Monday, October 24, 2011

Making Sense of the Senseless


Well, that happened.

And then after it was over, I handled it like a mature adult, ranting and raving about hangings and ether rags and other assorted bullshit. I even discussed how self-hanging would result in pants-shitting and the assault upon my dignity that would ensue. Others decided to throw pitchforks at Matthew Stafford and someone got all hysterical because they caught Matthew Stafford eating at a restaurant or something. I don’t know, everybody was out of their mind. I’m pretty sure that in their haze someone on MLive actually killed a guy.

But fuck all that, we’re better than that nonsensical gibberish, right? No? Well, okay then.

Indeed. I have come to the conclusion that right now it is okay to literally feel anything and everything. The last thing I want to be right now is Kevin Bacon in Animal House screaming ALL IS WELL at the top of his lungs over and over and over again before the crowd surges over top of him, flattening him into the pavement. I can’t do this because, honestly, I think by myself I have felt and said every possible thing there is to feel or say about this team within the last 24 hours or so.

We’re in a strange moment as Lions fans, a moment where reason and the things our eyes have seen are at war with each other, where numbers and stats appear to be brutal liars but also conspire to make us look foolish and hyperreactive. I just don’t fucking know, man. I just don’t fucking know. And hey, you know what? That’s alright.

It’s been pointed out – by me and a million other people – that the Lions are 5-2, which is a far better fate than we have known in a long, long time, and so everyone should probably just chill with the Apocalypse Now talk. And yet . . . man, none of us can help the way that we feel, you know? It’s strange. If you told me that the Lions would be 5-2 at this point, I probably would have looked a lot like Slim Pickens whooping and hollering, celebrating like a madman while he rode that rocket straight to hell in Dr. Strangelove. But the funny thing about expectations is that they are constantly changing. Once you meet one goal, you find that it’s not your goal anymore and your eyes drift to the next horizon. It’s human nature and anyone who doesn’t acknowledge that either doesn’t understand it or is willfully trying to manage their own terrified hearts and minds, suppressing expectation as a means of controlling The Fear.

And that’s fine too. We all do that, to some extent. The specific problem I have with the whole “Hey, they’re still 5-2 even though they should probably be 3-4 so relax, baby cakes” argument is precisely that: the Lions are 5-2 even though they should probably be 3-4. That’s the whole point. If you told me the Lions would look like a 3-4 team at this point, I would have bitched and wondered at the cruelty of the football gods. I expected them to be a good team this season. (I mean, maybe the fault lies with my own unrealistic expectations, but at some point isn’t it okay to expect that the team you love and have followed all your life to actually be, you know, good?) And I don’t mean that in the sense that I expected them to be 7-0 or 6-1 or 5-2 or any other record. Throw out the records for a second. What I mean is that I expected them to look good, regardless if they lost some tough games. Yeah, the thing about that is this: they haven’t.

Not really anyway. I Remember in week one watching and thinking to myself “Hey, what’s up with Stafford?” And I’ll admit, that’s kind of ridiculous but the dude was missing some throws that I’ve seen him make with relative ease. And that hasn’t gone away as the season has progressed. In fact, it’s gotten worse. That is an incredibly weird thing to say about a dude with a 16-4 TD to INT ratio and almost 2,000 yards passing already but this is why things are so confusing right now. My brain is telling me that those are phenomenal numbers. Meanwhile, my eyes the last two weeks have been telling me that my dude looks like Joey Harrington out there, which . . . I know, I know, I just did the Lions equivalent of comparing somebody to a Nazi in an argument, but shit, I’m not going to bury my head in the sand here either and lie and tell you that he’s playing well, because he isn’t.

And that’s the fundamental point here: he – and that offense we know can be explosive because we’ve fucking seen it happen – hasn’t been playing well. Take everything else away – all the numbers, the record, everything – and that’s just the brutal truth, cold and merciless. And while that may have been fine last season or the season before that, or really any season over the last decade of chaos and despair, this season needs to be different. Expectations are higher. The belief that this team is actually capable of something more is what’s driving all the ranting and raving going on right now. People are sad – people are booing and bitching – because goddammit, we let ourselves love this team and now we are terrified that they are going to break our hearts.

