Monday, December 5, 2011

No Glove, No Love. For Anyone.

For some reason, I felt like this had particular relevance

Hey, remember when the Lions were 5-0? That was fun. This, uh . . . not so much. Then again it’s hard to win – for any team – when the other team beats you, you beat yourself and then the refs decide the hell with it and pile on for good measure. That may sound vaguely whiney, but shit, did you see that fucking game last night?

Indeed, in a season that has turned from sublime to vaguely ridiculous, last night’s game was probably the most ridiculous of all, a three hour long gag reel of stupidity and general lunacy punctuated by a not so subtle reminder that the universe hates us and that its minions, in the guise of real, live NFL officials, have been instructed to forever bend us over and Sandusky us into oblivion. Most Lions fans spent last night in a state somewhere between apoplectic and outright insane. I spent the entire second half making macabre jokes on Twitter about failing levee systems and Jim Schwartz ordering Code Reds in the locker room and in between I typed the words shit and fuck and then combined them poetically into “fuck this shit” and “this shit is fucking ridiculous” and other various masterpieces of the English language. Gallows humor was at an all-time high. Shit, the whole fanbase felt like an Armchair Linebacker post come to life. Poor Ty even wrestled the family cat at halftime. It was out of control.

Normally, you would expect that this collective madness would be inspired by some sort of epic collapse by our beloved Lions but the weird thing is that they actually played reasonably well given the circumstances. Faced with a billion different injuries, the Lions were going to get beat up a bit in this game. That was a given. The key was in the effectiveness of their counterpunching, and here’s the thing: the Lions packed a pretty mean right hook last night. Unfortunately, I mean this both metaphorically and literally, but let’s ignore all that terrible bullshit right now and just concentrate on the positive, okay? And the most positive thing that I am taking away from that game is that Matthew Stafford got his swagger back. He looked pretty damn good for most of the game, and for the first time this season really, I felt like we were finally – finally – seeing the quarterback we thought we would see before the season. He was generally accurate, he stood tough in the pocket, took some big hits, got up, smiled and kept firing. There was one point in the second half, following a deep completion to Nate Burleson, that the camera caught Stafford strutting down the field, that fighter pilot smile on his face, and no matter what else was going on, it made me feel happy and confident and secure in my hope for the future, in a way that had kind of shriveled up over the past few weeks. If the Lions had somehow pulled out that game, I think that shot would have become iconic, etched in the history books, part of Matthew Stafford’s highlight reel, his, ugh, forgive me for saying this, Favre moment. But the Lions didn’t win. They lost. And so no one will remember that shit, and, well, here we are.

I just wanted to hit you with some positive feelings before I got to the rest of the epic shit-show that was last night’s game. Like I said, the Lions lost and somehow, even though I kinda figured they would get dropped in this one, they managed to lose in a way that was utterly infuriating. Honestly, that shouldn’t be that surprising since every time I convince myself that I can handle a Lions loss, someone shows up and does something outrageously dumb or the universe whips its dick out and pisses in my face and pretty soon I can’t tell the difference between universe piss and my own sad tears.

Last week, it was the refs calling a billion questionable penalties, each one of them drive killing, and Ndamukong Suh stomping dudes and then getting chased off the field like Idi Amin. This week, it was the refs calling a billion questionable penalties, each one of them drive killing, and everyone else stomping dudes and shoving refs and I think I even saw Gosder Cherilus or someone try to sneak a chainsaw onto the field. Nate Burleson was damned to hell for having arms and at one point I was convinced that Jim Schwartz was going to beat the shit out of Titus Young. That would have been fine and at least entertaining, but the problem was, was that by the end of the game I was convinced that Jim Schwartz was going to beat the shit out of about 14 different dudes and then he would have to get Gunther or someone to beat the shit out of him too. It was insane.

