Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Weight of Hope

Ndamukong Suh, the Archangel of Death, come to take poor Matt Cassel's soul up to heaven.

I don’t like to think too much about these things before I sit down to write them. (Insert joke of your choice here.) Whenever I do, I only end up getting frustrated because what I write inevitably turns out only to be a shadow of the grandiose symphony I have already conducted in my head. I work better with spontaneity. This is why I tend to go off on tangents and wild flights of fancy, which is either my greatest gift or my greatest liability as a writer, depending on your point of view. But I do like to have at least a general idea of what I’m going to talk about whenever I sit down to write about the Lions and this week I was pretty sure I was going to talk about how good it feels to finally escape the muck and the mire and about how much we deserve this after all we have been through as Lions fans, and while that is all still very, very true, I was struck by one powerful sentiment which seems to have ripped through the fanbase like a supercharged current, and that’s that people are fucking terrified.

That may seem surprising after a triumphant week one victory which did a lot to validate the desperate hope that we all feel, but it’s really not. At least not when you sit back and really think about it. And especially when you consider that that adjective “desperate” kind of stands out in big blinking lights. Because that’s the key here. As much as we have hope as Lions fans, it’s not a cool, calm quiet kind of hope. It’s desperate and wild-eyed and it is just hanging on with bloody fingers to a dream that is the only barrier we have left between our continued existence as fans and the ceaseless horror of oblivion.

We have spent so long on this Trail of Tears that we have expended every last bit of emotional energy we have left. When 0-16 finally drew to its ugly and terrible close, we all took a deep, deep breath, looked at what we had ahead of us, grit our collective teeth and started marching forward. We knew there were a ton of hills to climb and that the road would be brutal and uncompromising. Along the way, some of us would die, some of us would strip our clothes off in a fit of madness and go running into the forest to live out our days hunting wild beaver and fighting bears, and some of us would quietly give into despair and become living zombies, propelled forward by nothing more than sheer momentum and the haunting fear of what lay behind us. But we marched, and we marched and we marched, with reserves we barely knew we had, and then when we came to this season, we all paused and took a deep breath and rested for a moment because this was it. Oh sure, the journey’s not over, but all the horrible hell hills and evil mountains were all behind us. This is what we had steeled ourselves for. This is what had made this journey worth it. It took more out of us than we ever wanted to acknowledge while it was happening because, honestly, acknowledging it while it was happening would have caused us to cave in on ourselves.

But there we were, staring down the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and we’d either die here where we rested or we’d take the next bold step on this journey. There would be no more savage mountains. There was just a long, broad plain left to cross, and while that is fraught with its own difficulties, its own particular challenges and horrors, at least we wouldn’t have to climb anymore. Fuck climbing. But then we beat the Buccaneers and with it we started to move forward and now we’re on that plain and we’re not quite sure what to expect. Where do we go from here?

And that’s the question that is causing so much fear, so much panic. At least when we were climbing, when we were just scaling peak after terrible peak, and crying ourselves to sleep at night in the valleys between, there was a sense of certainty. You woke up, you climbed, it was hard, it sucked, you stumbled and fell, you got back up, you climbed so more, and then you slept for a few hours and then you did it all over again. That was the story of Detroit Lions football over the past couple of seasons. There was nothing to truly fear because we knew what we had to do and we did it because what other choice was there?

But now . . . now, this plain stretches in a million different directions and we’re fucking terrified about taking a fatal misstep, wandering for a while and then finding ourselves at the bottom of yet another hill. We know deep down that we can’t climb anymore hills. We budgeted every last ounce of strength that we had to get ourselves to this point. We knew that the journey here would be hard and cruel and brutal and mean but we did it. We did it. But we can’t do it again and we know it. We know it. And that realization has finally settled in. We have something at stake now. Something real. We can’t fuck this up. And that’s why every game feels stressful as hell right now. Each game is a new step, a step fraught with Hope and Fear and Glee and Terror and everything in between. We are a fanbase which is feeling every emotion right now, both positive and negative and when you combine all of those feelings into one super-emotion, what you’re left with is a sort of manic, wide-eyed terror. And that’s what’s gripped the Lions fanbase this past week.

