Somewhere, in the midst of the broken place that is my idiot fan heart, there still lives that thunderous whatever the hell that was I wrote only a couple of days ago, when I dragged myself off of my little corner stool, mouth filling with blood, spinal fluid pouring out of my nose and I challenged the whole world to a fight. The problem with doing that is sometimes the world answers the bell too and when it does it is often hideous and gruesome and, well . . . you saw what happened.
It is fitting and terrible and gross and maddening and all too preciously perfect that the game turned on a play so heinous, so absolutely and slavishly devoted to the worship of the Necronomicon the NFL calls a rulebook, that 9,000 pound leviathan that hill trolls bring out of storage, rampaging orcs riding them and whipping their backs as they trudge and drag that monstrosity to the field anytime there’s a replay or a challenge or any other decision a referee has to make besides whether or not he is confident that he can make it to his car before he’s lynched by outraged fans. And it was appropriate because after all that blathering I did about the New Americanism, there could be no more perfect moment to illustrate that the NFL, with all its corporatized double speak and Orwellian “No, the sky is not blue, it is electric green just like we tell you it is and no that knee was not down even though it was and everybody knows it was but argle bargle argle bargle and so on and so forth” inane bullshit, is the ultimate league of the New Americanism. It embodies everything gross and stupid and asinine about that world, and that play and the hideous aftermath, itself gross and stupid and asinine, drove that point home more clearly than just about anything else I can imagine. And in the end, it made me feel stupid for tricking myself into believing that real things matter, that what actually happens matters, that when a dude’s knee touches the ground and everyone sees it and knows that he’s fucking down that it matters. My mistake, I guess.
Of course, it wasn’t just that. The entire game felt like one that the Lions should have won, and for the second straight week they had the game pretty well in hand and then pissed it away in the final minutes, which is a new and oh so precious wrinkle that Fate and the Failure Demons have decided to send our way in this, the year of our great cornholing at the hands of the universe. Like last week, the Lions had a chance to go up by ten points with only minutes left in the game, and just like last week they failed in that way that is far too familiar to all of us by now. Last week, they settled for a field goal when a touchdown would have put the game out of reach. This time, Matthew Stafford took a bad sack to take them out of field goal position and keep the game in reach for the Texans. (God, I hate that senseless name.)
What followed probably deserves its own chapter in the long book of shame that is the story of the Detroit Lions. Nick Harris managed to pin the Texans deep in their own end (something he managed to do a few times in this game so, uh, yay Nick I guess.) and then, naturally, the Texans drove the length of the field to tie the game at 31. By the time they scored I was actually relieved that they did it fast enough so that Matthew “Sidewinder” Stafford could lead the Lions down the field and kick the game winning field goal because goddammit, in a just and fair world that is what is supposed to happen.
But this isn’t a just and fair world and you would think that I would have learned that terrible lesson by now. No, instead the Lions drive stalled out and they were forced to take the game to overtime. But, lo! What’s this? The Lions won the toss and continued to taunt my idiot heart and make me believe that they were going to finish what they started and finally win a goddamn Thanksgiving game. They moved the ball with ease, taking it into Texans territory and . . . and then Brandon Pettigrew remembered he was Brandon Pettigrew and decided to reenact the heinous week 3 fumble against the Titans.
And so it goes. But Fate wasn’t done with us. No, not by a long shot. The Texans painfully and depressingly moved the ball into field goal territory of their own but the Lions defensive wall stiffened and drove those sons of bitches back just the extra yard necessary to force Shane Graham to put one just wide of the uprights. And in that moment, despite the years of failure, the incessant misery, the constant pain, the misguided Charlie Brown optimism, I lined up, smiled at Lucy, got ready to kick that fucking ball one more time, more sure than ever that the Lions were going to win the game. Again, it was the only just and fair outcome, and besides, a way of life, proud and hard Detroit vs. soft, carpet-bagging New America Houston, was at stake.
And then Jason Hanson did what Jason Hanson never does and missed the game winning field goal. Dom Raiola was the picture of perfect failure on the sideline, squeezing every last drop of hope he had left in his idiot body into a desperate prayer, a prayer that fell deaf and dumb on whatever football gods were hanging out at Ford Field, ready to bend us over and break one off in our fool asses. The ball went up and it hit the upright. It hit the goddamn upright. One inch to the left and we’d all be celebrating the Lions triumph – and Detroit’s – over the Texans and the scions of the New Americanism. But it didn’t go one inch to the left and Dom Raiola winced and felt the gods slap him upside the head just as they have for more than a decade and in that moment the Lions and their fans and everything about us was utterly broken.
Predictably, the Texans cruised right on down the field and Shane Graham kicked the game winning field goal while Ford Field turned into a half-living tomb, a sarcophagus filled with slack-jawed zombies stumbling aimlessly towards the exits while the players and coaches milled about the field like lobotomized cattle, lowing at the fates, tongues lolling idiotically out of their mouths, and in that moment the Failure Demons all laughed and if there was any justice in the world, the giant foot from Monty Python would have taken that moment to make its triumphant return to pop culture.
