According to the helpful little stats provided by Blogger, there are 330 posts labeled “Detroit Lions” here at Armchair Linebacker. Every single one of them, with two or three exceptions, was written by me. And you all know by now that when I write something, it isn’t one or two quick paragraphs. No, each one is an obscene journey on a rocket ship fueled by nightmares, madness and the howling of the forgotten dead into the heart of darkness known as Detroit Lions fandom. Guessing conservatively, I’d say that each one of these posts averaged anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 words. Rarely have they been any less that 2,000, but there have been several occasions where they have soared close to 5,000 words. So, I think I can safely say that there is a strong possibility – especially when you consider the 100,000 or so words I’ve written in the last several months about the rest of the NFL – that since I started writing about the Lions here at Armchair Linebacker, I have written one million words.
Now, that’s an obscene number, and if I thought about it for too long it would likely depress me. That’s approximately the equivalent of ten decent sized novels. Oh God . . . I’ve wasted my life, haven’t I? No, but seriously, that’s a lot of fucking writing, a lot of madness, and a lot of traveling through the anarchic halls of my own diseased brain. I say all this not to brag or even to inform. No, I say this as a means of gathering some sort of perspective about our collective journey as Lions fans. Those one million words have been written over a course of three years, from 0-16 to today, and while those three years have been a wild and ridiculous ride, they are only a sliver in time, an almost imperceptible blip in the lifetime of my own fandom.
And those years that I have spent as a fan, wandering in the desert of the damned, wondering if I’ll ever reach the Garden of Eden, are themselves just a sliver in time, a tiny blip compared to the colossal expanse of this Saharan wasteland which has gripped the world of the Detroit Lions for over half a century. Some more perspective: the last time the Lions won anything worth winning my grandfather - MY GRANDFATHER – was 27 years old. 27. That’s younger than I am today. My grandfather died 3 years ago, during the first month of that terrible trail of tears known as 0-16. He was 78. (That’s right, I’m saying that Rod Marinelli killed my grandfather.) That’s a whole lifetime of watching the Lions lose with the same kind of dread horror and outright misery that we bitch about all the time. A whole lifetime. And during that lifetime there was never any real hope, no belief that things as a whole had changed. Oh sure, there were oases in that desert of the damned, small respites named Barry Sanders or . . . or . . . I’m having trouble thinking of another one, but even then, everyone understood that they were nothing more than oases, and that once we started moving forward, the air would dry up again and we would go thirsty and sand blind. I’ve written about this before, but the Lions best decade during that lifetime of despair – the Barry years – was roughly equivalent to the last decade’s worth of football played by the Jacksonville Jaguars. That’s an incredibly depressing – and maddening – thought.
I don’t bring all this up in order to create a trite My Gradfather Never Saw His Beloved Lions Win storyline, a storyline beaten into the ground by countless Red Sox fans over the years, because honestly, my grandfather was never a huge Lions fan or anything. He watched and he followed but his heart was never really in it, and can you blame him given everything that I just wrote? No, I bring all this up to give a sense of perspective to our struggle as fans. It is not something that anyone else can really understand. I wrote a whole piece about this before. So why do I bring all this up again? Well, I’ll tell you. I bring all this up yet again just to set the stage, to give a sense of what this season – and what this game against the Buccaneers – really means to us as Lions fans.
When we look behind us, we see a world of chaos and misery, of blood, sweat, tears and . . . well, even more blood, sweat and tears. There are mangled dragons being tortured by Failure Demons, all the trees are on fire and there is dark and sinister laughter coming from somewhere that we suspect is the heart of hell. It is a world without end, dark and insane, and it is all we know.