I don’t mean to make it sound like people aren’t happy, like they aren’t excited. I know they are. I am. I’m fucking elated as a Lions fan right now. I’m proud and I’m happy and . . . look, I don’t have kids, but I imagine this collective feeling is something akin to seeing your child born. We’re so, so happy, but there is a part of ourselves that is also scared as hell, because it isn’t sure if it knows where this is going or if we’re prepared for every eventuality. We love the Lions so much that the idea of something happening to them, of this new hope getting ripped away from us, is so horrible that we’re sure that we won’t be able to take it if it does happen for some improbable or insane reason. And since we’re Lions fans, we have become accustomed to expecting the insane, the improbable, the sheer ridiculousness which has eaten us alive for most of our lives as fans. In short, we can hear the Failure Demons cackling in our heads even though we can’t see them. They might not be here right this moment, but we’re always afraid that they’re lurking around the corner and their memory always remains, clouding everything.

I know that this is hyperbolic as all hell, but hey, have you read anything I’ve written? That is sort of my thing. Comparing the Lions to the birth of a child is insane. I recognize this. But the essence of what I’m saying is true. Recognize that. We are flooded with a billion different emotions right now (I almost said awash, but I thought better of it. You’re welcome, Dustin. You’re welcome.), all of them conflicting, and all we can do to try to make sense of them is to reach out and grab hold of the emotion that is strongest right at this moment and hang onto it with everything that we have. For me, that emotion is hope. Help me God, I have no idea how it happened, but somehow I feel like I have become an avatar for Hope within the Lions fanbase. I have decided to embrace it, to wrap myself in it like it’s a protective cloak, and I’m not taking that fucking thing off until someone rips it from my body and then whips me with it while I whimper and sob in the bloody snow.

I have chosen to hope, but that doesn’t mean it’s blind or that it’s easy. I struggle just like everyone else. You know how easy it is for me to touch the dark side. You’ve seen it splashed all over this blog. You know how easy it is for me to cross between worlds, to sing about the light in dark places and to tell tales about the dark in light places. I have one foot in each world and it’s up to me to choose how to deal with that reality. Like I said, I’ve chosen the light. I’ve chosen Hope. But I always know that there is a part of me that is shaded by the darkness, which is forever touched by the awful and vulgar realities of the past. I am a being of light shaded with shadow, a dark wraith with a sword of fire and a blinding light in my eyes.

Okay, okay, I have gotten out of control again, and I apologize. The point is this: for as much as I hope, for as much as I believe, I still struggle. Hope is a choice, man. And it’s a choice we make over and over and over again. It’s a choice we make throughout the day. That may sound Dr. Phil as fuck and it may sound like I’m tied up in the corner while Deepak Chopra ghostwrites this shit, but it’s true. It’s fucking true. I think about the Lions and my mind soars. It goes places that I never dreamed it could when it comes to this team. It stuns me. But every time I do, my mind starts furiously looking for reasons why it’s all a lie, for reasons why my hopes and dreams are nothing more than fanciful delusions, the fever dreams of the broken and the delirious. And then I have to take those fears, those terrible, terrible fears, and I have to try to put them into perspective. I have to blend them with my football fantasies and I have to trust in my own ability to decide what is real and what is twisted by the ugly wreckage of the past. I find myself doing this over and over and over again. A part of me looks at the Lions, looks at the schedule, looks at the talent, looks at the fact that the Lions have won the game the last nine times they’ve taken the field (yeah, yeah, four of those were preseason games, but they still won, you know?) and thinks why not? Why can’t this team win and win and win and win some more? Why can’t this be a magical season? Why can’t we be “there” – whatever “there” means – yet? And then the other part of me reaches up out of the darkness, hisses with the voices of a choir of Failure Demons and starts whispering about injuries and bad calls and Marinellis and Harringtons and everything else which has plagued us for what feels like a thousand years of madness and despair. And I’m forced to make sense of it all. I’m forced to put all that together and then decide whether or not I want to believe. It’s a choice, backed by legions of conflicting emotions and facts, and it’s one that I have to make all the damn time.