Maybe that’s our own damn fault, for daring to believe, for daring to put ourselves out there, but at some point fault becomes irrelevant and the way it is is just the way it is, you know? If you’re honest with yourself and not dissembling the wants and needs of your own heart and mind you can’t help it when you fall in love and, well, people fell in love with both Stafford and the Lions. And that’s why this feels so unbearably cruel and ugly. Even if our brains are looking at the numbers – at the facts – and saying “Hey, this is still pretty damn good and everything’s still good,” our hearts are feeling the same things we’ve felt for too damn long. Our hearts are seeing Matthew Stafford, head hung low, looking like he just had his candy taken away from him, they’re seeing him fuck up a screen pass or overthrow a receiver and then unbuckle his chin strap and stagger off the field like a petulant child, and they’re being shocked by the Post Traumatic Stress of the terrible, terrible past, jolted into reliving memories of Joey Blue Skies and then our hearts cry and sometimes these cries even leave our mouths and . . . well, there’s simply nothing you can do about that because that is just the sad condition of man.

Is all this hyperreactive and kind of ridiculous? Certainly. But it is what it is and there’s not much you can do or say to change it. We’re a wounded people. We’ve all known that all along. We’re an exceptionally fragile people and this is what happens to fragile, wounded people in times of strife. Anybody surprised by this either is woefully naïve or has so completely deluded themselves that there is no point in trying to even explain any of this. Is it sad and shameful and embarrassing that we’re all falling apart and booing the shit out of Stafford and the team even though they’re 5-2? Absolutely. Is it at all surprising? Not in the least.

People were going to break apart and scatter at the first sign of adversity. They just were. This was always going to happen. The question now becomes, how do we move on with this? Like I said, nothing about the way anyone feels right now is wrong. I firmly believe that. Everyone has to deal with this shit the best they can. But there will come a time where we need to splash some water on our faces and pull ourselves together. I mean, for fuck’s sake, no one wants to die with shit in their pants, you know?

I suppose there are a few different ways of looking at it. First, you have the aforementioned ALL IS WELL brigade, who will hold onto their bitter delusions until nothing is left and the world has left them alone and bereft. I’ve experienced this as a Michigan fan over the last few years. I suspect many of you have as well, and the rest are at least familiar enough with what went on to understand what I’m talking about here. There is a dishonesty to this. It’s a noble dishonesty, born of hope and dreams, but a dishonesty none the less and in the end it’s just going to make it hurt worse when the truth becomes evident and terrible.

Next, you have the WE’RE DOOMED SAME OL’ SHIT hysterics, who will claim that everything is lost and there is no hope going forward and that we are all fools for continuing to care about this team. They will laugh and mock and piss all over anyone who dares to still see the light at the end of the world. Fuck these people. They are cowards, hiding their hearts from the world and from themselves, kissing the ring of the lord of apathy, choosing oblivion over either joy or pain, risking nothing, meaningless ghosts, wraiths spinning through the universe, their spirits fading into meaninglessness and therefore nothingness. Whoa, that got kind of heavy, but fuck it, these are heavy times.

And then there is the honest bravery that I’m trying to embrace, the kind that admits that it just doesn’t know what in the fuck is going on anymore, the kind that dares to believe in Hope but isn’t afraid to look into the Abyss and ask some tough, tough questions. I’m not happy right now. I think the team looks like shit. But right now is not forever, and the key is in recognizing that. Everything in its proper place. Perspective. That is the key word – the key concept – that we all must embrace if we are going to survive this as fans.

Of course, perspective is the one thing Lions fans don’t have. I’ve talked about this before. Perspective was what we had stripped completely from us by 0-16. We don’t know how to react when things go well and we don’t know how to react when things go badly. Instead we rant and rave and wave our hands in the air like lunatics and then we stab each other in the face and set fire to our own worlds and run naked and bleeding through the streets. We are idiot children, made stupid by the horrors of the past and hey, that is what it is.

But that doesn’t mean that we can’t try to hang on to at least the idea of perspective, some tattered memory in our minds of what that concept actually means, of how it feels. And that’s what we have to try to do going forward. We have to remember that what happened last is not destined to happen forever. When the Lions win it doesn’t mean that they are going to go 168-0 and win 23 straight Super Bowls. But when they lose, it doesn’t mean that we are headed back down the Highway to Hell either, you know?

So, with that in mind . . . how do we make sense of what’s going on right now? How do we put these things in perspective? How do we sort through the shiny record and those gleaming stats and find the truth? How do we reconcile the cold rationality of our brains with the fiery emotion and truths of our hearts? I don’t have the answers for you. Not right now. I suspect that these questions lie at the very heart of this season, of our own tortured fandom and we won’t know until we know, and even then we’ll probably just realize that we want to know other stuff instead.

