Okay, so the draft has come and gone and like I said in my last ridiculous post, reaction seems to be split. At least locally, but I chalk that up to The Fear more than anything else, because looking at what actually went down, how could I not be pretty happy? The Lions drafted a defensive tackle who was for a while considered to be the possible number one overall pick, an ass-kicker with a mean streak who needs strong personalities to keep him in line, which he’ll have plenty of in Detroit alongside Ndamukong Suh, Kyle Vande Bosch and Jim Schwartz, who let’s not forget kept Albert Haynesworth in line before he decided to live out his life as Jabba the Hutt, eating giant frogs and keeping slave girls on leashes and freezing Mike Shanahan’s sanity in Carbonite. Indeed, if there was a perfect place for Nick Fairley to land, a place where he won’t have to be The Man and where he won’t be able to get away with any bullshit, it’s Detroit, as strange as that sounds.
But that’s kind of the point here. The reason why I am on board with this pick, the reason why so many could probably accuse me of being a senseless cheerleader, is because the culture has changed so dramatically. Before, had the Lions drafted Fairley, there would have been no doubt how it would have played out. He would have come in with a fat contract, surrounded by depressed losers too busy grappling with the Failure Demons to provide him with any constructive support, and then he would have spent a rookie year loafing around and probably chasing whores and eating fried doughnuts all day or eating fried whores and chasing doughnuts until he was picked up in a club at 2 in the afternoon on a random Wednesday for assaulting a stripper. He then would have crashed his Ferrari into an abandoned building downtown and been chased across the border into Canada by police dogs and helicopters until he was finally picked up trying to sneak back into the States via Buffalo with a duffel bag filled with Canadian Bacon, which would have driven the police dogs wild, who would have then attacked him and chewed up his ACL and that would be the end of Nick Fairley: Detroit Lion.
The culture of the Detroit Lions colored everything for a long time. It just did. I don’t need to explain that culture to you. You know. You know every time some asshole analyst like Chris Berman snickers whenever he talks about the Lions. You know every time you close your eyes and remember, remember the losing, the pain, the dysfunction of it all. You know. And so, whenever the Lions drafted somebody, regardless of the position or hype or anything else really, you just knew things were pretty much going to go about as badly as they could go.
But things are different now. They just are. Don’t ask me to nerd out here and start whipping out stats or hitting you with hard evidence that doesn’t really exist. I can’t do that. The Lions are 8-32 since Martin Mayhew and Jim Schwartz took over. You have me at a loss. You win. I can’t prove that things are better. I could point to the 4 game winning streak to end the season or the fact that the Lions were in just about every game last season and probably should have crept above .500 for the first time since the days of the Old Testament and I could point out the home run debut of Ndamukong Suh and the flashes of game changing talent from Matthew Stafford but then all you’d have to do is point out the 8-32 record, the fact that we’ve seen young talent produce before until Lions Disease set in and that Matthew Stafford has spent more time staring longingly at cadavers and their beautiful, beautiful shoulder ligaments than he has throwing a football and then you’d smile your smug, cynical smile and declare that I was just giving into foolish hope and suckling at the teat of Sweet Lady Delusion and then the word cheerleader would get thrown around and we’d just argue until Jesus swept down from above like a bearded paratrooper with a knife in between his teeth and raptured the world just because he was tired of listening to all this dumb bullshit.
All I have to go on is a feeling, on what my own eyes and my own heart tell me, and damn it all, those are two things I have learned to trust. No, I can’t use them to convince you of anything, but I can convince myself, and frankly, that’s all that matters to me. You see, I think most people are idiots. (Not you, though, you’re cool. You too. And you, sure, why not? I’m not sure about you though.) I just do. And sometimes, I fall into deep dark holes in which I can barely operate without spitting venom at everyone and seeing the world through dark, vampiric eyes, like some savage beast or, more appropriately, like some sad lunatic, heartbroken that the world is even dumber than he fears and that his optimistic illusions are just dreams and little more. That’s what prompted my last raving pile of gibberish I called a post and that’s what’s threatening to take this one of the deep end too, but fuck all that, I don’t want to let that happen and so I won’t. The point is that I’ve been in a frustrated place lately and when it comes to football, I’m not sure how to convey my blistering optimism and hope without being called a damn fool or a cheerleader or whatever the fuck you want to say, and I just don’t have the patience right now to deal with such things. And so, hey, as long as I can convince myself, as long as I believe, I don’t really give a fuck.