So far, I have chosen Hope. And so far, I have been vindicated. And I see no reason why that should change this week. It is a testament to the power of The Fear that it has grabbed hold so fiercely during a week when the Lions play a team that might be the most disheveled in the entire league. Yes, this week the Lions play the Chiefs, and everyone is screaming with wide-eyed fear about trap games and about making statements and all that jazz, and hey, I’m right there with you. This is not an opportunity that we can afford to fuck up. If we mess this up, suddenly it feels like we’re wandering in the wrong direction and like there are hills popping up in the distance and like I said earlier, fuck hills. But honestly, the Chiefs are fucking terrible. They’re a mess and I don’t honestly see a way the Lions can fuck this up. (Jesus, that is always a terrifying, idiotic thing to say.)

Their offense is in tatters, led by a quarterback who has seemingly imploded, his body going so far as to gnaw on its own ribs, leaving him both physically and mentally vulnerable going up against a defensive line which a few weeks ago made Tom Brady weep bitter, frightened tears. It’s possible that Matt Cassel will end the game hanging from a cross. I’m not saying it’s likely but I won’t rule out the possibility either. If things get wild enough and feelings get caught, I can see The Great Willie Young storming out of the locker room at halftime with two giant pieces of wood under each arm and spikes in his hands, can’t you?

Okay, okay, weird and offensive imagery aside, the underlying truth in all that gibberish is that Matt Cassel might die on Sunday. He is going to get the shit beaten out of him, and for a team and a quarterback which already seem to be hovering on the brink of a mental collapse, this is not a good thing. Well, not for them anyway. For us, this is a recipe for utter glee. Right now, you should be drooling and your eyes should be dancing with little soldiers made of blood and holding tiny hate filled knives. Call this Gunther Cunningham’s revenge. Call it revenge for those fuckers claiming that we tampered with their shitty safety. Call it whatever you want, but this should be a fucking bloodbath.

I’m not discounting the fact that the Chiefs have weapons. Hell, I gibbered on about them in our Chiefs preview and I sprung an unseemly boner for Jamaal Charles but to hell with all that, weapons are great only as long as you know how to use them and the Chiefs, well, the Chiefs have been playing – going all the way back to the end of last season – like they have no living memory of those dudes ever doing anything worth a damn. Right now, The Fear is slithering up and sticking it’s forked hell tongue in my ear and hissing that this could be the week that the Chiefs finally get it back together, that Jamaal Charles might run for 200 yards and Dwayne Bowe could catch 3 touchdown passes, but . . . no. Just no. The Chiefs are a team in utter disarray, one bad play away from a full scale mutiny, from Todd Haley being stripped naked and tied to the back of the Chiefs’ bus by his own players to be dragged back to the hotel like a common horse-rustler. They are a team in free-fall and the Lions are a team that thrives on smelling blood. Our dudes are like sharks with chainsaws for teeth. Ndamukong Suh might literally eat someone on Sunday.

Because make no mistake – the Lions are just as aware as we are that they can’t afford to let down in this game. They understand the stakes. They get it. They know. That is perhaps their greatest strength, the one biggest thing that separates them from other Lions teams of the past, teams that might have had the talent but lacked the will or the attitude. These guys are keenly aware of what’s gone on here and they have a certain sort of pride in the fact that they have been tasked with the deliverance of our wounded souls. I love them for that and it’s for this reason, more than any other, that I trust them.

Besides, even if the Chiefs offense inexplicably comes to life, their defense won’t be able to stop Matthew Stafford and the Lions offense. Not even a little bit. Even if the Chiefs for some unfathomable reason are able to take away the outside of the field from Lions receivers they’ll get killed over the middle. That’s because the Lions have Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler, while the Chiefs have . . . Jon McGraw? Indeed. Thanks to a season ending injury to Eric Berry, the Chiefs defense is suddenly completely incapable of covering anyone over the middle of the field. There is a very good chance that by the end of the game Jon McGraw will be shaking all over the field like a ruined old junky, weeping and gibbering like a fool, his fractured mind capable of the merest of childish hoots and animalistic grunts.

