I’ve been sitting here wondering how to start this, trying to figure out whether I should sound the trumpets and grovel in front of the throne of the newly ascended Matthew Stafford or whether I should tear my shirt off, beat my chest like an ape in mourning, curse Mike Pereira for a while and end by mooning Thom Brennaman and offering to fight everyone in the NFL and the entire state of Wisconsin. Or I could just start ranting and raving about dragons and semen again. Who’s to say which direction is best in these strange and terrible times?
In the end, the important thing is that the Lions finished 10-6, which is what I predicted before the season and they’re heading to the playoffs for the first time since the Ramses administration. Nothing that happened today can change that. I guess I’m just a little bummed that after spending the past couple of weeks talking about new worlds and dragon slaying, I have to sit here on the edge of the beach and lick my wounds. We stabbed that fucking dragon through the heart over and over and over again, but . . . okay, you know what? Enough of this dragon bullshit. I’m not in the mood for metaphors.
What I am is pissed off because the NFL is a bullshit league run by bullshit people with bullshit ideas. I know that makes me sound like a whiner, but . . . come the fuck on. Did you see that bullshit? I think Mike Pereira got more airtime in this game than Brian Billick. It was ridiculous. It felt like every other play, the people at Fox opened up a portal to hell and summoned that lizard man Pereira, the NFL’s Minister of Propaganda, who flicked his forked devil tongue back and forth over and over again, reciting gibberish from the NFL’s Necronomicon of a rulebook in order to justify the fact that the NFL is a completely ridiculous league with rules that don’t make any sense and procedures which exist just to give dudes like Pereira something to rub one out to before they drift off to sleep at night, their miniscule dongs clutched in their talons while whatever animal dreams fill their hearts float through their lizard brains. Horrible, horrible . . .
I even heard the words “process of the catch” come spilling out of his devil’s maw at one point, which is akin to creeping up on a Vietnam vet wearing black pajamas and a rice hat. And throughout all this madness, you had Thom Brennaman, who has clearly taken it upon himself to replace Joe Buck as the sporting world’s official smug arbiter of morality, carrying on like a fool whenever he got the chance about how shameful the Lions were. Hell, at one point he bitched about the Lions lack of discipline after a Packer clotheslined Matthew Stafford even though the whistle had blown 14 years before he reached him. It was absurd. When the flag came out for the obvious personal foul, Brennaman actually said “There’s a second flag. It must be to back up the flag thrown for a false start on the Lions.” Just ridiculous. It never ends, it never ends. Oh Lord, why . . .
It’s become difficult to even enjoy watching the games. The refs just make up the rules as they go, the announcers stick to an aged and worthless script whether it fits with reality or not, and then Mike Pereira shows up to try to convince the masses that the sky is actually neon green and that piss tastes like wine. Every goddamn game. And while all this is going on you have Jim Schwartz standing on the sidelines, apoplectic, in mid-seizure because everybody on the field knows that Titus Young scored a touchdown but because the NFL is a ridiculous place run by ridiculous people, no one would do a damn thing about it. The fact that that one play ended up being the difference in the final score – exactly – is not so much infuriating as awe-inspiringly ridiculous, the sort of thing that makes men laugh at the idea of a just god and made me want to strangle a baby by halftime.
It’s clear that I’ve chosen the Incredible Hulk Smash Smash Smash route here but this is what happens when you spend a big chunk of the game thrashing around like an epileptic Hulk Hogan and spewing hateful rivers of obscene gibberish that would make even Lenny Bruce cower in fear and despair. I hated this fucking game for big chunks of it because all I wanted to do was slay a dragon and instead of fighting the dragon one on one, that motherfucker had a goddamn circus riding his back, throwing tiny little darts at me and making life hell. At one point, the dragon opened his mouth and I’m pretty sure a lawyer spilled out and proceeded to tell me that dragons are a protected species and that I would be thrown into NFL Alcatraz if I continued to try to slay the son of a bitch. Goddammit, just let me fight the fucking dragon in peace you animals.
Lost in all this - and that just makes this whole thing taste even more bitter - is that Matthew Stafford was fucking incredible. He is, as a wise man once said, the One. He was Superman in this game. But thanks to a combination of supervillains ranging from the refs to the NFL to Matt fucking Flynn to his own defense, being Superman wasn’t enough. No, the Lions asked Stafford to be Superman in this game and he put on a fucking cape and flew to the moon, banged Lois Lane and bitch-slapped Lex Luthor. But then the Lions asked Stafford to be a god, and . . . well, Stafford shrugged and said “Start building me that altar.” Indeed. He was going to do it. Somehow, he was going to do it. I felt it deep in my bones. He had already won the goddamn game once, just like we’d seen him do so many other times this wild and incredible season, and so now, for an encore, he’d win a game twice and he’d do it in Lambeau Field and then he’d spend the night feasting on dragon brains and banging a legion of his most buxom acolytes while the rest of us scrambled to build that altar and worship him before it. But the funny thing about being a god is this: by their nature, gods are infallible, and so being one requires a certain sort of self-confidence which doesn’t include even the idea that you could fuck up. And so that’s how Matthew Stafford played because that’s who we needed him to be. That’s what the circumstances of the game forced him to be, and in that fatal moment, Matthew Stafford faced down the world and tried to do the impossible and in the end, was beaten by the very thing that made him an object of worship and adoration. He tried to do the impossible one too many times. I do not blame him for this because that is what was necessary. He had to believe in his own infallibility because he was forced to shoulder the burden for everybody else. And in the end, the football gods laughed while Matthew Stafford tried to touch the sun. He got burned because, after all, he is not a god, but a man and that’s what makes him great. But at least he got close. He touched the sun and that fire will live in his eyes and in his heart and soul for the rest of his days. He is my quarterback and I wouldn’t trade him for any other player in the league. I mean that. I fucking mean that. I’m not just making a wild, hyperbolic statement. That is a reasoned, measured statement and I stand by it.