Which brings us back around to the main point here, which is that things have changed in terms of the culture of the Detroit Lions. They just have. I know it. I know it because I can feel it my bones, in every fiber of my fucked up fan being. I am an expert on pain. All of us are. But what that pain has done has given me a unique perspective on hope and joy and all those good things. I have felt their opposite as a fan so acutely, that I know when things change, even a little bit, and things have changed more than a little when it comes to the Lions.
And that’s why I’m not worried about Nick Fairley like I would have been in the past. That’s why I’m not worried about any nebulous bullshit issues that may or not be relevant to Titus Young. I. Don’t. Give. A. Fuck. It’s not about them. It’s about the culture. The culture of fear and pain and losing makes losers and beasts out of everyone. It exacerbates all that’s potentially bad and obliterates all the good. On the other hand, the culture of victory, the one that makes warriors of light of us all, has a way of accentuating the good and obliterating the bad. I’m going to step outside of football for a moment and use someone like Dennis Rodman for an example. When he was surrounded by alpha dogs with fire for hearts and the frenzied light of a champion in their eyes, like Isiah Thomas with the Pistons or Michael Jordan with the Bulls, he was a fucking winner who did all the little things that make a champion. He hustled his ass off, he played tough, killer defense and he ended up winning 5 NBA titles. Take that alpha dog away, take that light and fire away, and he turned into a selfish primadonna who cared about three things: getting his rebounds at the expense of everything else, rocking the most stylish dresses and fucking Madonna, which made him the recipient of Vanilla Ice’s sloppy seconds. I am tempted to just gibber on about that last point for a while, but I won’t because otherwise I will never end up making my main point and you’ll finish reading all this and say to yourself “What in the fuck was that?” Well, more than normal anyway. Okay, okay, okay, the point is, is that even a dude like Dennis Rodman could be made into a productive winner given the right culture. That’s a huge thing to keep in mind when evaluating the risks inherent in drafting a guy like Nick Fairley, who, let’s face it, kind of has a reputation as a flaming asshole.
But I love flaming assholes, so long as they win, and so I’m good with Nick Fairley being the Lions number one pick. Just imagine our defensive line with him alongside The Lord of the House of Spears and Kyle Vanden Bosch and Corey Williams and Cliff Avril and Lawrence Jackson and Sammie Hill and . . . JESUS, I haven’t even mentioned The Great Willie Young. Jesus, indeed. Who the fuck are opposing offensive linemen supposed to double team? Double Suh and you have Fairley, Avril and KVB coming with fire and death for the quarterback. Single block Suh and, well . . . Requiescat in pace, Amen. It creates an unsolvable matchup problem. It’s the ultimate chess move by the chess master, Jim Schwartz. Boom, check mate, motherfuckers.
How do you pass that up? How do you pass up the chance to create a fundamentally unique situation, a rare freakish advantage that creates problems for the opposition that are simply unsolvable? You have to do that, right?
Look, I know everyone wanted a lockdown cornerback. I went on record (well, as much as someone can “go on record” as just a dipshit fan gibbering on twitter, but still . . .) about wanting the Lions to draft Prince Amukamara with their first round pick. I said either pick him or trade down, although I did find Jimmy Smith an intriguing option. And then the Lions picked Fairley and I immediately freaked the fuck out and rebuked all of my previous bullshit.
There are several reasons for this: first of all, I’m an idiot. I am the same dude who ranted and raved that the Lions should have drafted Aaron Curry over Matthew Stafford. I am just a dipshit fan who is too easily seduced by draft day hype and conventional wisdom just like everybody else. Conventional wisdom was the Lions needed a cornerback, Amukamara and Smith seemed the most likely candidates so, boom, done. That’s just the way the mind of the average football fan works. It doesn’t stop to consider the possibilities inherent in the unforeseeable, the possibilities inherent in, say, getting a talent like Fairley with the 13th overall pick when everyone was sure he’d be gone in the top ten. Which brings me to the next reason why I so quickly changed course: as soon as Fairley was picked, I allowed myself to imagine those new possibilities and quickly arrived at one overpowering conclusion: Good Lord, no one will be able to block us! But this only happened because I was not arrogant enough to believe that I had all of the answers and that I was humble enough to understand that I had to allow my mind to remain flexible and change as the information changed. I am just this guy, you know? I don’t know shit until I know it – which makes a certain kind of bizarre sense if you think about it – and I think one of my best attributes is that I understand this and am willing to accept it. I didn’t know what I wanted until it actually happened. I groped and I grabbed what data I had – where the holes were in the lineup, the players available in the draft who played those same positions – and I made some fuzzy conclusions. I knew what I knew then based upon what I already knew. (I know, I know . . . sorry, this is getting confusing and stupid. You know? Sorry.) But as soon as Nick Fairley’s name was announced, the information base changed and with it came a new range of possibilities I would have been a damn fool to ignore. And finally, I was able to flip-flop so damn quickly because, honestly, I wasn’t that married to my earlier idea. I purposefully disengaged from a lot of the pre-draft bullshit gibberish because A. I’m not a scout and my opinion on the draft – just like almost everyone else’s - is based on hearsay and conjecture from others, and B. I trust the dudes in charge now. So, I was willing to just watch and wait until finally I was sucked in at the last minute and started throwing out stupid declarations and desires. Fuck it, it happens.
