Friday, October 7, 2011

Ready, Set . . . Explode

I could sit here and tell you all the reasons why I think the Lions could – and should – beat the Bears, but after the last couple of weeks, I’m not sure that I know even the basic things that I thought I knew about this team. Maybe that doesn’t make sense, but to hell with it, since when have I made sense?

The Lions defensive line should explode through the Bears offensive line like the Nazis Crip Walking through the French front lines at the beginning of World War II. I’m not sure who that makes Jay Cutler. Anne Frank? Leaving aside the fact that I’ve probably already alienated half the people reading this, I’m not going to make that kind of prediction, simply because I’ve been making it all season long and it has yet to really come true. I’m not really worried at this point. I won’t go that far. I’m just no longer . . . certain. Which, I’ll admit, is a depressing enough sentiment on its own. Still, the Lions defensive line should annihilate the Bears offensive line and Cutler. If they do, then I’ll finally exhale after holding my breath for the last week. If they don’t, well . . . things could take a turn for the drain cleaner around here. And by things, I mean my hands.

Meanwhile, Matthew Stafford and the Lions passing attack should be able to move the ball against the Bears. Should. When he is sharp and on his game, I don’t think there’s really a defense in the league that can stop Stafford. When he’s good, he’s that good. But the last couple of weeks, let’s face it, he hasn’t been that good. He’s come up huge in the second half in both games but he’s looked almost overwhelmed in the first halves. Is either one sustainable? I don’t know. Probably not. I mean, chances are that he won’t be able to bring the team back from 20 down every damn game, but then again chances are that he won’t be shut down nearly as well in the first half every game either. What I’d like to see is a consistent game from young Matthew, a clinical assassination that leaves no doubt that he’s ascended to demi-god status in the realm of the quarterback elites, somewhere just below the Rodgers’ and Bradys of the world but on a level well above the rest of the riff-raff, the common Hasselbecks and assorted Collins’ who depress man’s soul week after week. Or maybe he can reach that Rodgers and Brady level sooner than we think – maybe he’s already there and just needs a game on the national stage against a division rival like, say, the Bears to prove it. Or maybe not. I don’t know. I’m just hoping and openly pondering here. This is all terribly unfocused and I apologize. I’m just kind of letting my mind wander and seeing what comes out. We’ll get this shit back on track. I promise.

Anyway . . . yeah. There are things that I think should happen against the Bears but they are things I also thought should have happened the last two weeks and then they didn’t. So . . . fuck it, I don’t know. Maybe they will and maybe they won’t. We’ll see. Yeah, yeah, I know, that is incredibly lame and soft and cowardly on my part, but that’s just the truth. Right now, I don’t know. I’m holding my breath, hoping that this thing turns the way I want it to. It’s great to be 4-0, but as much I have ended up getting high off the endorphin rush of the last couple of weeks, they haven’t really made me feel too good about the down to down effectiveness of my team. It’s been awesome. Don’t get me wrong. But it’s been terrifying too and as much as I am a man of deep faith here, I am also a man of hard science and occasionally those two worlds diverge from one another and what I’m left with is an internal battle between the thunderous hope of my heart and the cold, savage reason of my brain.

I’m not saying I’m worried, or that I’ve been taken by The Fear. I haven’t. Not really, anyway. I’m just saying that I’m not sure about some things that I thought that I was sure of. That’s it. I feel like that’s an okay thing to say right now, yeah? I still think the Lions should be the team that I think they are in my heart, but I kinda want to see it – and soon – before I let my heart run away with the rest of me. Obviously, they are a team of warriors and poet kings and all that happy horseshit, and that alone sends me swooning into that wonderful world of candy and blowjobs and rainbows, but I just want to see Ndamukong Suh splatter Jay Cutler all over Ford Field instead of watching him kick the shit out of a trash can. Is that so wrong?

