If there is one fanbase in this circus of a universe who knows better than to fall prey to the candied lure of meaningless preseason glory, it’s our twisted and scarred bunch. After all, none of us can ever forget the lessons of the 2008 preseason, which saw the Lions go 4-0, invited a bunch of dumb hype and made it that much crueler when the Lions shit their pants and were carried away by Failure Demons on a river of our tears, aided by sails made of horror and Rod Marinelli’s diapers, sails blown by an ill wind made up of our screams and sad, broken sighs, all the way to 0-16. So, uh, fuck the preseason. That’s been my enduring mantra ever since that fiasco, but . . . sigh. In the end, I’m just a damn fool.
And I’m a damn fool because despite all of the aforementioned gibberish, I find myself celebrating the Lions 34-3 shitkicking of the Bengals a little too much. Of course I should be happy that they won – a win is always better than a loss – but ultimately every preseason game, no matter what the outcome, is meaningless and forgettable. Still . . . still, there was something in the way that the Lions won that made it feel like it had meaning, the way that they came out and absolutely bumrushed the Bengals, the way that Matthew Stafford effortlessly sliced up their secondary, the way that the defense marauded like pirates on PCP, the way that Ndamukong Suh tried to eat Andy Dalton’s heart after separating his head from his body . . . it all felt like it mattered.
And maybe that’s the point. Maybe it felt like it mattered because we needed it to matter. We needed to have some sort of validation for the ridiculous mountain of hype we’ve climbed over the past several months. All of us are afraid that the mountain is made of shit and lies and that soon it will melt away and we’ll be left drowning in its rancid stink. At least on some level. Don’t deny it. And so more than anything, the result of this first exhibition game feels like a giant sigh of relief, like we can finally exhale because the mountain suddenly feels a little more firm and it feels like we might just survive this climb after all.
But again, it’s more than just the result. I mean, this wasn’t a 19-14 victory in which the game was decided by a group of camp rejects who will likely spend the real season digging ditches or pit fighting in Thailand. No, this game was decided by the first stringers, the dudes who really matter, and it was decided within the first five minutes of the game. Matt Stafford was perfect on the opening drive, found St. Calvin for a touchdown and looked like he’d been doing this for 150 years. Then Isaiah Ekejiuba killed a guy on the ensuing kick return, the Lions recovered his fumble, Matthew Stafford threw a gorgeous fade pass on a 4th and 1 to Nate Burleson in the endzone and suddenly it was 14-0 Lions before the Bengals had even run a play. Of course, when they finally did run a play, it saw Andy Dalton get hunted by an escaped vampire ape flying through the line, and then chuck the ball up only for Chris Houston to come down with said ball. And that was it. Game over. The starters left, the Bengals never even came close to making a game out of it, and, well . . . shit, that was certainly reassuring.
And like I said, it was that reassurance which was the key thing we all took away from this game, why we have all clung to it a little too hard, why some of us went back and watched the game again or stayed up late to watch the highlights of a meaningless preseason game on ESPN. It was because it validated our hopes and dreams, made us feel for one long moment like this damned thing might work out after all.
We are a fanbase that constantly lives on a razor’s edge, a fanbase that desperately wants to believe in something – anything – but which is also constantly terrified that we’re going to slip, crotch ourselves on that razor’s blade and then spend the whole season howling in agony while our balls and lady balls bleed. And so we cling to anything that makes us feel like we can believe that everything will be okay and we freak out and wail like childish banshees whenever anything – say a Nick Fairley or Mikael LeShoure injury – goes wrong. We are overreactive and tightly wound, bipolar and volatile, but that’s what 50 plus years of hellfire and agony and one terrible 0-16 season will do to you.
In many ways, the preseason is just an excuse for people to solidify their preconceived notions. And because so many of us have spent so long hoping and have found ourselves daring to believe that this time is actually different, this first preseason game seemed like it was some sort of sign sent from on high, to tell us that everything will indeed be okay, that everything will be more than okay and that we have finally – finally – found some redemption at the end of this long, hard road out of hell.
But there are also people who still don’ believe, who think we’re making gigantic jackasses of ourselves yet again, who crow about that 4-0 preseason from 2008 and who will point out Cedric Benson gashing the Lions line before he was taken out of the game, who will point out the Lions giving up too many third down completions over the middle, who will point out the penalties, who will say that they indicate a lack of discipline, and who will say that the Lions got lucky, that the early turnovers were a fluke and that this was, in the end, just a game that will foolishly get our hopes up and make it that much more difficult to take when the Lions inevitably collapse once again.
Those people kinda suck. I shouldn’t be too hard on them because, honestly, their words are basically the same as mine were leading up to that 2008 debacle of a season. But the circumstances are completely different. People got suckered into the 2008 season because they wanted to believe so badly and they were willing to overlook all the signs of disaster that should have been obvious, and then they were further blinded by that mirage of a preseason. Their hopes were being held together by faerie wishes, unicorn dreams and chicken wire. The Lions were woefully untalented and people were down to gibbering clichéd nonsense about toughness and pad level and grit and all those things that people cling to in the absence of talent.