It’s not that I don’t pay attention. I do. It’s just that I don’t sit around and nerd out and break down tape and scout random college players. I go off of the limited data I have and I develop opinions which are therefore inherently limited. But I admit this. Not many people do. But the point is that it is this recognition which allows me to latch onto one idea and then quickly disengage when my brain moves swiftly to tell me that I should. I fell in love with the idea of Amukamara or Smith because, well . . . that’s just what my mind does. It falls in love with ideas and concepts until a better idea or concept comes along. I fall in love easy. I’m a Libra, what can I say?
Of course, it would probably behoove me to choose the wisest course and to wait with saint like patience until all the data comes in before developing an opinion, but fuck that. I’m not a robot for fuck’s sake. At least I don’t think so. I mean, there are some people who would say otherwise, but never mind all that. The world is always changing and that means the data is always changing. If you wait until all the data comes in before committing yourself to an idea, a concept, an opinion, a dream, whatever you want to call it, then you’re just going to end up missing out on anything and everything. So, yeah, when the data suggested Amukarama or Smith, I wanted Amukamara or Smith and I said so. But then the data changed and my brain said “Hey, this is better” and told the old cherished idea to fuck off and clung to the idea of Fairley like a shameful little slut.
I am changeable. I admit this and I don’t apologize for it. Fuck foolish consistency. I have already quoted Emerson elsewhere and gibbered about hobgoblins and little minds and all that weird shit, and so I won’t do it here – although I kinda just did – but the fundamental point remains.
And that extends to the Leshoure and Titus Young (a possible long lost relative of The Great Willie Young? Hmmmm . . .) picks. Everyone still wanted a cornerback or an outside linebacker or an offensive lineman and damn it, don’t the Lions know there are holes to be filled??? Well, yes, but you have to pick the right player at the right spot at the right time. It wouldn’t have done the Lions any good to reach in desperation for the nearest cornerback available simply because they had a hole there. They would have been looking to replace that dude from the moment they picked him. Maybe he would have provided a stopgap for a while, but if he wasn’t the right fit, then he wasn’t the right fit. It should be as simple as that. And I trust Mayhew and Schwartz to know if a dude fits or not. Like I said earlier, the new culture has engendered that trust.
Still, people complain and ask questions like “Well, how will they know until they know?” or “Who’s to say Player X might not be a fit or Player Y might surprise?” That is some nitpicky chicken or the egg kind of bullshit, you know? You’re right, no one really knows anything yet. But that cuts both ways. You don’t know either, so shut the fuck up. I’ll trust the dudes whose job it is to make educated choices. If anyone comes close to knowing, it’s them.
Besides, wasn’t that one of the things everyone shit all over Millen for? That he just grabbed guys wherever there was a hole regardless of whether they fit or not? People crapped all over him for that and for not having a coherent, single philosophy or direction. And now a lot of those same people are shitting all over Mayhew for doing exactly what they said they wanted Millen to do. Uh, forgive me, but it would seem as if some of you just want to bitch, bitch, bitch and wallow with the Failure Demons in abject misery. Matt Millen would have drafted Prince Amukamara just because it made sense in a very simple way. And that’s why he was a failure and that’s why most of us would be too. Martin Mayhew and Jim Schwartz, on the other hand, look beyond the calculus of Hole X + Player Y = Happy Time, which is the trap Millen fell into – and into which most of us all fall offseason after offseason – forgetting that there are other important variables such as Fit W which need to be taken into consideration.
