We’re in a weird place as Lions fans right now. I think it’s okay to say that, right? I mean, I know that everyone has sort of retreated to their bunkers and have spent the past week lobbing grenades at anybody who disagrees with them about The Way Things Are, but I think it’s at least okay to admit that we’re all in a weird place right now. At least I hope so. That’s pretty much the only way to describe this manic sort of crazed desperation which has grabbed us by our collective throat and thrashed us around, wringing every last drop of Hope, Fear, Worry, Pain, Joy, Depression, Jubilation and every other emotion out of our tortured, twisted little souls.
Indeed. In the wake of the oh so special Thanksgiving Day pants shitting, most Lions fans seem to have retreated into one of two camps, both desperate and crazed in their own way, both completely built on the ruins of a half century of failure and despair. The first group is the Fuck It, Season’s Over, Let’s All Go Home group, whose poor ravaged souls just won’t let them believe in anything anymore. After watching the Lions lose to the Packers, this group essentially curled up in the fetal position, like dying soldiers trying to hold their mangled intestines in, curling up, their last bastion of shelter in a land gone mad. I can understand this. I can. It’s very, very easy to just let that on/off switch inside of you flick to the off position and then to just watch, numbed, while the Lions stumble into oblivion. It’s what we’ve all done in some form during our lifetimes as fans. It’s the only way any of us could have made it this far. It’s true. Look, I am a man who’s not afraid to feel. I think shutting down and checking out is basically the coward’s way out, but I’ve done it over the years too. Anybody who says they haven’t at least a little bit is at best delusional and at worst, a liar. But there is emotional preservation and then there is just senseless wankery, the sort of self-righteous PITY ME NOW caterwauling that takes refuge behind a wall of stupid fear. This is the sort of shit that I can’t stand, the lazy Fuck This Team They’ll Never Win Anything Ever braying. To hell with that. That is not emotional detachment. That is emotional wallowing, maudlin bullshit that just makes you look like the equivalent of a drunken vagrant rolling in his own pathetic filth.
The other camp is not quite as bad, but that’s only because relentless optimism is generally more palatable than mindless bitching. Well, sometimes. Okay, let’s face it, mindless optimism is just as bad. It’s fucking annoying. It’s okay to acknowledge that things aren’t going too well right now without being a “bad fan”, whatever the fuck that means. Too many people right now are basically doing the equivalent of clutching a half torn-apart rag doll, a crazed look in their eye, mumbling “Baby is fine, baby is fine,” over and over and over again. Fuck that. Baby is not fine. Baby has an arm missing and it’s got buttons for eyes. In fact, that’s not even a baby, you lunatic. It’s a bag of flour with straw pasted on it for hair. Put it down and fucking relax. Too many people seem to be reacting to that impulse to detach with an extreme This Is The Best Team Ever I Don’t Care What Anybody Says And They Will Win Every Game And Then They Will Win The Super Bowl 72-0 And Then A Wizard Will Turn This Bag Of Flour Into A Real Baby And Then The Baby Will Grow Up To Be Barry Sanders mindset.
In short, everyone is reactionary as hell right now, either giving in to The Fear, chaining themselves to it like beaten dogs or running like hell from The Fear and refusing to even acknowledge its presence and shaming all those who dare to admit that, yeah, they’re kind of afraid right now. And that refusal to even acknowledge The Fear is honestly its own sort of chaining. By refusing that it’s even there you’re still letting it control how you react and how you feel. The beaten dog and the desperate run-away – in the end you’re both slaves.
Really, the whole mad world that is Lions fandom right now stems from the fact that we have no idea how to put anything into its proper perspective. I’ve talked about this before, but goddammit, it’s true. And the sad part is, is that there’s nothing we can really do about it. I mean, an outsider would look at this situation, see a 7-4 team and tell us to relax, that we should just be happy that we have a team that is relevant and in contention for a playoff spot and that we’re all fools to believe that we deserve anything more right now. And that person would be right. (Thank you to Raven Mack for doing his best to put this shit into perspective for us.) Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter what you tell us because we have all been driven insane by half a century of failure and despair. That’s why I’m here. I’m basically a madman just sitting atop a giant height chair banging a gavel made of bones and sadness and pretending like somehow I have a better handle on all this than anyone else and that this somehow entitles me to tell everyone else how they can feel. Shit, I’m just as fucked up as everyone else. I’m just as reactionary and incapable of putting this stuff in perspective as the rest of you. We’re all completely fucking nuts.
