinn in case the latter falls to them at 13 and interviewed Lutrus from uConn in case Lawrence Wilson is available in round 2. The fact that I could even consider Lions management capable of something this smart means we may have entered a parallel dimension.

Neil said...

Yeah, it is strange. I just have this sense of unshakable inner peace when it comes to the Lions. That is amazing and kind of inexplicable and yet here we are.

UpHere said...

I was watching a BBC thing about the business of F1 racing a while ago and one of the major dudes on a big team said something I always think about during the draft. He said "it's not about getting better. Everyone's doing that. It's about getting better faster than they are".

It can't be easy to be a GM in the NFL, even if it seems like there's so many qualified candidates commenting on MLive.

Neil said...

There is an element of luck to it too, I think. I mean, the timing has to be right and key players have to stay healthy and ... this is what I try not to think about because then I start seeing dark clouds and cobras laughing at me from hell and I'm just tired of that, you know?

But the thing is, is I think you make your own luck too, and the teams that manage to consistently stay ahead of the pack are experts at that. They don't look at right now so much as they do 3, 4 or 5 years from now. The day you rest and say good enough is the day that you die in the street and some other cold blooded reptilian GM harvests your soul from your still warm body and moves on.

The good thing about all that is not only does Mayhew seem to know what he's doing, he also seems to have a grip on the hustle of it all. He's always looking for incremental ways to make the team better, whether it's through a 7th round pick for Shaun Hill or a cheap waver wire pick-up like Turk McBride. He's always working something and I suppose more than anything, that's why I feel so confident.

Mike said...

The best thing is about how they're building this team is that, just like the Packers had to do this year, they have people they can rely on in their 2nd and 3rd string. Kind of like Ty's Mother Hubbard posts on TLIW, even our backup/rotational DTs are above-average in the NFL and would be starters on many other teams. Shaun Hill is the caliber of QB that we used to parade as our unconditional starter in the breath of Scott Mitchell, Jeff Garcia, and Jon Kitna. Our backup RBs picked up slack last year when our running game went stagnant.

We're not just building a team that can win if we have a lucky year and get by without any key injuries, we're building defenses against those dark clouds, cobras, and Failure Demons. We're building a team that can win a Super Bowl with a team of misfits and backups.

I share your optimism. I always "hoped", but never believed. This time I believe.

Neil said...

Absolutely, Mike. That's the great thing here. You can actually see the commitment to building something strong at the foundational level. This is not going to be a team that relies on only one or two stars to carry them to the playoffs only to be exposed by good teams. This is a team that will be solid from the ground up and from the lines out. If there's one thing these dudes have done in the last couple of years, its make a commitment towards building organizational depth. They have done this with a zeal that has bordered on obsession. Martin Mayhew seems like he has devoted his life to stalking waived players and flipping seventh round picks for potentially useful parts. That's what has given me so much confidence that everything will not only be alright, it will be great. Like you, I have always hoped, but now I find Hope changing into Belief, which is a powerful and intoxicating thing. Thanks for reading and thanks for writing, Mike. I've said it before and I'll say it again now: we are all in this thing together.

Oh, and by the way, to anyone reading this: Mike is absolutely right about Ty's Mother Hubbard series over at If you're a Lions fan and aren't checking this out, do yourself a favor and head over there.