What Mayhew and Schwartz embrace is a Philosophy of Greatness. I alluded to this on twitter as the draft was unfolding. I may be an idiot, but I like to think I am a smart idiot and my changeable mind can quickly grasp new concepts and see new paths to glory. And what I said then was that the Lions were drafting for greatness, not competence. The ordinary, mediocre year in and year out franchise, uses the draft to spackle holes. They pick a guy they’re not quite in love with simply because they need someone who plays his position. They are like that stereotype of the marriage mad lady who’s running out of time and so just grabs the nearest available dude and runs to the altar, willfully avoiding all his flaws because, hey, she can fix that shit later. It’s not a true match and both the dude and lady dude know it, and . . . well that’s why everyone gets divorced. It’s the same damn thing.
Okay, okay, that is a stupid analogy, but fuck it, I like analogies, and I like mixing analogies and moving on from one analogy to the other and so nobody give me shit about it, okay? Anyway, when an NFL franchise spends all its time drafting guys to fix holes, its foundation weakens because they never spend any time maintaining and strengthening it. It just becomes a vicious circle of patch and repair, patch and repair, and everything kind of hovers in mediocrity for a while until everything eventually just collapses. It is the philosophy of failure and it is what has infected the Lions and all of us for too damn long, and I find it interesting that so many fans, so many people who bitch about the past, about Millen and all the rest, and who want it to change so badly, can’t see that they’re still caught up in that philosophy of failure.
But that is a minor digression and I want to move on, so I won’t spend any more time hammering away at that. (Note: this is also why I probably need an editor, and honestly, I probably should have started off with this concept of dueling philosophies and built from there in the opening paragraph, but fuck it, I am what I am and this is just the way I do things. I grope wildly and in every direction until I find my way. In other words, I just start writing and then I see what happens. Sometimes it works out and when it does, it’s magic. Sometimes it doesn’t and, well . . . sometimes it doesn’t.) But the point is, is that Mayhew and Schwartz understand that the Philosophy of Greatness involves patience. It is a process that must be meticulously maintained and observed. One wrong move, one desperate reach can fuck everything up. The Philosophy of Greatness is built around the idea of strengthening and strengthening and strengthening, one place at a time. It doesn’t strive for competence, for 9-7 or 10-6. It strives for things like Most Dangerous Defensive Line In The World or Most Explosive Offense or Holy Shit We Can’t Double Team St. Calvin Anymore Or This Titus Young Cat Will Burn Us To The Ground. It strives for 14-2 and Super Bowls. It looks for players like Doug Hogue at linebacker who can be coached up and polished and turned into something great rather than Greg Jones, who will always be an 8-8 or 9-7 player. It’s always looking to the future, it is never complacent, never sure that its work at one position is finished, and it’s always looking to relentlessly improve. It is a philosophy that believes in itself and what it is doing. It trusts itself. It knows, it understands, that it is a process and that it requires patience. It is the philosophy not only of greatness but of genuine change. It is exactly what I was talking about when I was discussing the culture change earlier.
But . . . but . . . the holes! WHAT ABOUT THE HOLES??? Settle down. Yeah, the holes are still there. But, to me, those year in and year out holes are what free agency was designed for. The Lions want the right player at the right time and if that guy wasn’t available in the draft, then they had to take someone who was the right player at the right time. Free agency gives them better latitude when it comes to picking and choosing. They don’t have to find someone who’s an exact fit because it won’t come at another’s expense. For instance, they could find a guy in free agency who they are 80% in love with and be okay with that because it doesn’t rob them of the opportunity to draft someone else. By that, I mean they could sign someone comparable to an Amukamara or a Jimmy Smith or whoever in free agency, because it’s just about them. The draft, on the other hand, requires that you pick one player over another, so of course you draft the guy you are 100% in love with over the guy you’re 80% in love with. Does that make any sense at all? No? I’m kinda struggling to get this point across in a way that makes sense so forgive me if this is awkward and mystifying.
The draft is almost holy to someone like Mayhew or Schwartz. That is their opportunity to find their foundation, to only select guys they love 100%, and that is how we all have to see it. It doesn’t really matter whether you agree with that or not – I happen to agree with it but that’s not really the point – it’s the way that they feel and so it is from that perspective that their drafts must be judged, not from the perspective of some other philosophy. The Philosophy of Greatness. That’s what the draft is all about for them. Never forget that.
Free agency is a whole different animal. There are fewer options and so you end up patching holes through that. You end up signing a Larry Foote or trading for a Chris Houston or . . . you get the point, right? You sign guys who can bridge the gap between one draft and the next, guys who can give you a chance to win even if they don’t quite fit into the grand scheme of things. These are the guys who tend to change year in and year out, and while it would be great to find stability there, you can’t just manufacture stability. Right player, right place, right time. Right player, right place, right time. Just keep saying that over and over again.