The human brain – and more importantly the human spirit – can only take so much of that, though. 0-16 broke us. It dragged us down and stripped our flesh from our bones and then it ignored our simpering cries while it gnawed upon those bones. But it didn’t kill us. Instead, we collectively viewed that catastrophic failure as the bottoming out point, the Marianas Trench of the hell that was our world as fans. That was it. After fifty plus years of swimming in the fire, we had finally sunk as far we ever would. There was a certain sort of comfort in that, I think. As insane as it is to actually write those words, I think it’s true. There was a certain understanding that the worst was behind us and that if we sucked it up one last time, we could still swim back to the surface, through the fire, avoiding the Tridents of the Failure Demons as they tried to spear us along the way, and somehow, someway, it feels like we actually popped our head back above the surface of that ocean of fire and we saw a distant shore, and above that shore were white cliffs, a clear blue sky and something glowing, a shimmer of green and gold and red, of emeralds and rubies, a shimmer alive with promise, with salvation. All we had to do was swim to that shore and climb that cliff. I decided to swim and so did most of you reading this. A lot of our brothers and sisters just wailed and wept and sank back beneath the fire. The Failure Demons had ruined them and that’s a damn shame. But the rest of us had a choice to make and we chose to swim for that shore.
Once we reached that shore, once Jim Schwartz and Martin Mayhew set about trying to make things right, we lay on the beach under a sky that was a mix of the clear blue of the future and the Sulphuric black of the past, exhausted, in pain, and we looked at the cliffs looming above us and realized that they reached miles into the sky and that to climb them would take everything that we had left inside of us. But instead of bitching and moaning – instead of caterwauling like infants and throwing a hissy fit because the world wasn’t perfect – we all smiled at one another and started climbing.
You see, it wasn’t because we wanted to climb. It was because we didn’t have any other choice. This cliff, this daunting journey, was all we had left. It was the only thing that kept our spirit from disintegrating into a billion tiny pieces, into subatomic nothingness. There was nothing else we had to hold onto. There were no fond memories, no glory, no sunny days, just a black and foul past which somehow hadn’t completely ruined us. The climb and its promise was all that was left to us. It was our only escape and so we grinned, manic, almost joyless, desperate grins and we started to scramble our way to the top, holding on to the cliff face with bloodied fingers and to what was left of our tattered spirits as fans. This was it. This was it. This was it.
And then last season, the cliff face started to sprout hand and footholds and it got a little easier to climb and if we looked above us, mingled with the blue sky were those colors of emerald, gold and red, of the promise of rubies and glory and salvation and collectively we went completely mad as we scrambled for the top.
We have fought a savage internal battle between our fears and our wildest dreams and the result over the past couple of seasons has been wild and bipolar, manic and stupid. We have screamed at the losses, gnashed our teeth, beaten each other with whips and clubs and cried and cried, sobbing because we were sure we would never reach the top of that cliff. And we have celebrated like idiot children with every victory – few as they’ve been – lighting fireworks in our hearts and getting drunk on the faintest hint of the promise to come. And on and on and on it’s gone until today we find ourselves scrambling over the edge of that cliff and looking at . . . what?
What do we see? We’re awash in brilliant colors now, in the light and promise of the future, but what is the future? Now that we’re there, what does it really mean? All we know is that somehow we have escaped hell. We never really stopped to consider what this new world would really be like and I think that terrifies people. It does me. I’ll admit it. I’m scared. Because what if this doesn’t really work out? What if this new world we’ve fought so damned hard for really isn’t any better – or worse, any different – than the old world? What if this is just another spectacular oasis and what if once our eyes adjust to this new light we look past it and see that the desert of the damned just goes on and on and on? What if?
I think we know that this is it, that this is our last stand as Lions fans. This new journey has taken everything we have. It has taken all of whatever strength we still had left, whatever belief, whatever hope. It has taken everything human and beautiful, everything that makes us inexplicably love a team of 53 dudes we’ve never met. Our hearts, our souls, our very being as fans are on the line right now, and again, that’s terrifying. Our eyes are wide, our hearts are on fire and beating a thousand times per second and the whole world is alive with infinite possibilities. Anything can happen in this new world. That is both its promise and its threat.