I think this season in particular has driven us to bipolar mania because the stakes feel higher. This is something else that I’ve talked about before, but I think it’s crucially important to understand if you want to understand why we are the way we are. In the past, during 0-16 and it’s depressing aftermath, yeah, everything sucked and the losses felt horrible and allowed me to make a name for myself as some sort of freaky Death Angel but the reality is, is that underneath all the senseless gibbering and manic OH GOD THE PAIN THE PAIN wailing was a sense that one day things would be better, if only because they had to. And the last couple of years especially have had an undercurrent of real hope to them, like we knew that this thing was on the right track and that when the future arrived, all this terrible horseshit would be washed away in a flood of joy and victory. That singular Hope, that belief in an inviolable future, is what allowed us to keep moving, to keep pushing forward in the wake of 0-16. Well, now The Future is here – or at least that’s what we’ve led ourselves to believe – and now we’ve gone fucking crazy because this is it. Every failure now feels like some sort of cruel mockery, like a violation of that deeply held promise that eventually everything would be alright. If it goes wrong now there is no sunny wonderland to look forward to. There is just this, and if this isn’t good enough to make up for all the pain of the past, then . . . well, where the hell do we go from here?
I’m not saying that it’s right. I’m just saying that I think that’s what’s happened. We allowed ourselves to believe that The Future, and everything we forced ourselves to believe that that phrase meant, was now and in doing so we allowed ourselves to open up our hearts to their fullest extent, ready to reap some sort of mystical reward for years and years of suffering. For fuck’s sake, we are damn near a religious cult, a collection of manic freaks whose only response to our pain has to been to transform it into something redemptive. We’ve allowed ourselves to believe in a Heaven that will somehow answer for all of that pain, all of that suffering and despair and we’ve allowed ourselves to believe that that Heaven is the 2011 season. I suppose this makes me something of a High Priest of the Damned, but what the hell, I’ve been called worse.
The truth is this: the Lions are still a young team, at least where it really matters. Matthew Stafford is 23 and sometimes he looks like he’s 16, all baby-faced and awkward, and we need to remember that. He’s not in the prime of his career. Not even close. Maybe there is a football heaven. Maybe there isn’t. I don’t know. That doesn’t really matter right now. Right now, the only thing that matters is that the Lions are 7-4. They’re not the best team in the league but they’re sure as hell not the worst either. What they are is a playoff contender, and whether we want to admit it to ourselves or not, given that three years ago this team went 0-16 that is damn near miraculous.
Now, with all that said, I’m worried. I don’t mind admitting that. I don’t particularly enjoy it, but I don’t mind admitting it because, hell, it’s true. That game against the Packers just felt . . . wrong. I don’t know any other way to put it than that. It felt like the sort of game which we could look back upon at the end of the season, sigh and say, yeah, that’s where the damn broke. There have been signs that things are not as sound as they should be all season long, but that game felt like an unraveling, like some sort of breakdown that seems somehow both inexplicable and all too familiar. I don’t know how to answer it. I don’t. All I know is that this doesn’t feel like a team that has its shit together. Considering its quarterback has thrown 11 billion interceptions in the last few weeks and that its star defensive lineman is currently being portrayed as Saddam Hitler and is being forced to take a time out like a naughty four year old, I don’t think that’s such an outrageous thing to say. This is a team that does not have its shit together. Yet, I expect that some people will still disagree and yell at me about this because, well, read everything that I’ve written in this post so far.
But to hell with all that. Right now, the only thing that matters is that the Lions have a huge game this weekend against the Saints and that’s a bad, bad time to not have your shit together, you know? It’s tempting to make this game some sort of referendum, a Meet Me At The Crossroads sort of Come To Jesus moment which will decide our destiny as a team and as a fanbase going forward, but that would just be reactionary and vaguely ridiculous. I’ll admit it, that was actually my intent going into this thing but I have splashed some water on my face and forced myself to quit clinging so tightly to some sort of ideal, invented years ago out of a need for basic survival. If the Lions lose this game, it doesn’t mean that the end is nigh or that we should start booking Matthew Stafford airfare back to Georgia or that we should storm Ford Field and install a new Pope. This game comes at a horrible time for the Lions, at a time when maybe their defining star is forced to sit on the bench and during a time when half the team seems like it’s injured. They should lose this game. It is incredibly unfair to put some sort of Do Or Die pressure on them right now. That sort of madness speaks only to our own incredible self-delusion and to our own desperate need to escape the horrors of the past.
Still, the Lions can win this game. I’m not denying that. Strip everything else away and the Lions actually played really, really well against the Packers. They moved the ball down the field very effectively and the defense stood its ground against the most explosive offense in the NFL. Unfortunately, you can’t just strip everything else away. When it came to all that shit that exists between the lines, all that shit that the numbers just can’t explain, the Lions failed and they failed egregiously. The real battle the rest of this season, including this week against the Saints, isn’t about moving the ball effectively or stopping the run or anything like that. No. The real battle is about all that intangible shit that normally drives me nuts to talk about. It’s about simple execution, abut attitude, about control, about being a sound football team that has its shit together. It’s not about talent anymore. It’s not about proving that we belong. It’s just about all those little things that make the Packers and Saints the Packers and Saints and all those despicable little meltdowns that make the Lions, well, the Lions and every shitty, obnoxious thing that has meant over the years. This is about taking that talent and turning it into something confident, something willful, something that doesn’t feel like some sort of insane Flying Circus.