There is no reason why the Lions shouldn’t beat the shit out of the Chiefs on Sunday, and in an odd way, that’s caused more fear than anything else this week. We’re not used to those kinds of expectations. We’re not used to everything being slanted in our favor. We’re not used to not having anything real to worry about. And so our brains are doing the only thing they can do: they’re making up reasons to be afraid, because that’s how strong The Fear is. The Fear enslaved us long ago, and there is a certain sort of comfort in being a slave (No, Neil! Nooooooo!!! Back away from this subject immediately you dumb son of a bitch!) But we’re free now, free to make our own decisions, to imagine our wildest hopes and dreams and free to either embrace them or deny them. Well, right now, the future we always wanted is staring us right in the face. It’s right here and it’s real and I say we don’t deny it. I say we embrace it. The Lions should beat the Chiefs. The Lions should beat the Chiefs. The Lions should beat the Chiefs. I can find no reason – no reason that is rooted in anything real or logical anyway – why they shouldn’t. And so that’s what I’m going to choose to believe in. Of course, a part of me – a huge part – understands that there is nothing logical about being a Lions fan, but to hell with all that, we do what we can. We do what we can. And all I can do is hang onto Hope and pray that it doesn’t betray me. If it does, I’m dead, but if I don’t hang onto it at all, I’m dead anyway, so fuck everything else, the Detroit Lions will beat the Kansas City Chiefs and that’s that.


1. Matthew Stafford will have another big day, throwing for 335 yards and 3 touchdowns. He won’t throw an interception and his numbers will be slightly deflated when the Lions sit on a lead for much of the fourth quarter, causing me to write another bitchy post next week.

2. St. Calvin will play and will catch 6 passes for 90 yards and a touchdown.

3. Jahvid Best will run the ball 22 times for 96 yards and a touchdown. He’ll also catch 4 passes for 48 yards.

4. Matt Cassel will be found wandering naked and confused after the game, smeared with his own feces outside of Ford Field. He will be taken to a local homeless shelter and then fed to the Coyotes wandering the city streets. The Chiefs will file an official protest with the league but Sheriff Goodell will be too scared to set foot in the streets of Detroit and will be heard muttering nervous gibberish about Robocop. The matter will eventually be forgotten except for by Todd Haley, who will spend the next several months looking for answers. He will be found floating in the Detroit River next May. No one in Kansas City will care.

5. Jamaal Charles will run for 70 yards on only 14 carries as the Lions establish a big lead and then spend the rest of the game parading around Ford Field with a pike up Matt Cassel’s ass. His howls of pain and screams for mercy will cause Fox to be sued for indecency.

Predicted Final Score: Lions 31, Chiefs 17 (And it’s only that close because I figure the Lions will ease off and sit on the lead in the 4th quarter and the Chiefs will get at least one garbage touchdown.)


SwearyGeek said...

Not to pick a nit with this epic and thoroughly hair raising post BUT..since the Chiefs are visiting Detroit, the game will be on CBS and not FOX.

Poor Matt Cassel..

UpHere said...

Guilty as charged on the terrified front. The only thing that keeps me sane Sundays is to remember that the players are feeling nowhere near as angst-ridden and fucked up as I am when they're on the field, else they'd be shotgunning beers and chaining Marlies, too. This is vaguely but not entirely soothing.

My fearful prediction is a 17-13 Lions win. The Chiefs are unlikely to cough up the ball on the game's first play like last week and the D line will have to sweat the run.

Great piece. Now please go change the monkee picture before CJ sees it. I already can't unsee it.

Neil said...

Man, I was sure that the game was on Fox because the Chiefs were visiting Detroit. This is the second week that I've fucked up the details of the game. Damn it all.

Neil said...