But we’re moving forward anyway, because really, what choice do we have? We can either give our souls away now, our spirits, or we can fight for them. Why not? If we do lose them we might as well lose them in glorious death instead of shameful cowardice.
All that sounds overly fatalistic and vaguely depressing and I apologize. I didn’t mean for it to come across like that. I just wanted to give everyone a sense of the stakes here. I wanted us all to understand what’s on the line. The good news is that we have real, concrete reasons to believe. At every stage, the Lions have gotten better and better. They have bolstered virtually every position group and while there is still work to be done, there are several positions that are legitimately championship level. The Lions have a ferocious defense built on pressure, swagger and grim death, with a defensive line that is as percussive as it is concussive – loud, brash, physical, mean – everything that you want your line to be. They set the tone. Everyone else follows. The linebackers are new, athletic and loaded with promise and the secondary . . . well, while they may still lack that lockdown cornerback, they have several guys who should thrive playing behind a line that creates so much pressure. In the preseason we already saw that all they have to do is be ready for their opportunities. The defensive pressure up front will force turnovers. The cornerbacks just have to be there to finish plays. Meanwhile, Louis Delmas and Amari Spievey give the back end of the defense a swagger and a mentality to match what’s there up front. They’ll hit – and they’ll miss occasionally – and they’ll make sure that the middle of the field is not a place opposing players want to visit.
On offense . . . well, on offense we have Matthew Stafford, who has apparently been reborn as a Terminator, only this Terminator comes complete with the swagger of a fighter pilot. He’ll hunt down Sarah Connor and then he’ll sleep with her, her friends and even that dog who won’t stop barking. They’ll all die with a smile on their face and satisfaction in their hearts – and also in their loins. I’m just going to go ahead and say it – Matthew Stafford looks unstoppable. He has a total command of the offense, he can make every single throw on the field and his traitorous shoulder has been literally reinforced by steel. He is part robot, part man and all warrior.
Meanwhile, he has a host of weapons around him led by Calvin Johnson. St. Calvin has never had a chance to play with a quarterback like Matthew Stafford. Even going back to college, he has always had a collection of Grit Merchants, Noodle Arms and Reggie Balls throwing him shitballs disguised as passes. It is absolutely frightening – and wonderful – to think about what he can do with a real, live quarterback feeding him balls. (No, not feeding him balls like that. Get your minds out of the gutter, you degenerates. Stafford and St. Calvin are just friends. JUST FRIENDS DAMN IT.) But it’s not just Calvin Johnson. Stafford has shown unbelievable chemistry with Nate Burleson this preseason and Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler are both prime receiving threats at tight end. Add in Jahvid Best swinging out of the backfield and Titus Young developing as a receiver and Matthew Stafford has an embarrassment of riches with which to buy glory and honor this season.
Of course, there are still questions about the running game – serious questions – and no one knows if the offensive line as it is currently constituted will ever be able to provide any sort of push up front, but I have tackled that issue elsewhere and since this is technically a game preview, we should probably actually get to that, huh?
So what can we expect from the Lions game against the Buccaneers this week? Well, remember, the Lions beat the Bucs in Tampa Bay last season. Prior to that game, I pointed out that the Buccaneers seemed scared of Ndamukong Suh and the Lions defensive line even though the Lions hadn’t won on the road since the Jesus administration (You all remember that. He was elected on a tide of populist sentiment and then was impeached because the do nothing Congress back then, led by Speaker of the House Pilate, deemed that his policies were too radical and Socialist in nature. I still can’t belief Vice President Iscariot rolled over on him like that. Shameful.)
The Lions then went out and beat the Buccaneers. So . . . why in the hell would it be any different now that the game is in Detroit, the Lions have improved significantly and Matthew Stafford is running things instead of the limp-wristed Grit Farming duo of Shaun Hill and Drew Stanton? What did the Buccaneers honestly do in the offseason to make anyone think that they would win this game?