But it didn’t and so everyone in that goddamn stadium, zombie and cattle alike, were forced to try to come up with something, anything, that would both explain just what in the fuck just happened and give them all a reason to believe there was a point in continuing on with this mad charade, this chimera of the soul masquerading as belief.
And that’s where we find ourselves right now, looking for answers, for people to blame, for something, anything, that we can do to justify the heinous bullshit we had to experience today. And the truth is, is that you can blame everybody and everything. It was just that kind of a game, a hideous amalgamation of everything that we have come to fear as Lions fans. The refs boned us and didn’t even bother to lube up or wear a goddamn rubber (let’s not forget that aside from that horrendous non-review was the earlier review in which they refused to acknowledge what was a clear fumble by the Texans – or rather a ball that bounced off of a Texan knee on a kickoff and into the hands of a waiting Lion), Matthew Stafford continued his decline into outright boobery, throwing damn near every pass with that side-armed, back-footed DON’T MIND ME I’M JUST SKIPPIN’ ROCKS FELLAS way of his, missing open receiver after open receiver, there were the ill-timed fumbles, the lead-blowing, the coaching nincompoopery, and the beating of the hideous heart.
But Edgar Allan Poe references aside, let’s talk about that coaching nincompoopery for a moment, okay? Coach bashing is a sacred rite of passage for all Lions fans and God only knows that I have wielded a bloody club myself from time to time but for the most part – certain misgivings aside – I have stuck with Jim Schwartz and the general gameplan even as others began to turn on him like a savage cannibal army. But today was unforgivable. It just was. It was the sort of bullshit we’ve come to loathe about this team all wrapped up in one petulant idiotic gesture. And what’s worse is that Schwartz knew it and did it anyway. This wasn’t a case of a dude who simply didn’t know any better and threw the damn flag anyway. No, he knew what he was doing but he did it anyway because he was pissed off. Hell, he even admitted it in his press conference after the game! He knew and he did it anyway, just like his goddamn team has done time after time after time the last couple of seasons.
I mean, what can you say to that? What can you say that will make that okay? This was his moment, that one horrible, shameful, clownish moment that strikes every man who dares to try to coach this insipid franchise. This was the moment that Jim Schwartz went from embattled savior to just another punchline. This was the moment he lost Lions fans, the moment that he became Wayne Fontes, Darryl Rodgers, Rod Marinelli, Marty “Take the Goddamn Wind” Mornhinweg. This was the moment he was struck down fatally by Lions Disease, and it happened on national TV with every Lions fan – even the casual, casual ones who only watch on Thanksgiving – watching. This was the moment that crystalized who he was, for better or worse, in the minds of all of those fans and naturally, it was for worse, and when I say worse I mean it was about as worse as worse can get. He could have shit his pants, sat down and started weeping and his reputation wouldn’t have suffered as much as it did following that descent into petulance and madness. When people talk about him years from now, this is what they’ll talk about. This was his Take the Wind moment and hey, that might not be fair – it almost certainly isn’t given how damn miraculous is was that he dragged us from 0-16 to 10-6 – but that’s just the way this turd disguised as a cookie crumbles.
That sucks but it is what it is. It is what it goddamn is. And while that was just one moment in an admittedly exciting game, a game the Lions should have won a thousand times over and a game the Lions managed to lose a thousand and one times over and in a thousand and one different ways, that’s the one that everyone will remember.
There is a lot that people can be happy with in this game – the Lions led the whole way against a 10-1 team, they were physical, they broke out the big plays, St. Calvin nearly rose to heaven, and when Matthew Stafford wasn’t flipping it underhand while falling backwards to a wide open expanse of nothingness he was making the plays that make people coddle him and overlook and enable all of the aforementioned bullshit. Everything that we love – or want to love anyway – about this team was on display. But everything that we hate was there too and in the end, that outweighed everything else – yet again.
People will nitpick this shit to death, because that’s just what fans do, especially hyper-obsessive internet fans, but really what’s the point? We all know what the problems are, they’re pretty damn obvious by now, and now it’s just a matter of whether or not you have faith in the dudes in charge to fix it. Unfortunately the dude we’re supposed to have faith in just entered the Mornhinweg Zone and shit, that’s almost an impossible place to come back from, you know?
In the end, I’m just sort of sad, not necessarily because the Lions lost (after all, what’s one more loss in this lost world of a season?) but because this felt like the type of game that represented a tipping point, a “there’s no coming back from this” point, because the symbolism was just too perfect, the fuck-ups crystalized in a way that will hang over this team’s head until they either obliterate them in a way we’ve never seen a Lions team do or until somebody else comes along and fools our idiot hearts into believing in something better one more time. This was the type of game that defines a team, not just in the present but for the future as well. This is the type of game that becomes a ghost and follows the team around, a ghost that howls and whispers terrible things in their ears at the worst possible times, a ghost that ultimately breaks them and us and everything and everyone involved with this accursed franchise.
It’s been a hard season, a miserable season, the sort of season that puts fans down for good, but on Thanksgiving, one more time, I dragged myself out of the corner, mouth filled with blood, spinal fluid pouring out of my nose, and I dared the world to knock me out. And the world rose up before me, toyed with me for a while, and then it did.