So . . . yeah, my point. I’m getting to it, I promise. I guess my point is that this is not going to be much of a game preview, largely because we all know what should happen, and now it’s just a matter of actually watching whether it does or not. Sitting here and telling you what you already all know is kind of redundant. That’s why I keep italicizing the word “should”, because that’s the key here. If what should happen happens then we know the Lions will win, and fairly easily. But should has not been our friend the last couple of weeks.

Instead of a game preview, explaining the shoulds and hows and whys, I just want to talk about how important this game is to us, as fans, after all we’ve been through together on this miserable road out of hell. This is an important game. I don’t know how to say that without either understating it or overstating it. Really, I’m not sure if you can overstate how important it is. And I don’t mean important in terms of the Lions record or the divisional standings or anything like that. Obviously, it is important in terms of those things but that’s not what I want to talk about. It’s important in a way that only we who have suffered for so long can truly understand. And it’s a hard thing to really put into words, to understand beyond a level that can only be articulated through savage hoots and grunts, through wild eyed full throated screams. This is not something we can really talk about in intelligent terms, in elegant, thoughtful prose because, honestly, it is far too raw, far too primal, far too important to be confined by mere words.

This is one of those games when the story can only be told by the shot of an overflowing Ford Field, screaming as one, carrying on like the hopped up members of some wild-eyed fanatical cult, whipped into a frenzy by the . . . by the . . . I’m not sure how to say this . . . by some basic need that is only understood by that part of the brain that just shuts everything else off and reacts with a sort of primal visceral joy mixed with explosive desire. It’s naked, it’s hot, it’s raw and it’s animalistic and in that environment words fail.

This is a game that lives in the stars, made real by that Symmetry of Fate I gibbered on about so much towards the end of last season. This is about finally revealing ourselves to the world, about showing both them and each other that we actually made it, that we traveled that Trail of Tears and now here we are, goddammit, and we’re not going away. This nationally televised showcase occurs at exactly the same time when we stand on a precipice, looking towards a long-promised future. It is our moment when either that future will finally come true or it will be revealed as yet another oasis in this Desert of the Damned. Either way, everyone will be watching. Everyone will see. The fact that these two moments intertwined to become one gigantic moment is a testament to the bizarre symmetry so beloved by fate.

But beyond even that – and really, what could be beyond that? – there is this: these are the fucking Bears we’re playing this week. We hate the Bears. We’ve always hated the Bears. But now we really hate the Bears. Not only are they one of those divisional rivals who have delighted for years – for decades – in stomping on our wounded souls, they are a team that features names like Marinelli and Martz and Roy Williams. They are a team made up of the ghosts of our past, the phantoms of our nightmares. There is a vengeance factor here that can’t be underestimated. We want to beat these guys because they don’t deserve to get to walk away from it all. They don’t deserve to wipe their hands clean and move on while we remain, suffering in some terrible hell that they helped to create. No. Fuck them.

But, wait . . . there’s even more! Indeed. No one can ever forget the absurdity of last year’s season opener against the Bears. None of us can ever forget Calvin Johnson scoring a game winning touchdown following a stirring comeback, only to have our souls crushed when that infernal Process of the Catch bullshit came down from Mike Pereira’s lizard lips. That is the sort of thing that makes us want to beat the Bears by 50, by 100, by “Oh, holy shit, Ndamukong Suh is parading around the field with Jay Cutler’s head on a pike and Chicago might have to disband their team because there’s a good chance none of them are making it out of the city of Detroit alive.” That kind of thing.

You take all that, and . . . wait, what? There’s even more??? Indeed. Let’s not forget that it was these Bears who obliterated Matthew Stafford’s Holy Shoulder in that same game from hell which saw St. Calvin martyred. There is a palpable need for redemption here, for Stafford, for Calvin, for Jeff Backus, for all of us really. Redemption and revenge. I want both. I need both. We all do.