That’s what faces the Lions the rest of the season and that’s what faces them this Sunday night against the Saints. Like, I said, the Lions can win. I won’t go into the whys because all week long, the Lions blogosphere has been filled with people manically explaining every possible way the Lions can win this game, everything from 3-3-5 defenses to lead pipes bashing Drew Brees’ knees to Kevin Smith’s ankle miraculously healing itself to kidnapping Jimmy Graham to Nick Fairley announcing his presence to the levees breaking and the Superdome flooding to The Great Willie Young cloning himself and bringing man to ultimate enlightenment. Okay, fine, that last one might have been mine, but really, I’ve seen just about everything this past week and I suspect so have most of you. Again, this just speaks to our desperation and our own manic need to hang onto this idea that salvation can be had and that it can be had right fucking now.
I will say this, though – I think the Saints can be had. Do you remember earlier in the season when we actually tried our hand at picking games against the spread? Yeah, well anyway, that whole thing fell apart when Raven lost all his money to a vicious hobo in a dice game and I blew all of mine trying to help him get it back. It’s a long story, but just to sum up, the whole thing ended up with Raven and me in a secluded cabin in southern Indiana, armed to the teeth in anticipation of revenge, but then we found out that the hobo lost all of that ill-gotten money in a pyramid scheme and eventually we realized that there was no way we were ever going to see that money again. We even hired a lawyer but it turned out that the dude was an actor who just swindled us out of the rest of our money. He even took all of our weaponry and our vehicles, stranding us in this shitty little cabin with only a single bottle of Thunderbird and one single gun with only one bullet. It was cruel and terrible, but luckily for us, a drifter stumbled upon our shack and we were able to lure him inside. We put that one bullet to use and managed to sustain ourselves on his flesh until help arrived in the form of a gang of meth heads who looked like escapees from that movie Winter’s Bone. You’d be surprised but they were shockingly sympathetic to our plight and after we explained what had gone wrong, they agreed to front us the money for a bus ticket in exchange for all of our clothing, Raven’s gold fillings, ownership of Armchair Linebacker, the promise that I would give them my first born child and some fireworks that Raven and I planned to celebrate with after we got revenge on that hobo who started us down that terrible trail. I promised Raven I’d never talk about it - he’s embarrassed and frankly so am I – but to be honest with you, I left out some dark and terrible details and so I figure he’ll be okay with me discussing it. So, yeah, that’s why we stopped doing that.
Well, anyway, while writing my part for one of the last gambler’s roundtables that we did – I don’t even think it was ever even posted on the site – I talked about how I didn’t trust the Saints. There was just something about them that didn’t feel right. I couldn’t put my finger on it and I still can’t but even though they’ve had some ridiculous games in which they have scored a billion points, I think that’s been borne out at least a little bit. I mean, they lost to the fucking Rams, you know? So . . . yeah, it’s not like they’re unbeatable and if there’s one thing the Lions have shown it’s that when they’re on, they can hang with anybody. The question, of course, then becomes will the Lions be “on”?
Who knows? That’s the trillion dollar question, isn’t it? Both for this game and for the rest of the season. If the Lions can pull their shit together than yeah, they can beat the Saints. They can beat anyone. If they can’t, well, then . . . hey, we’re already a million miles away from where we were, you know? I still believe. I’m not sure I want to explain that anymore though. I just want to leave it at that for now. No more gibbering on about the future being now or about the Symmetry of Fate or about long journeys and hanging over the edge of a cliff or anything, really, other than that one simple truth. I believe. And that belief is patient, if only because it has to be. It’s easy to throw this season into the fire and mope and whine about doom and it’s just as easy to plaster on a fake smile and to insist that everything is going to work out this season. The reality is that I just don’t know right now. I just don’t know. And that’s okay. It has to be. And that’s how I feel about this game against the Saints. I just don’t know. The Lions could pull it together and win by two touchdowns and our faith in some misguided notion of immediate salvation could be restored. Or they could melt down completely and lose by 30 and the idea of salvation would suddenly feel very, very far away. I don’t know. The only thing I can try to do is to do my best to keep it all in perspective, to remember that this game comes at a terrible time for the Lions and that it won’t tell us anything other than where the Lions are right at this moment. The future is the future and the past is the past. Right now, all we have is this simple truth: Ndamukong Suh has been suspended, the Lions are racked with injuries and they have to find a way to beat the Saints on Sunday. If they do, fucking awesome. If they don’t, well . . . tomorrow is a new day.
I’m rambling now, as is my wont, and so I suppose I should wrap this up. I’m at a point in my fandom where I’m hoping for everything but expecting nothing. That is a weird place to be. Depending on your viewpoint, that is either senselessly optimistic or profoundly cynical. Hell, maybe both. But that’s the deal, man. That’s just where I’m at. What does that mean? The hell if I know. All I know is that when kickoff comes on Sunday, all of this bullshit won’t matter and I’ll be acting the fool, completely incapable of doing anything other than cheering with wild eyed hope, lost in a Honolulu Blue fever, believing in everything, my heart open to the promise of redemption and vulnerable to the jagged, ugly knife that is the sorrow of defeat. And there’s not a goddamn thing I can do about it.
Predicted Final Score: Fuck it, who knows?