Every other play there was a flag thrown and out of those about half of them were a direct result of the reckless stupidity of the Lions gang of fools and the other half were the direct result of either incredible incompetence on the part of the refs or the universe’s ineffable hatred for our very souls, depending on your view of the situation. How do you process something like that? How do you deal with the wild and violent mood swings which come from a sequence like this, typical in last night’s game: 30 yard pass to Nate Burleson, flag for offensive pass interference, 15 yard dart thrown by Matthew Stafford to Brandon Pettigrew who gets flagged for trying to eat the ball and then gets yanked from the game for exposing himself to an official, Lions scramble for another first down and then the ref calls a personal foul on Jason Hanson for being too old before Titus Young throws a knife at Sean Payton and has to be restrained by a gang of marines? The answer, naturally, is that you don’t. Instead, you just rant and rave and gibber about how everyone and everything hates you and sometimes you film yourself fighting a cat at halftime.

Fuck those refs, man. Fuck every one of them. They were awful and despicable and when that kind of shit happens it makes you wonder why the hell you even watch this shit in the first place. It has gotten to the point that the NFL rulebook feels like something so Byzantine and ridiculous that it should be renamed the NFL Necronomicon, only able to be completely understood by a select group of wizards and weird old dudes who look like Rasputin. Basically, the refs just call whatever the fuck they feel like calling and then use their arcane wizard knowledge to find some obscure footnote in the Necronomicon that justifies their bullshit. It’s unreal and it’s getting fucking old. Actually, by this point, it is so beyond old that it has become a rotting zombie, haunting us every Sunday until it finally catches us and eats our brains. Awful, awful . . .

So, yeah, fuck those refs, man. But fuck everyone else too. Fuck Titus Young for taking a swing at a Saint with the ref standing right there. Fuck Stefan Logan for throwing the ball in a dude’s face. Fuck Brandon Pettigrew for getting wild with a ref. Actually, just like last week, that shit by itself doesn’t really bother me. People mewling about thugs can pipe down. What pisses me off was the sheer, brutal stupidity of every single one of those personal foul penalties. They were just . . . dumb. And dumb teams don’t win shit in the NFL.

Really, that’s the bottom line. Dumb teams don’t win and right now the Lions are a dumb team. Everything else – all the talk radio fainting from Victorian era schoolmarms about thuggery and the like – is just senseless noise getting in the way of the real issue, which is that again, right now the Lions are a dumb team that does dumb shit waaaaaay too much. Like I said in my Ndamukong Suh piece last week, the issue isn’t talent anymore. And it isn’t about proving that you can hang with the big swinging dicks of the NFL anymore. It’s about doing all of those little things that make those big swinging dicks big swinging dicks and avoiding doing all of those little things that make you the tiny, shriveled dick that everyone is embarrassed about.

I’m sorry, that was a weird metaphor and I don’t know where it came from (checks pants). Ahem.

Back to the point – the next step for the Lions is proving that they can do all of those little things that separate the truly good teams from the rest of the riffraff, and just like last week, this week against the Saints, the Lions failed miserably.

I suppose, on some level, that is a good place to be. It means that we have come almost unfathomably far in a relatively short amount of time. It means that we are talented enough – good enough – to at least be in the conversation. After all, there is a reason this game was flexed up to the Sunday night slot, you know? And it’s because in many ways these Lions are most definitely not the “same ol’ Lions” and everyone knows it.

But on another, baser, more primal level, this shit is fucking infuriating and any joy and satisfaction that we can take in our team’s hard fought rise back to the land of the living is utterly obliterated by seeing them act like a bunch of goddamn baboons in heat, flinging their shit around and flashing their bright red asses while everyone else points and laughs because they don’t know how to act in this strange land of the living yet. And, to make things worse, a world that already seems like it hates us, that treats us like we don’t belong, suddenly has a legitimate reason to pick on us and pretty soon people are throwing yellow flags filled with BBs or corn or the trapped souls of the damned or whatever the fuck they fill those things with because Nate Burleson has arms.

It’s horrible and it’s maddening and it feels kind of like watching a beautiful parade float that the whole community worked on and built together over a period of months and years, filled with smiling, waving children, suddenly catch on fire and then slowly careen off the side of the road into an ammunition depot or a fireworks factory. You want to stop it but the thing is just picking up speed and picking up speed and all those poor kids are going to die and somebody get a bucket of water and goddammit, this wasn’t supposed to happen.