That is incredibly vague and Yogi Berraish in its stupidity but I don’t care. It’s true. Or at least I think it is. And it’s that – my own tentative ideas of what’s true and not true – that are all I have left to go off of right now. It’s all any of us have. And the truth, to me right now anyway, is that the Lions are a 5-2 team that should be 3-4. Do I feel lucky? Yes. But I also feel unlucky. And therein lies the strange dichotomy of this season, of this predicament, of this weird, fucked up place we find ourselves in as fans. My team is both a 5-2 team and a 3-4 team. My quarterback is both Brett Favre and Joey Harrington. I am both happy and sad, optimistic and terrified. And, for now, that’s the only thing I know is true. We’ll see. And that’s all that’s left to say, I think. We’ll see.

17 comments:

Bubbalouuey said...

I'm going to stick with my theory that the mob is holding Stafford's grandmother hostage, and I'm gonna drink, do drugs, and beat the cat hopefully without shitting myself. I will stay away from sharp objects, guns and explosives.

Expectations are a funny thing.... especially when they fall short

AutospeedConcepts said...

Offense looks terrible. Defense....dare I say it....tired and basically sayin' fuck it. Special teams....special at givin' yardage gifts to opposin' teams.

They better find a way to fight through and fix this shit.

Thanks for the write up Neil.

Neil said...

"I'm going to stick with my theory that the mob is holding Stafford's grandmother hostage, and I'm gonna drink, do drugs, and beat the cat hopefully without shitting myself. I will stay away from sharp objects, guns and explosives."

Fair enough. Try to lay off the poor cat though.

Neil said...

"They better find a way to fight through and fix this shit."

Yeah, they're clearly out of sync. Sometimes these things just happen. I'm hoping it's more that than there is a systemic problem, which would be, well, a problem. But I still have faith that they'll work through this shit. I mean . . . I hope.

BDR said...

honestly, if you had told me we would be 5-2 and it was the offense that needed help before the season i would have been ecstatic. it'll be ok. no cats or britches need be harmed.

Neil said...

I know. Believe me, I know. And yet there's a part of myself that can't reconcile that with reality, and, well ... here we are.

CJ said...

I feel like I have been waiting my entire life for first downs. That's all I wanted.

It's kind of weirdly comforting to here you say that Stafford and the offense hasn't looked great even in most of the wins. It's crazy but I have more qualms now (which is insane, I know) than when they were 2-14 or last year because I saw noticeable and defined improvement then. They so clearly weren't the same old Lions to me, that it baffled me that people weren't more positive. Now, they're not the same old Lions, but I don't exactly know who they are at times either, on offense.

Granted I'm ridiculous because I watch football as some sort of theatre, and look more for plot point than score...but the defense are not bothering me at all. Tired and ragged at times, but I understand what is going on, and they're at times epic.

Loved the line on the duality of Matt Stafford of late, and the overall post Neil.

I'm way less worried about the lack of a run game (they haven't had a run game for seasons, Barry Sanders blah blah) than that weird way Stafford is throwing at times. What the heck is that?

Ugh. Sorry. I had no idea this was bothering me that much. I'm not turning on Matt either...he's our guy and I'm still super excited about that. I'm just puzzled why he and a whole lot of other people on offense suddenly look so...different (on the sidelines too).

Anyways great post, and thank you for not hanging yourself.

JP said...

I feel like I need to say something, but I'm at a loss of words.

Two losses in a row sucks, but it's not like it's the first time that we've had that happen. I feel strangely pococurante about the whole thing. I'm disappointed but I think that we will work our way though this funk.

Whether it's Stafford or Hill this weekend, I'd be shocked to see the Lions come out flat again against the Bronco's. And no, I wouldn't be surprised if Hill gets the start so that Stafford can have a couple weeks to fully heal up, do some keg stands, visit some asian massage parlors, find those bastards that kidnapped his grandmother, whatever it takes to get him back to early season form. Having a limp behind our achingly mediocre offensive line is not going to put him in the right mindset at best, and might leave him exposed to unnecessary abuse at worst.

JP said...

BTW, I think I would just be happy if these last couple games felt like they were more fitting for the proper NFL Films theme song, and a little less like a Benny Hill segment with Yakity Sax playing in the background, if you know what I mean.

If the O never converts on third down, then there are more opportunities for the opponents special teams to make plays, and forces the D onto the field way to much. Obviously this is oversimplifying the situation, but I'd be interested in seeing 3rd down conversions week 1-4, compared to the last few weeks.

Stupid articles about "target Calvin on every play" just miss the fucking point. We all know the run game isn't going to produce a thing, but we need Nate and Titus to step up, Linehan to start calling plays that put either of those guys in a position to get some seperation, and Stafford to start driving through some of his throws again.