There seems to be a lot of optimism surrounding the Buccaneers these days and while I can understand that – they’re young, they think they have a franchise quarterback, they’ve got a bunch of money to work with under the cap – I don’t necessarily agree. There is an aroma of fraudulence to the Bucs. I discussed this in their team preview. It’s not that I don’t think that Josh Freeman isn’t a franchise quarterback, it’s just that I see him as a second tier franchise quarterback if that makes any sense. He’s not Matthew Stafford. And while he may lead the league in Intangibles and there’s a good chance that he’s going to be riding off into the sunset in Brett Favre’s old Wranglers strapped into John Madden’s sidecar of love, I have a hard time believing in those things. I’ll take Matthew Stafford over a rich man’s Drew Stanton any day of the week and especially on Sundays. But honestly, what Josh Freeman is good at – scrambling around, making something out of nothing – might play right into the hands of the Lions defensive line, which sadly for Josh Freeman are hands made of hate and claws. Freeman scrambling around trying to make plays means that he’s going to be hanging onto the ball for an extra second or two, and an extra second or two versus the Lions defensive line isn’t so much the difference between success and failure as it is the difference between survival and ritual disembowelment. If Josh Freeman doesn’t get rid of the ball ASAP, he’s going to find his head mounted in Ndamukong Suh’s House of Spears.
Look, I understand that the Bucs overachieved last season, but to me that just means that they’re due to fall back to Earth. Meanwhile, last season the Lions were beset by injuries, penalties, a plague of locusts, alien invasions, rivers of blood and anything else you can imagine. If it could go wrong, it did go wrong. And still – STILL – the Lions beat the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay. You’ll forgive me if I’m not seeing a reason why the Lions shouldn’t win – and win convincingly – this time around.
I suppose, in the end, the only reason that people can really come up with is because the Lions are, well, the Lions, which is something that will only go away if the Lions can actually win games like this. I can’t fault people for being clouded by The Fear. After all, I’ve already explained how frightened I am. We need to win this game. If we don’t, The Fear is going to become crippling and ugly. It will override our intellects and turn us into a gang of grunting baboons, flinging our shit at one another. It will be vile and horrible. As much as we’ll try to tell ourselves that it’s only one game, we’ve completely lost the ability to put things into their proper perspective. That’s what 0-16 did. It stripped away our reason and it pointed us towards this shore, this cliff, and a brave new world and we are hanging on so tightly, scrambling for salvation, that anything other than a victory right now feels inconceivable. We have peaked over the horizon at this new world and now we need a sign. We need something to show us that we made the right choice, that swimming for these strange shores and climbing this brutal cliff was worth it. And right now, I can’t think of a better sign than ripping the Buccaneers hearts out and eating them while Ford Field goes wild. Lions win.
FIVE PREDICTIONS TO MAKE ME LOOK STUPID
1. Matthew Stafford goes full Terminator, completing 30 of 38 passes for 350 yards and 4 touchdowns. He won’t throw an interception and after the game, he’ll seduce Sarah Connor following an epic beatdown of her killjoy boyfriend, Kyle. John Connor, meet your new daddy.
2. The Lions running game will struggle. Jahvid Best will only run for 46 yards on 14 carries, and the Lions will quickly abandon the traditional run game and resort to a heavy screen game instead. Best will catch 7 passes for 87 yards and 1 touchdown.
3. St. Calvin will catch 7 passes for 98 yards and 1 touchdown but the real story will be Nate Burleson, who will catch 9 passes for 125 yards and 2 touchdowns.
4. Josh Freeman will have a decent day, throwing for 265 yards on 22-34 passing. He’ll throw 2 touchdowns . . . but he’ll also get sacked 5 times and lose one fumble. By the end of the game, he’ll look like an extra from one of the Saw movies.
5. LeGarrette Blount will run for 85 yards on 19 carries and after the game people will grumble a bit about the Lions run defense. He won’t score though, and after the game The Great Willie Young will be seen riding around town on a motorcycle with Blount’s head stuck on a spear.
Predicted Final Score: Lions 34, Buccaneers 17.