I actually sat down to do this late last night, half drunk, completely insane, filled with a whirlwind of conflicting emotions, but I was just too wrecked, both physically and spiritually, to do anything other than pound my keyboard like some pathetic half-mad ape and the final result would have no doubt resembled a cuneiform version of a succession of hoots, grunts and whistles and throughout it all there would have been a terrible eerie soundtrack playing through all of our heads, the ghostly sound of me weeping like a faithless man from far away. Terrible, terrible . . .
And so I decided to put it off until today when I would no doubt be refreshed and re-energized. Instead, I am vaguely hung-over, my eyes burn and so does my soul. There will be a time when I look back upon this season with happiness, when I give it the fond farewell it deserves, but it still hurts too much and so all I can do is try to explain what last night felt like, which is kind of impossible because in order to do so I would have to die and then be reincarnated as Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”.
The weird thing is, is that it wasn’t all horrible. Hell, the Lions actually led at the first half and I managed to tweet some gibberish about the team playing well, and even as I wrote it, a vague thought was flying through my mind which resembled something like “No, stop, you fool, you are only setting yourself up for something ridiculous.” I promptly ignored this thought because it seemed a product of old fear based thinking and then I went back to watching the game. And then the world caved in on itself, my head melted like at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark and I’m pretty sure I traveled back through time and was crucified by Pontius Pilate. Or maybe it was by David Bowie playing Pontius Pilate in The Last Temptation of Christ. Who can say?
Anyway, sacrilegious babble aside, there was still never a moment when I lost faith, which I suppose is a good sign. After all, I’ve seen too much wild and crazy shit this year to completely fold in on myself, too many comebacks, too many manic adrenaline fueled “Holy shit, I can’t believe this is happening!” moments, and so I kept my heart alive for as long as I could, a dangerous decision given that I should have disconnected and gone into protectionism mode far earlier.
After all, I was a goddamn beast last night. During gamedays, I am continually thankful that my neighbors don’t regularly call the cops on me. After all, during the course of your average game it probably sounds like I’m doing everything from strangling a goat to singing death metal – while strangling a goat. I am not what you would call a cool, calm, composed fan while the action is actually happening. So . . . yeah, following a game I always feel like I both survived a war and thankful that nobody had me arrested or committed.
But this game . . . this goddamn game . . . well, I wouldn’t be surprised if my neighbors went into hiding at some point in the second half. Shit, they’re probably all in the Witness Protection program while the feds try to build a case against me. “Yes . . . yes, sir, that’s the man . . . that’s the one I saw wrestling a bear in his living room and then eating the bear’s heart while punching a puppy. That’s him!”
At various points in that second half of woe, it probably sounded like I was wrestling with the devil while simultaneously arguing with God like we were some sort of dysfunctional couple on Cops. “You said you were gonna stop all this nonsense, God! This is fucking bullshit! Never again!” That sort of thing. If someone would have looked in the window, it probably would’ve resembled the scene from Highlander right after he chops a dude’s head off – just lightning flashing everywhere, people screaming, headless bodies flopping on the ground, swords slashing, madness, just . . . utter madness. At one point I lost my shirt. I ripped it off like some sort of degenerate street thug getting ready to throw down. A couple of hours later, I couldn’t find it. I finally found it earlier today. To be honest, I forgot I was ever wearing it. It was just a sweatshirt and I still had a tee-shirt on so it wasn’t completely absurd, but . . . okay, fine, it was but I just don’t want you to think that I was just stomping around bare-chested and violent all night long. I’m a civilized man, after all.
Not that anyone would have been able to tell last night. Had the cops actually been called, they probably would have broken down my front door and then tied me to a chair and called in an exorcist while I swore at them in tongues and spit pea soup and vile, vicious words, my head turning 180 degrees while I vowed to eat Drew Brees’ soul and to banish Aaron Berry to some dark corner of hell.
So . . . uh . . . yeah, it wasn’t the best night. I’m an emotional dude, a passionate dude, and I make a goddamn ass out of myself watching this thing we call football. I scream and I yell and I carry on like a freak. I scream “Fuck you!” at the television like a goddamn petulant child, I try to bargain with all manner of deities and I’ll even change clothes during the middle of the game because I think that it somehow makes a difference in the outcome of the game. My adrenaline spikes, I shake like a junky, I weep like a faithless man when things are going bad and I cheer like a Roman Coliseum fan hopped up on crank and blood when things are going well. I do not temper myself because this is sports fandom and sports fandom is carnal and wicked and beautiful and completely unreasonable. It exists completely within its own sphere, its own world, and this world is insane and has no laws other than the laws of the beast. It’s feral and strange and completely fucking insane and I revel in it because why not? Why not? It’s perhaps the only socially acceptable way to touch the madness, like scream therapy for the crazy.