But to hell with all that. It is happening and we have to find a way to try to put it into perspective. Story of our lives, right? The good news, as I said earlier, is that the Lions are talented enough now and in the end, I think that will overcome everything else. Let’s not forget, this is a team with a young and wild heart and perhaps Jim Schwartz fucked up this year, I don’t know. Perhaps he leaned so far over the line with this team, that line between controlled aggression and wild, reckless stupidity, that he lost control of it and now he has to find a way to drag everyone back to the line. I don’t know.

All I do know is that right now, the Lions have to basically win their next three games if they want to have a decent shot at the playoffs. Considering that a third of the way into the season people were openly gibbering about Super Bowls and parades and skullfucking Aaron Rodgers, that is a sobering thought. If the Lions don’t get their shit together and get tripped up at any point in the next three weeks, then we will ultimately look back on this season with sadness and regret and those are emotions we’re far too familiar with as Lions fans.

The Lions can do this. They absolutely can and they should. Like I said, they’re talented enough and they can play with anybody. When it comes to down to down effectiveness, to the pure man against man you can’t stop me physicality that is football, I think the Lions have proven that the past two weeks. Unfortunately, there is a whole other side to football, that cerebral side, which has completely eluded the Lions the past couple of weeks and it sucks that we have to worry about that as much as we do but, well, here we are.

All that would be enough to cause even the best of us to begin muttering like raving lunatics but then there is another factor which I think we need to come to terms with, another factor which looms over everything and has become impossible to ignore, and that’s that the referees, for whatever reason – either because it’s illegal to be a Detroit Lion in the NFL, or because a reputation built on bullshit and lies has somehow become all too true, or because of the sheer baffling hatred the universe has for us, etc. – will fuck us over. They just will and by this point I think we all know that. Those pass interference penalties on Nate Burleson were fucking criminal. Could they have been called? Eh, maybe, depending on how stringent your definition of offensive pass interference is. But that’s the problem. In the NFL, every penalty is a fucking judgment call now. It’s like holding. For a long time, it’s been said that holding could be called on every play. It just isn’t. Well, what happened with Nate Burleson was the equivalent of holding being called on every play. It’s a judgment call, and right now the refs have decided to judge us guilty on every fucking play. To truly understand the rank absurdity of it, all you have to do is look at a play in the first half. The Saints, up 3-0, were backed up on their own side of the field. It was third down and Drew Brees decided to chuck it 40 yards down-field to his receiver. Aaron Berry had perfect coverage and yet, the pass was dropped right in and the receiver caught it. Replay showed that the reason he caught it is because he managed to disrupt that perfect coverage for just a split second with a subtle push-off on Berry. It wasn’t called. And it wasn’t called because that kind of shit happens all the time. The Saints went on to score on that drive – after getting gifted with another horse-shit call for pass interference which saw the Saints receiver actually latch onto our defender’s arm and drag him down – and that one third down bomb was the key play that made it all possible. Like I said, that shit happens all the time and nobody calls it. So . . . whatever. You learn to live with that shit. But here’s the thing – that subtle push-off was more egregious than any one of Burleson’s supposed push-offs, and yet Burleson was called every single fucking time. When you have to worry about that, it almost makes all the rest of the stuff, the stuff about talent and the stuff about all that mental bullshit, feel meaningless because it’s impossible to win when you have to play by different rules than the other team.

And that’s where we are right now. We have three straight must win games, our team collectively has their head up their asses, and even if their heads were firmly on their shoulders it almost wouldn’t matter because the refs or the universe or whoever has decided that the Necronomicon had doomed us and that we are to be buggered up the ass from now until the end of days. How do you deal with something like that? Well, you don’t. You either smile in the face of hell and march like some terrible death angel into the future, or you freak out and scream at the world. Or, fuck it, you wrestle cats at halftime and make macabre jokes with all your friends. (I swear I am not picking on Ty with the cat thing. It’s just that, for some reason, that shit was hilarious to me and made sense on a strange level that only I could probably understand.)