Of course Mayhew and Schwartz would have loved to have drafted a cornerback. But it would have had to have been the right guy for them. That guy obviously wasn’t there, and if he was – and apparently he was if the reports that the Lions tried to trade up for Patrick Peterson are true – then he had to be at the right time. Peterson wasn’t. The Lions would have had to give up too much to get him and so they folded their hand instead of going all in with a pair of nines. A cornerback who they loved 100% at the 13th pick would have been their ideal scenario. But that guy simply didn’t exist and instead of trying to make him exist, they kept their cool and moved on to another scenario – maybe not the ideal scenario, but certainly an ideal scenario if that makes any sense at all – and that’s what at the heart of the Philosophy of Greatness. This is a giant chess game to them, and they are moving their pieces, patiently, and with a purpose. They aren’t hopping around trying to play checkers like Millen. This game requires patience and skill, and they aren’t going to make a bad move just to make a move and leave themselves beaten. There are still some vulnerabilities, still some moves to be made and everyone should remember that list bit – there are still moves to be made. The game isn’t over.
There are still free agents to be signed and maybe even trades to be made and so everyone should just chill the fuck out and see what happens there before getting all bent out of shape about the upcoming season. Even if the Lions end up with a fatal weakness – the back seven – it’s important to remember that this is a process. This is about building a champion, year in and year out, not about building a simple playoff team that will crumble in a couple of years. Sometimes, that means that the present must be slightly sacrificed for the future. That is a hard, hard thing for most Lions fans to accept, but it’s not like the Lions were going to win the Super Bowl if they drafted a cornerback this year. It just wasn’t, so what’s the difference? I’d rather the Lions do what they can now and wait for the right moment and then strike. Maybe next year they can be in a position to trade up for that missing piece, like the Falcons trading up for Julio Jones this year. But, look, it’s not like having a weakness means DOOM either. The Lions will be a lot of fun this year and that front four – and remember, it will always be fresh because of the sheer amount of rotational talent – will help mask a lot of the deficiencies of that back seven, and who knows, maybe the Lions will even sign somebody like a Nnamdi Asomugha (I have no idea if I spelled that right, but as Moses said in the Bible, fuck it.)
The last point I wish to make (and yeah, I know this is painfully long, but I haven’t written – I mean really written – about the Lions in a while so there was a lot to be said, and if I’m being truthful, I’m still struggling with a lot of the stupid shit I mentioned in the last post, which has the unfortunate effect of bloating things, plus there are my trademark parentheticals and digressions, which . . . hey, how’s it going?) is that there is still a lot of shit that will happen before the season starts and so we should probably chill the fuck out with the BY GOD THEY’VE BLOWN IT talk. The draft, taken by itself, and taken in the context of that Philosophy of Greatness I struggled so much to break down earlier, was a good thing. I’ll go further than that and say it was damn near a great thing. The Lions were able to create a situation along the defensive line and at wide receiver which will cause matchup nightmares for opponents and they drafted a really talented running back who can be the perfect counter punch to Jahvid Best – and who has all the tools to be a number one back in the NFL if Best is injured or ends up flopping or whatever (Oh, God, I didn’t mean that. Have mercy!) If you can’t see a coherence to their plan, can’t understand how what they did is fundamentally a good thing, then I’m afraid this whole thing will never make much sense to you. But fuck it, since when did fandom make sense to any of us? I don’t know. I’m just rambling now, and I wish I had some brilliant way to tie all this monstrously stupid shit together, but I don’t. Not really anyway. I had too much to talk about, and I’m sorry if it all just sort of spilled out in dumb fragments and jumped around too damned much. Like I said, sometimes its magic and sometimes it just . . . isn’t. Still, I like to think I made some worthy points in all this mess, and if there’s one thing you should keep in mind after reading this, one thing you should ponder and consider, it’s that idea of a Philosophy of Greatness. I have a feeling it’s going to come up again and again here, which might get annoying but hell, let’s face it, The Philosophy of Greatness is a welcome change from post after post talking about Failure Demons and all that shit, right? Yes, yes, I’m still rambling but I just noticed that I’ve written almost 5,000 words here and that’s utterly ridiculous and I wanted to see if I could push over the 5,000 mark. Just because, and it would appear that I just did, so fuck it, good bye for now, vaya con dios and all that jazz and remember: Philosophy of Greatness.
Jesus, Neil, this was the worst one yet. You could have stopped this a few thousand words ago and still made all the same points. Fuck, this is just ridiculous. Wait, what? The microphone is still on??? Well, shiiiiiit . . .