And really, that’s the remarkable beauty of the Symmetry of Fate. On one night, one glorious night, we get a chance for all of it. We get our shot at everything. Read the last several paragraphs again and just . . . just feel it. Just let yourself feel the enormity of it. Let yourself feel every step we’ve had to take to get here. Remember it. Know it. And then realize that it’s all been leading up to this moment, this one sliver in time when everything has aligned, when our whole world as Lions fans will take one collective breath, when everything will pause and hang in the balance, like some monstrously pregnant pause in the midst of a symphony that’s been building and building and building all of our lives. And on Monday, when that ball is kicked off, the conductor will wave his hands, that pause will end and there will be such noise . . . such a cacophonous explosion of feeling and pain and joy and hope all at the same time and words just can’t explain it. So just watch and feel and live it. Feel it in your hearts and souls and know that when it’s over, we will have been irrevocably altered as Lions fans, and that we’ll know. We’ll know. And then should won’t mean a damn thing.



UpHere said...

You worried about being burned at the stake for worrying? Jaysus, everybody take a deep breath. The Lions are good. Anyone really emotionally invested in a 16-0 season should have been medicated a while ago. We are going to lose a few games, maybe starting Monday, hopefully not. It's ok.

I do, however, like to drink champagne every time one of the '72 Dolphins dies.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to try to be the voice of reasonableness. Please dont' make every game a moment on the precipice poised between glory or despair. I reckon there's about a 99.9% chance that the Lions lose at least one game this year and I want you to come out the other side of that game without resort to draincleaner, and without wallowing in The Fear.

But there's next to no chance the Lions lose this game, and if they do half of us will be either crying in the bathroom or kicking holes in the wall.

Anonymous said...


Neil said...

I think ya'll might be getting the wrong idea here. I'm not worried about losing a game. That shit will happen this season. Several times in fact. What I am worried about is losing THIS game. It's too important symbolically and in case you guys haven't figured it out, I am a man haunted by symbolism.

Also, you know, I am just a tad melodramatic when it comes to this stuff. It's just my style, man. Probably best not to read too much into it.

If anything, on a bigger picture level, I think I have actually been, over the last several seasons, a voice of reason, as strange as that sounds. The key is looking beneath all the weird bullshit. I have told everyone to chill when it's panic time and I have told everyone to beware when it comes to getting overexcited and honestly, I think I walk a fine line between madness and complete sanity, between hope and despair and I like to think that I manage to walk that line pretty damn well.

I think the Lions should kick the shit out of the Bears. I just want to see it happen. Forgive me if I come across a tad hyperbolic but, well, that's just the deal here. I trade in hyperbole and ridiculous grandiosity. I blow things up to their max levels because in doing so I also blow up the truth.

What's the fun in just writing "Oh, hey, this game doesn't fucking matter, but here's what I think the final score will be?"

I believe what I write. But I'm also capable of keeping that shit in perspective. I am not completely nuts.

I apologize for this. I am aware that I am coming across defensively. I normally don't do this and I'm not sure why I'm doing it now. Other than I know what I'm doing, you know? I'm not just some jackass crying while he writes and vomiting up every single feeling I have for the world to see. There is a method to my madness. Sure, sometimes it's more madness than method, but like I said, I walk a fine line. Maybe I've slipped a little. I don't know. It's good to talk these things through though, I think. Cleanse the palette, make sure everyone knows where I'm coming from, that sort of thing.

Anyway ... yeah, I try to strike a balance between the things we fear as fans and the things we hope for, and apparently I kind of failed here if the responses - both here and on twitter - are any indication.

I think the Lions will beat the Bears and I think they'll beat them handily. If they lose, am I going to slit my wrists? No, of course not. I just want to give voice to an idea, a feeling, which I think rests at the heart of the Lions fan experience - a desperate struggle made noble by an inexplicable hope or maybe it's a hopeful struggle given weight and pathos by an almost unfathomable amount of fan pain. Shit, I'm being melodramatic again, aren't I?

Anyway, I'm sorry for this. It's shameful and I don't know what came over me but I felt a need to hit sort of a reset button lest you all start taking me too seriously.




Anonymous said...

Don't worry Neil...I am right with every single word that you type. We are right on the precipice of something amazing. We were finally awarded with this MNF game and the whole world will be able to see the same things that you have been seeing all these years. Sunday is going to go by waaaaay too slowly. Great post as usual.