In the end, all we can do is . . . well, there really isn’t anything we can do, and that’s what’s so maddening about all of this. And so we watch and we wait, and we wait and we watch, and we try to continue to believe that one day, the sun will rise pure and clear and it will smile on us and all of the senseless bullshit we have to deal with as Lions fans will finally evaporate and all that will be left will be the dreams of a lifetime and a world that finally – finally – makes sense. Until that day comes, though, fuck the refs and fuck everything else because just like always, friendos, it’s us against the world and if we’re going to die, we might as well die with blood on our lips and a scream in our hearts. Fair is just a word. So is Hope. So is Fear. Smile in the face of death and let’s get on with this.


UpHere said...

I keep picturing the pumped up, 'roid monster high school kid (that wd be the Lions) getting his ass handed to him by a 45 year old Chrysler line worker who's 30 lbs smaller. The man always wins the fight. The Lions lack that quiet, grim determination that makes a sustainable winner. Hopefully they grow up before everyone starts leaving in free agency.

Anonymous said...

I'm a Saints fan but I agree with everything you said and I was worried the Saints might lose last night once Stafford got his legs and got going. But the problem, as you say, is that the Lions have a reputation among the refs and THEY ARE GOING TO SHOW YOU THEY ARE POWERFUL. Maybe it's because Goodell didn't like Suh appealing the suspension or maybe the Lions just made some individual refs mad and they've passed the word. But you're screwed, I think. But there is something else--and as I say, I'm a Saints fan so I know a thing or two about years of losing. Your coach is just not going to do it for you. He might have assembled a good bunch of talent but he can't lead it. Until you get rid of him, you won't get much farther than maybe one playoff game. A 23-year old as an assistant? That display in San Francisco? His fatherly attitude toward your players when they committed open, blatant fouls against or in front of the refs? Jim Schwartz is no better than a mediocre coach...he is dangling before you, a starving, parched fan, the promise of an oasis and a banquet but he's offering cafeteria food. You gotta spend money or get lucky and get someone else.

Raven Mack said...

yeah after watching most of last night's game I feel like something larger is going on here, and I'm not sure the Lions will ever be successful. it feels like something more to me, that they have been pushed as this feel good comeback team to give teams the NFL cares about pushing a team to beat up on in main event games to seem stronger. this year I have not been on my "the NFL is fixed just like the NBA is" kick so much, not sure why, but last night's game certainly made me feel that way. and when I say "fixed" I do not mean it is completely choreographed with a script, but things can easily be engineered, as last night made painfully obvious. the saints were going to win that game, regardless of the circumstances.

Neil said...

The last two comments are so fucking depressing. Oh Lord . . . why me?

Neil said...

"I keep picturing the pumped up, 'roid monster high school kid (that wd be the Lions) getting his ass handed to him by a 45 year old Chrysler line worker who's 30 lbs smaller. The man always wins the fight. The Lions lack that quiet, grim determination that makes a sustainable winner. Hopefully they grow up before everyone starts leaving in free agency."

Also, yes . . . this.

UpHere said...

Damn you anonymous. THIS ISN'T INTERVENTION! pretty much the only thing I wasn't worried about was Schwartz, so that's ruined now.

I have to go lie down.

CJ said...

Ugh, this was brilliant. And thank you for your righteous anger over the Burleson penalties because that was hardcore bullshit.

I especially hate seeing Schwartz and Burleson tarred with this ...because they both have been so great about being in Detroit and part of the Lions (Schwartz...preternaturally so). I know that sounds small...but after y ears and years of snide comments and Lions disease and all the thousand little indignities, that actually meant a lot to me. It was never clearer than when Shaun Rogers, of all people, tried to maim our shiny, shiny gunslinger...and I remembered when Shaun Rogers was of the only good things about being a Lions fan. Now, things are so much better, stratospherically a million ways, which makes the pain much more real when things go wrong. Cause we hope and are no longer numb.