I’ve taken a right turn into a weird place, gibbering about gods and Superman, but this was a weird game. The Lions lost a game in which they scored 41 points. That should never happen. What’s even crazier is that they probably should have scored 61. On 4 separate occasions, they drove deep into Packers territory and came away with a combined 3 points. On one, they actually scored a touchdown only to have it stolen away from them by a combination of the Necronomicon and incompetence and were forced to settle for a field goal. On another, Titus Young caught a pass, rolled over in the endzone and saw the ball squirt out of his hands at the last second. Two plays later, Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson failed to connect on a wide open pass for a touchdown. Only 1 time out of 1,000 does that pass not get caught for a touchdown. The perversity of fate decreed that this was that 1 time. On the very next play, the Lions missed a 39 yard field goal. Only 1 time out of 1,000 does Jason Hanson miss a field goal from that distance. The perversity of fate, etc. etc. Combine those two plays, think about them - and the odds that both of those things would happen back to back - and meet me in my padded room where we’ll huff ether together and laugh and cry at the madness of the universe. On yet another drive, this one to start the second half, Nate Burleson took a step in the wrong direction – one single goddamn step – and the ball went right to a Green Bay Packer. And finally, on the fourth of these ill-fated drives (and I haven’t even counted the game’s last drive, which also went deep into Packers territory), Lions receivers had balls hit their hands on three straight passes, needing only two fucking yards, and failed to come away with a first down. That’s 3 points on 4 sustained drives. In a game in which the Lions scored 41 points.
Think about all that again. The Lions passing game and Stafford fucking destroyed the Packers defense. Yeah, yeah, Charles Woodson and Clay Matthews sitting on the sideline, blah blah blah, but I’m not exaggerating when I say the Lions could have scored 60 in this game. They should have at least topped 50. That’s impressive no matter who you’re playing.
In the end, this was a game of madness, a game of virtuosic brilliance caught in a maelstrom of pigheaded foolishness and heart-breaking improbability. This was a game that was tragic, flawed, yet still beautiful in its own strange, fucked up way. This was a game that was awe-inspiring to watch at times and yet it was a game that, when it ended, hurt in a deep way that is hard to explain. When the ball was intercepted with less than 30 second left, I actually melodramatically moaned the word “Noooo” like I just watched someone run my best friend or a puppy through with a sword. And then I stared in disbelief and a part of me refused to believe that it was over, and it was then that I realized how far my faith in this team has come, and the totality with which I believe in Matthew Stafford. That epiphany mixed with my heartbreak from this game has created a weird feeling in me, one that I’m not quite sure how to process. I feel somehow unshakeable and yet I mourn what could have been. I know that one day that dragon will die and no amount of hidden assassins riding in the folds of his wings will be able to stop our knight, and yet for now, he still lives and that doesn’t sit well with me. I think of what could have been – what should have been – and I keep gritting my teeth and swearing under my breath. I feel beaten but proud, raging against the spot where the dragon used to be, screaming in vain, calling him a coward and telling him to get his ass back here to fight because we’re not finished. We’re not finished.
I didn’t know how to start this and I don’t know how to finish it either. There is more to talk about, more that I could complain about (Oh Lord, why did the defense have to turn into a bunch of shivering junkies?), more that I could celebrate (St. Calvin healing the world, The Great Willie Young devouring Matt Flynn’s soul in one precious, glorious moment) and more that I could gibber on like a fool about, but it’s over now. The regular season is finished and here the Lions are, 10-6, only three years removed from 0-16. Matthew Stafford just had a season that saw him throw for 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns. Read that again. Fuck a Pro-Bowl. Hawaii isn’t good enough for Matthew Stafford and neither are you. Neither am I. Jesus. Just think about all that, the staggering reality of it, of being 10-6 following that Hiroshima of a 2008 season, of having a quarterback with numbers which are elite not just in the context of this season, but all-time. Think of the fact that that quarterback has led countless come from behind fourth quarter drives this season, of the fact that he led a 98 yard drive with no timeouts and two minutes on the clock in Oakland to beat the Raiders. And then think of the fact that he’s only 23 years old, that he hasn’t even hit his prime, and suddenly, all that other bullshit doesn’t seem to matter, and suddenly that dragon looks like a three inch long salamander. The Lions lost today, but my heart still soared, even while it raged, and it raged because it knows, for the first time really, that it’s finally alive.
Like I said, I have no idea how to finish this, and perhaps that’s appropriate because the season is over and yet it isn’t. It is unfinished, and the truth which is the beating heart of that statement, that the Lions are in the playoffs and that anything and everything is possible, makes everything else completely and utterly irrelevant. Dragon, I wanted your heart, but instead you saw mine, beating thunderous, and even though you got away today, remember that heart, remember its name: Matthew Stafford. Whisper it to your own dark soul and be afraid. Be very afraid. Because we’re coming. We’re coming.