I’ve begun to ramble and I haven’t touched on the actual events of the game nearly as much as I probably should, but I suspect this is just my way of protecting myself. After all, I don’t exactly want to relive what went on in that second half, you know? Some part of me still believes that it’s halftime and that the score is 14-10 Lions and the biggest thing I can be pissed off about is that the ref blew the whistle and caused the play to go dead after The Great Willie Young ate Drew Brees’ soul and knocked the football loose. A part of me is huddled in that memory, clinging to it like the last rickety life-raft in a storm from hell.
But I know that that second half happened and so do all of you. We all watched it and even though it caused me to descend into the heart of darkness, whispering The Horror, The Horror over and over and over again to my beleaguered soul, there was still that rational human side of me that stayed reasonable (well, sort of, anyway) and wondered over and over and over again “What if?” What if that ref hadn’t blown the whistle and the Lions were allowed to return that fumble for a touchdown and a 21-7 lead? What if the refs didn’t inexplicably spot the ball a yard further down the field thus giving the Saints a key first down following a third down pass which only netted nine yards instead of the ten they said early in the second half, which would have forced the Saints to punt? What if Eric Wright or Aaron Berry would have caught just one of the interceptions Drew Brees tossed into their arms? Just one? What if the Saints didn’t convert every single third down or all 168 (I believe this is the exact number if I remember correctly. You can trust me, I’m a professional.) 4th down conversions? What if Sean Payton had behaved like every other caveman coach and punted on those 4th downs? What if Titus Young wouldn’t have fallen down on that first Matthew Stafford interception, which in retrospect, was basically what ended the game? What if the Lions understood how to properly tackle? What if the refs decided to do their job and call holding on the Saints offense line just one goddamn time? What if, what if, what if, what if, aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarfggggggfhkjkhjloksiflhweygfliwefi
And so it goes. So it goes. In a sense, I suppose there’s something macabrely good about all those “what ifs”. Even being able to ask them is a sign that the Lions were at least competitive, that they showed up, that an outline exists – no matter how hazy – for a different story, a story, a world, an alternate reality in which the Lions actually won the game. But it also makes it hurt more. It makes it more frustrating. The closer you get to heaven, the more bitterly painful the flames of hell feel licking at your feet. Because I can see that alternate reality, it makes it more maddening that it never actually happened and that I am forced to live in this world with its bullshit outcomes.
After the game, as I always do, I calmed down and began to channel my wild emotions into something approaching coherence. I tried to be philosophical, to put it all in its proper perspective but to be honest, I couldn’t. I still can’t. Not really anyway. I admire everyone who was able to do an immediate about-face and remind everyone else that this has been a hell of a season, a magical season, and hey, I’m right there with you. But last night is still too fresh in my mind, in my heart, my soul, to do anything other than grieve for what could have been but isn’t because of all those goddamn “what-ifs”. Later, I am sure that I’ll be able to summon something worthwhile and human to wrap up this amazing, wild, weird, fantastic season. And we’ll all smile and laugh and say things to each other like “Man, what a ride!” and “I can’t wait ‘til next year!” Those are things that are undeniably true, and maybe a part of me is starting to crawl into that place already. I don’t know. But the majority of me is just gritting its teeth and remembering all of the things – both big and small – that happened last night and caused the Lions to lose that game and that part of me is too big and too tough to conquer right now.
I do want to say this: for as much as the Lions lost that game (well, defensively anyway), and for as much as the refs stuck their little knives in, helping to bleed us to death while Sheriff Goodell cowered in Houston, shining his tin badge with a smug smile on his liar’s face, the New Orleans Saints won that game. They were pretty damn good and so was their coach. For as much as it rankles me that Sean Payton went for the jugular every damn opportunity he got, I respect him like hell for it. That’s what a real coach does. That’s what a winner does. That’s what allows a team like the Saints to reach their full potential and I commend him for it. Besides, I take that jugular hunting as a sign of respect. He knew he had to do that in order to put the Lions away. That was his acknowledgment that the Lions are a real team, a dangerous team, a damn good team capable of beating his Saints in their own building. He played to win because he knew that playing not to lose would have just meant that his team would be walking around in a daze after the game, wondering how they got knocked out of the playoffs in the first round for the second straight season.