The NFL offices have clearly set us aside for a very special jobbing until they decide we've had enough. Some guys on the team need to grow up. We're a young team, and I guess I don't think some of this is all that surprising. We'll see how the team responds...but looking back over the Schwartz era, I can think of a ton of different challenges that they've met and overcome. I can't remember that at any other time in my life of Lions fandom. I can't remember sustained improvement, a coach that didn't seem clueless, CONSTANT yakety saxness, or players who didn't look like they were counting the minutes until they could leave, until Schwartz got here. I remember Barry...but that's pretty much all there was to remember.

I guess what I'm saying is that if Schwartz goes, I quit the Lions.

Of course, I announced to a room full of people that the Lions were nowhere near as dumb as their reputation right before the Saints game, so no one looks stupider in the world than me today... Just imagining how smug Tony Dungy is being is making me ill.

CJ said...

Sorry, I meant a LACK of constant yakety saxness. Double negatives kill, and are evidence of a lack of discipline.

Neil said...

"We'll see how the team responds...but looking back over the Schwartz era, I can think of a ton of different challenges that they've met and overcome. I can't remember that at any other time in my life of Lions fandom."

YES. I think this is what people on the outside don't seem to fully realize.

CJ said...

I came back to apologize about being so ranty and incoherent(seriously, it's out of control of late)..., and of course as always, you were totally a gentleman about it.

I also have to say that as great as the entirety of the post was (especially the news alert of arm-having Nate Burleson), the best part of it all was the stuff on Stafford. All I wanted going in to the game was him to have a really good game (since our D was so shredded), and he did.

Anonymous said...

I remember being a Saints fan and hoping hard for the team under Jim Mora. We would get to the playoffs two out of three years and lose the game. I know what it's like to have a terrible terrible team and then start seeing glimpses of greatness. Maybe I'm wrong about Schwartz but I just think this penalty thing and Suh's general conduct and some other stuff Schwartz has done make it unlikely he's the next Bill Belichick. He knows how to assemble a team but some coaches can get you just so far then you stay stuck. Getting a guy to get you to the next level is an art not a science and it takes a decent owner with some foresight.

One thing I'll say, though, and it is that I'll bet the NFL would like a good team in Detroit. Detroit needs the "feel good" stuff New Orleans needed after Katrina when they wouldn't allow our stupid owner to move the team to San Antonio like he wanted to. So although I am sure something concerted is going on with the refs' calls right now I think in the long run that can definitely be changed.

Hang in there--but get rid of punks and people who allow punks to be punks. Good luck.

UpHere said...

I like Anonymous better now.

Neil said...

"I came back to apologize about being so ranty and incoherent(seriously, it's out of control of late)..., and of course as always, you were totally a gentleman about it. "

I dig your rantiness (rantyness?) and trust me, you are never incoherent. Take it from someone who blurs the line between coherence and incoherence on a regular basis.

Neil said...

I think the clear answer is this: Robocop as the new NFL commissioner. Now there's someone with Detroit's best interests in mind.

Anonymous said...

great article, Neil.

Yeah, there were some bad calls by the refs -- two of those calls on Burleson were BS. But the refs work on reputation, and the Lions have forged themselves a horrible reputation. I am pretty sure the calls are not fixed in advance (although that is theoretically possible). It would just take ONE former ref to come out and say they were instructed to make calls against this or that team...and the whole NFL game would be trashed.

No, we have dug our own hole because we are thugs.

My argument here is that during the 5-0 stretch, they played Ugly Football. The last 7 weeks, they have played Ugly AND Stupid football. The only difference, is Stafford went through a rough stretch when his finger was broken. Early on, we were winning games by getting lucky turnovers and having big plays. But it was UGLY winning.

Has this team had a fucking lead in the first quarter ALL SEASON? I am not sure, but I do not think there were many leads. I am so tired of them turning the ball over or doing 3 and outs for the first quarter or two...then suddenly morphing into superheroes in the last quarter, desperately trying to make up for the early deficit.