Neil said...

Thank you, Lord Anonymous.

Donnie said...

I hear you man, this game HAS to be a reset button on the last 10 years.

Jeremy said...

I, too, feel almost every word of this post. It's been so long since we've had a winning team, that we've forgotten how thrilling, yet horrifying every week in the NFL is, and that makes every game that much more thrilling and horrifying. Throw in a pair of 20+ point comebacks and it's amazing the entire Lions fanbase hasn't been committed.

Neil said...

"It's been so long since we've had a winning team, that we've forgotten how thrilling, yet horrifying every week in the NFL is, and that makes every game that much more thrilling and horrifying. Throw in a pair of 20+ point comebacks and it's amazing the entire Lions fanbase hasn't been committed."


Neil said...

"I hear you man, this game HAS to be a reset button on the last 10 years."

Yeah, it's just one game, but like it or not it has a certain symbolism to it which is impossible to ignore.

Bubbalouuey said...

"I believe what I write. But I'm also capable of keeping that shit in perspective. I am not completely nuts."

Well, I've never really understood you completely, it helped me somewhat when I realized that Angela Landsbury's son was for a time a follower of Charles Manson.

This team is a group of winners, after all the years of false hope and the ups and downs we are almost there. We need to come out and just bury these guys and roll up every point we can, JUST BECAUSE WE CAN. Stafford will be recognized as a franchise QB by the end of the season. Yea we will lose a few games but the summit is in sight.

Neil said...

Yeah, that might be the biggest difference with this team vs. past Lions teams. They just seem to have this unassailable attitude which almost borders on arrogance. It comes from the top down, from Jim Schwartz down to the backups and I fucking love it.

This is what has allowed them to come back the last couple of weeks. They have this whole "Yo, don't worry, we got this," attitude.

Neil said...

Also, attempting to understand me completely will only drive you insane. Trust me on this. I know from first hand experience.

JP said...

I think that your post speaks to the overwhelmingly confuusing feeling of Lions fandom at the moment.

We know that we have a solid team, we know that we have the ability to win week in and week out. We also know that our team has yet to put in a full 60 minutes yet, and if we continue to do so, we will lose more of those games than we win.

Obviously Schwartz has gotten the team to believe in themselves or the last two weeks wouldn't have been possible. Talent isn't an issue anymore. Attitude is, and that is what is encouraging. Schwartz seems to recognize momentum shifts as they happen during the game(i.e. Dez Bryant incompletion), and sometimes that shit is hard to control on the road. That is where we, the fans, must do our best to help provide home field advantage to our boys. We must make sure that when the Bears fuck up, or Suh destroys Cutler, that the Bears feel that this proverbial mountain is going to be that much harder to climb.

Motivation shouldn't be an issue for this game, as you so clearly stated, it now all comes down to execution. I just hope that Backus can hold his own, as I respect the Bears D much more than their offense. Of course Cutler is always capable of pulling off a Romo or Eli impersonation, or in other words being very middling, but he can also look terrible when pressure is in his face.

That's why picking winners is such a crapshoot. Who really knows, ya know? That being said, this is a divisional game, and these tend to be very competitive, even during the bad years, so I fully expect to be sweating this one out too.

Is it too much to ask for KC style beatdowns a little more often?

Neil said...

Very well said, JP. I agree with pretty much all of that.

The good news, I think, is that even though the Lions have now won 5 straight on the road (I just wanted to be able to say that.) they're still a better team at home and tonight that home is going to be packed with people expecting something close to a religious experience. Right or wrong, that's just the atmosphere that's going to be there. That will definitely amp up the pressure but I think our dudes have shown that they respond well to pressure now - a strange feeling for us to be sure - but it will also amp up the excitement levels to the point that the amp might explode, and if anyone plays off of emotion and excitement it's this team and Suh and Delmas and the boys, so ... yeah. I'm going to say it's a good thing.

Mike said...

Neil, epic writing, as always. Missed reading ACL for a few days, and now after the game wishing I hadn't.