But enough about all that. Nobody wants to hear that shit today and I feel unpleasant even acknowledging it. Today is a day for us, a day to try to purge our own pain, not to celebrate the joys of another’s soul.
I have spent a ridiculous amount of words lately hyperbolically comparing this last month of the season to arriving in a New World or to Wild West shootouts at the OK Corral but today metaphors just seem cheap and trite. Today, the feelings are too real, too raw, too big, to explain away with some pithy imagery. There is nothing symbolic about any of this. There is just an open wound. I know I just said “No metaphors” and then with this open wound thing I, well, I just gave into the welcoming arms of metaphors, but this is just the way I think. Everything is a goddamn play, an opera of the mind, heart and soul and I don’t know what to tell you. My brain is a drama queen.
I guess the difference is that while my brain keeps searching for metaphors, for symbolism – and keeps finding it – last night’s game exists in that same brain as something separate, something that cannot be summed up with gunfight metaphors. Everything else – including my feelings (hell, especially my feelings) - is fair game for the symbolism addict that is my brain, but the game against the Saints exists as its own thing, immune to symbolism, to stories, to metaphors, to imagery. It does not fit in some grand narrative in my head. It just exists by itself, the facts cold and hard and brutal, the memories raw and untouched by anything other than themselves. I kind of just want to wrap that whole goddamn thing up in chains and dumb it to the bottom of the sea of my brain but that can’t happen and we all know it. I’ll always remember this game and I’ll always remember how much it sucked and that’s that.
I should never, ever, say that I’m not going to give into symbolism, to metaphors, because as I’ve already demonstrated, I am completely incapable of doing so. I don’t just write in metaphors, in symbols and dramatic imagery, I think that way too. This is what makes me the creative super-beast that I am, but sometimes it gets in the way. Sometimes, I just want to think in clear, concise terms and I want everything to be simple, easy, black or white, up or down. This is how I feel about last night’s game. I just want it to be a dead thing, not something that lives and blossoms and flourishes in my brain, taking untangleable (spellcheck says this isn’t a word but fuck it, I just made it a word) root, something that will pop up in epic terms later on, something that will inform the rest of my fandom, the way that the last 50 years of failure has. I desperately don’t want this to happen. I don’t want it to become some epic dragon, flying through the halls of my brain, breathing fire and laying waste to everything in its path. As you can see, it’s too late. Too late.
So, I guess all I can do now is try to put it into its proper context, to allow the metaphors and the symbols and the imagery to grow but to watch over them and make sure that they don’t grow into something too ugly or monstrous. Obviously, I’m rambling, but this is what happens when you write at the exact same time that you try to gather your thoughts, that you try to contextualize everything. In the end, I suppose I have no choice but to acknowledge this game’s place in the epic opera of my mind. It happened, but I have to remember that it is but a scene – a scene that marks the end of an act but not the whole damn opera. It is a scene that marks the end of an act, but there is more than one act in any play, in any opera, and even though this one is over, I don’t hear a fat lady singing, and even though the lights just dimmed and the singing just stopped and the curtain momentarily closed, I know that soon enough, it’s going to open up and there will be Matthew Stafford, at the height of his powers, and there will be Calvin Johnson and my God, what beauty, what a fucking show, and I can’t wait. I can’t wait.
Last night happened and there’s nothing anyone can do to change that. My mind still reels, and my heart still thunders against the ravaging horrors of it all, but it’s over now and maybe this is what people call acceptance, or at least something like it, or the faint whispers of it. I don’t know. What I do know is that as soon as I am done writing this, it will be time for my mind and my heart to move on, and I will begin watching that curtain, waiting for it to open, and I will remember that despite the way it ended, this act was a ton of fun, fucking incredible, awe inspiring really, and I’ll smile a faint, hopeful smile and I’ll remember that this opera is destined to be amazing, because it is my opera and all my operas are. And finally, I’ll remember that this is just a beginning, the birth of a star, and that soon – very soon – this star will shine and on some distant planet, someone will look up, see it shining up in the sky and they’ll wonder where this star came from, and what it actually is, and my soul will whisper that it came from my heart and what it is, is the Detroit Lions and it will never die.