During the 5-0 stretch, it wasn't like we were watching a tough team like the Steelers play tough and - yes - intimidate the opponent on Defence...and then let Dirty Ben scramble and drive the ball down the field for a game-winning score in the last minute of the game. No, ours was not tough, smart football.

Early on, our team was Hyperbole Man, kicking the shit out of kids and stealing their candy. Lots of penalties. Lots of bluster and overconfidence -- every big play, they had to celbrate like they won the fucking Super Bowl. I remember watching the first quarter of the Chicago game. I almost turned it off, it was so ugly and freaking disgusting to watch. I remember turning to my friend and saying: "I'd rather lose but show some finesse and sustain some drives, than win like this." There was no flow to the game, it was a giant penalty festival. We ended up winning that game...but I didn't find it a satisfying win.

Now, we are reaping the toxic whirlwind of those early victories. We are like that evil dude in that Girl with the Butterfly Tattoo movie, who rapes the girl but then gets a much bigger payback. Karma is a bitch.

But Karma (and the Worm, Neil) is about to turn. The Lions will win at least 2 of the next 3 games and might make the playoffs. As you said, Stafford is back with a vengeance. THAT GUY is the future. He is growing in maturity in leaps and bounds, before our eyes. The organization has hit bottom like a motherfucker, just like Suh's car hit that curb in Portland going 220 MPH.

There will be fewer stupid penalties. There will be a new urgency, a new discipline. Schwartz and the other coaches will put their collective feet down...and there are enough players on the "good" side of the fence (like Vanden Bosch and YES, even Raiola) that the message will get through that this crap must stop. NOW.

I look forward to the rest of the season. This is a talented team, and they are sick of the way they have played the first 12 games. And Stafford is back with a vengeance.

Res ipsa loquitur.

Lord Anonymous

Anonymous said...

Not that any of this matters:

“Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn.

In his house at R'lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.”

Lord Anonymous

Neil said...

Goddamn, Lord Anonymous. Goddamn.

Neil said...

Also, I agree with pretty much everything you just wrote.

Lion Miser said...

You know what hurts most? We still could have won. With all the penalties, with all the BS, with all the giving points back to a team that doesn't need them, thanks anyway, ... We had a shot at tying it in the 4th quarter, and winning -- on the road -- at New Orleans.

I really didn't believe Killer when he said the difference between winning and losing in the NFL was small, yet immense. RIP Killer, I believe you now.

Neil said...

Absolutely. That's what turned things from "Hey, this sucks" into the rage inducing fuck everyone event that it became. The Lions were there and then they weren't thanks to a bunch of trifling stupid bullshit and there you have it.

StreetWorm said...

As shitty as the refs were I really, truly believe what it comes down to is that the Lions didn't deserve to win this one. They really didn't. They didn't have a pass rush for the entire game, the offense did what it usually does...fall over itself for the first half and then explode on the other team once their defense gets comfortable and relaxes a little bit.

I love that Stafford finally looked mostly like how I envisioned him playing all season, I'm happy that Fairley looked pretty good while he was on the field, and it was even nice to see Alphonso Smith on the field again as he seemed to hold his own against some pretty tough competition.

But overall, I just remember thinking the entire first half, "I don't know what the Lions are going to do next, but unless it involves 4 picks and ripping off Brees' arms they really haven't earned a win here".

Would it have been cool? of course. And I still would have been happy with a win. But their performance (and I'm not even going to get in to the penalties that they 'earned') just came up short against one of the best teams of the league. Plain and simple. The Lions just aren't there yet, as much as I would like them to be, they can't seem to get past the top competitors in the league.

Neil said...

Oh, I agree with that. I thought the Lions were pretty much doomed coming into the game by their injuries/suspensions/hatred by fate and so it's not so much that they deserved to win or anything like that as they at least had a chance, which was something given the circumstances, and both they and the refs pissed on that chance. There was at least a road map to victory, smudged as it might be, but it was there and we could read it and it's always infinitely more frustrating when you can see a way your team could have won and then have to deal with the reality that they didn't. Still, no, they didn't deserve to win.