See, no matter how much I try to respect that terrified voice screaming from inside my brain, I just can't get to a place where I think the Chiefs will be able to hold themselves in this game. I just can't do it. Perhaps I have somehow become a man who can't look past his own optimism and hope - which, goddamn, the irony in that just made my head explode - but I think I give the scary shit enough respect still to keep my head on straight. Fuck it, I don't know, and maybe that's the one thing that we can all take away as Lions fans - thanks to 0-16 and all the bullshit we've had to endure, none of us know anything anymore.

Also, I selected that adorable monkey picture just for you and CJ. You're welcome.

steven said...

ok... so this game dont scare me a TON.... although i am guilty of allowing the fear to creep in....

BUT heres the kicker..... I have the extent i can... gone all in....

I live in indianapolis.... I am now the proud (and terrified) possessor of 2 MNF tickets for 10/10/11....

This will be the Lions first apearance on MNF in like forever -1 day and they are playing the bears.... Its like ... how many more ladders can you walk under while crossing black cat paths.....

But there it is... hope to the Nth degree and the fear in OD..... so yeah.... the anxiety on the drive to detroit monday morning will be determined over the next few weeks.....

BTW Neil... you nailed it.... again...

Neil said...

Thanks, Steven. And yeah, that Monday Night game is going to have people damn near catatonic with The Fear. The more excited people get, the more scared they'll get too.

azbadger03 said...

The fear is there, Neil.
Unfortunatly, football teams only play once a week (don't get into sematics with me, yes, I know a team can play Mon. or Thurs. before or after a Sun. game) thus we have all week (and the internet) to tell us why the Lions will lose. As a collective fanbase, we are still unable to counter those reasons with the (much longer list) of reasons why the Lions will win. Our fanbase is still on that journey that you speak of that fans of teams like the Patriots, Packers and Steelers have already been on, where their fans just KNOW that will their setbacks that their team will be OK. Yes, there was much caterwauling (THERE is a word for you) when the Patriots struggled in Detroit and when the Steelers had their Baltimore beatdown. But deep down in their psyche, they have the knowledge that everything will be just fine. As Lions fans, we still have not developed that sense of being (when we get it, we'll know, it's just like being Red Wings fans, same feeling) As the Lion's "learn" how to win, the fans will learn how to shrug off setbacks, and 'the fear' will not be as pervasive

Neil said...

I agree. The only thing that will fix this is time and success. That's it. And I also agree with you that every feeling is accentuated by the fact that there is only one game every week, and in between we have so much time to just let all of that bullshit, both negative and positive, build into a cacophony of wild noise and insane hooting.

azbadger03 said...

Damn it, you HAVE used the word 'caterwauling' before in a post, "The Edge of Tomorrow." How did I miss that?

Neil said...


discodan said...

cut their heads off and shit down their necks.
go Lions

Bubbalouuey said...

The Lions load up and go big, whats left of the Chiefs goes home

Neil said...


steven said...

so did jim keep his foot down enough Neil ???

Neil said...

Uh . . . yes.

CJ said...

OMG, I somehow missed this in the first readthrough but there was a monkey pic that was so horrifying that UpHere (and thank you for that, UpHere)felt it necessary to make a plea for you to spare the less strong willed? And you conceded?

I will now forever be haunted by this pic even though I don't know what it is. It has wiped my mind clean of what I wanted to say and become the "He who must not be named" of monkey pics. How bad must it have been? (Thinks back to Dick Stockton post). Very very bad.

I hope this is the first Harry Potter ref ever on Armchair Linebacker because I'd hate to think someone else is bringing down the tone and letting down the side here but me.

Were you aware that the Lions beat the Chiefs by a score of 48-3? I know you were but I like saying it. I'm going to go say it on the postgame post now.

Neil said...

No, no, there was no monkey pic with this post. UpHere was referring to that adorable monkey in diaper pic we discussed in that earlier post.

Also, 48-3 and 48-3 is 48-3. Did you 48-3 that 48-3 is 48-3? I 48-3 and then 48-3 before I 48-3 but my 48-3 thought that 48-3 was 48-3. In the end, 48-3.