People aren’t talking about those things this year because they don’t have to. Our hope, our belief, is validated by the fact that, well, this is a team with some serious talent. We can just point to a Ndamukong Suh or a Calvin Johnson or a healthy Louis Delmas or a Matthew Stafford rebuilt with cyborg parts or a Jahvid Best with functioning toes or a rampaging Corey Williams or a tackle machine like Stephen Tulloch or . . . you get the point. There are real, genuine honest reasons to believe and that’s what makes this different from the past, what makes it different from 2008.
But people will believe what they want. They’ll see what they want and they won’t admit that the reality might be different until they are forced to, and by then it’s usually too late. The Lions could win a shitload of games right away and there will be people saying that it won’t last and these people will miss out on all the joy that comes from jumping aboard a rocket ride into the heavens. They’ll be left behind to scramble for seats on a bandwagon which will just look like a donkey cart compared to the luxury rocket the rest of us enjoy. But, let’s face it, the Lions could fall apart completely and a bunch of us will sit here and make excuse after excuse and we’ll contort ourselves in hideous ways, embarrass ourselves with dumb arguments and shitty logic until we finally collapse under the weight of it all and wave a white flag in utter exhaustion and defeat. Look, I understand this, I’m a Michigan fan. I’ve been through this shit already.
And that’s why this first preseason game actually felt like it mattered. Because it was validation, a shred of proof that we’re not just dreamy moon-eyed idiots, gibbering and blathering about Hope because we’ve lost our damned minds. And it was the decisiveness of it all that made it matter. There wasn’t any room for delusion in that win. The Lions kicked the shit out of the Bengals and that was that. People will see what they want to see but sometimes the truth is naked and raw and unavoidable. The Lions were clearly – clearly – the better team, and while that might not be saying much given the fact that the Bengals appear to be on their own highway to hell, when’s the last time that you could honestly say something like that? When was the last time that the Lions could just simply outclass another team by virtue of sheer talent, and do so in a way that was so stark, so obvious, so, so . . . overwhelming?
The game left little in the way of interpretation and I think that, collectively, that’s what we needed as a fanbase. People will see what they want to see, but sometimes the world holds your eyes open and forces you to watch.
Look, this may all sound absurdly ridiculous to an outsider, something incomprehensibly dumb and sad, but they just don’t understand. We have to take joy when we can. When you spend your whole life as a fan getting whipped by the Failure Demons, you learn to savor every moment that those fuckers rest and quit bringing that lash down on your back. You learn to covet and adore every sliver of light that slips through the cracks of hell. We are a people that have been savaged and left for dead but we have a unique kind of warrior spirit that never quite leaves us dead and ruined. 0-16 couldn’t do it. It left us scarred and twisted and damaged beyond repair, but we curled up amidst the madness and protected that tiny core of pure light which lies at the center of our being and now we nurture that light and we try to let it heal us. People don’t understand that when you’ve lost everything, the only thing you can do is keep moving forward, to keep walking, even if it’s mindless and dazed and goofy looking. You just keep staggering forward and you look for reasons to keep going. You look for preseason wins and you look for highlights on ESPN and you look for practice reports that say that Matthew Stafford to St. Calvin is an unstoppable combination.
So, yeah, we would have embarrassed ourselves with excessive hooting and joy after a win like this even if there was no real hope. I admit this and it’s important to understand that if you want to understand who we are as fans. But I don’t feel like I’m trudging. I don’t feel like I’m just staggering forward because there’s nothing else to do. I feel like a man, and I feel like I’m marching towards something and if you want to laugh at me and tell me that I’m overreacting and that this is all just some dumb fever dream, brought on by madness and despair, then so be it, man, I can’t stop you.
One last note before I wrap this shit up: THE GREAT WILLIE YOUNG! Nothing – nothing – brought me more joy in that game than seeing my man, The Great Willie Young, raising hell and kicking ass. Seriously, I felt like a proud father. It was ridiculous. I loved seeing him bear down on the quarterback, loved seeing him get after the running back, loved – absolutely fucking adored – seeing him chase down Jordan Palmer like Palmer stole something from him, forcing Palmer to throw up a shitball which was picked off by the Lions. There were a couple of plays where my dude just completely wrecked the whole damned play by himself. I may be overstating things here a bit, but to hell with all that. The Great Willie Young has come to play and woe unto anyone who tries to deny him. I have tried to tell everyone. Even the shitty TV announcers have no choice but to chuckle and talk about The Great Willie Young: Shark Hunter. It has begun.
It has begun. That’s what it all comes down to, for The Great Willie Young, for the Lions as a whole and for all of us as fans. It has begun, and even though this was just one preseason game, and preseason games are indeed meaningless, meaning is a relative term. Did this game matter in terms of the standings, in terms of wins and losses? Not at all. But it mattered – it absolutely mattered – in terms of convincing ourselves, for a day, a week, or if only for a few short blissful hours, that we’re right to believe, right to hope and that the world might just have something left to offer us poor, downtrodden Lions fans after all. For a moment, we lived like we wanted to live, like we have dreamed of living for so long, and while that moment has come and gone and the world will just remember it as a blip in time, we were there, we felt it, and that matters. That matters.