Lol, I guess I broke through my writers block.

Bubbalouuey said...

JP, I agree with you feeling strangely pococurante about the whole thing. If we can get the Great Willie Young back we may be able to forgo human sacrifice to defeat the Broncos, We still need to see these guys come out in full kickass mode and just blow somebody away. I'd rather not see Hill play, Stafford needs to go and get them.

Neil said...

CJ,

Yes to pretty much everything you said. I think we're in pretty much the same place. I'm not sure how much of that is due to our own changing expectations altering our perceptions or how much of it is based in what's actually going on out there but I suspect that is one of the roads I am going to end up traveling heavily this season, trying to answer that question.

KDawg said...

I totally agree with you about the seeming duality of our young franchise QB. He DOES have happy feet, and he IS nervous. I think we can chalk that up to the ass kicking he was handed by the Vikings and Bears, and the pathetic play of our offensive line. I don't know how many times I watched Raiola and Peterman blow their blocking assignments on Sunday, but one thing is certain...they suck, and they suck worse than a toothless whore after Bingo night at the nursing home. That said, we all knew this before the season even started. Yet somehow we have built up these high expectations and blindly refused to admit that the collapse of Stafford's protection was ultimately inevitable. Now it is up to the coaching staff to do what it takes to keep the kid alive for the rest of the season, and it is up to the front office to finally fucking FIX it once and for all during the offseason. We witnessed Mayhew build one of the best defensive lines in the NFL in just one offseason...so now we need to see him do the same thing on the offensive side of the ball.

All it takes to fix Matthew Stafford is a FEELING of security and safety when he drops back to pass. He was lights out in the first 5 games, any time that the offensive line gave him time to throw the ball. However, the hits and sacks are beginning to take a toll on him, and that is evident in the differences we are seeing in his fottwork and overall performances. He IS scared. Can anyone blame him?

KDawg said...

Footwork...spelling fail.

Neil said...

JP,

Rather than agree with you point by point, I'll just say yeah ... pretty much. Your thoughts are always welcome and on point.

The biggest thing right now, I think, is getting Stafford right, but we need to get him right both mentally and physically, which I suspect may be tied together more than any of us realize. On the one hand, I think we can get by the Broncos with Shaun Hill or even the Grit Merchant at QB and then hit the bye week and give Stafford time to get right if there is something physically wrong. On the other hand, I kind of agree with Bubbalouuey in that the only way for Stafford to get right might be by fighting through this shit. So ... who knows?

All I know is I'm kind of holding my breath right now, not because the Lions lost or because they haven't looked that good or whatever (on the whole, I still feel pretty positive/enthusiastic about where things are/are going), but because I feel like Stafford, mentally, might be at some sort of a crossroads. I don't know what the fuck is going on and his numbers on the whole are phenomenal, which makes this whole uneasiness I'm talking about even weirder/more unexplainable, but the dude has looked the last couple of weeks like he just wants to go home, get shitfaced and sing country songs with his dog. It's fucking weird and I don't know what the hell is going on and that's what has me kind of holding my breath and I won't be able to exhale until I see him push through this weirdness. That probably speaks to my own fragility more than anything else, but what the hell, that's where I am right now.

Neil said...

KDawg,

I think you're pretty much spot on here. That sense of security is paramount and it's probably the only thing that's going to get Stafford "right." And maybe that's what I'm feeling. I feel like we're in almost a sort of race, like I'm hoping that this sense of security can take over before he's permanently damaged. The last thing I want is for the dude to get David Carr'd, you know? That's why I think I'm holding my breath. If the protection can stabilize then he'll be fine and it's sunshine and blowjobs for everyone. If it doesn't, well ...
yeah. And that may be the crux of this whole damn thing.

Ryden said...

I've been reading your blog, and every year you have a couple posts that can put into words what it feels like to be a true Lions fan, and this is one of them. Last year it was your love/hate Backus post. I'm tired of reading all this shit about how great Stafford's stats are. On paper he looks great. However, you speak of the "eye"test and something is definitely up. Hopefully he can defeat his inner demons and come out on top, and I feel that he will. Every Lions QB comes across these crosswords and for once I think we have one that has the balls to conquer it. I don't know what the answer is, more double TE sets? Stop eye humping Calvin? Perhaps. All I can do is believe Staff will loosen up and unleash.

Neil said...

Thanks, Ryden.

And yeah, all we can really do is have faith that Stafford is indeed different. I've seen him be that guy, the dude who can rise above all that shit and be The Man we've all been waiting for and so I'm holding onto that. Really, what else can we do?