If the concept of "Lions fandom" had a face, this is what it would look like.
The thing about being a Lions fan is that you get used to having to constantly recalibrate your expectations and goals – and when I say “recalibrate” what I really mean is “downgrade.” As awful as it is, we’re used to it. It’s the only way to survive as a Lions fan without being driven completely into an insane nether world of the soul where Failure Demons gnaw at your liver and the Ghosts of Failures Past all rattle their chains and then choke you out with them while you weep and beg the bad man to make it stop. You have to stick and move, play little shell games with your own mind and convince yourself that up is down and black is white and that little things – idiotic, self-contained goals that are meaningless other than in a symbolic sense – are what truly matter. Because, year after year, season after season, death march after death march, all we really have are symbols and meaningless tests of manhood and the scraps of our obliterated pride.
And so going into the game against the Packers, in the frozen hell of Lambeau Field, that blasted and barren plain where so many have died, where the corpses of shattered pride have come to rest year after year after year, I did what so many Lions fans did and made a solemn plea, spoken only to my own heart, and asked “Please.” Simply . . . please. In this year in which we have lost so much, in this year in which we dared to dream and were decapitated by fell beasts with swords made of our own suffering as we tried desperately to scramble up the beaches of the Promised Land, all we had left – all we have left – is that familiar battle for meaningless symbolism. And it is because it is meaningless that it has come to mean everything. In the absence of all else, in the absence of meaning, all that we have left to cling to is the meaningless, to root for abstract concepts like pride and honor, words that don’t mean a whole hell of a lot when you’re 4-8 and staring down a vintage season from hell. But in the blasted wasteland of our souls, a wasteland made all too real in Lambeau Field, we cling to vestiges of meaningless words and the ghosts of abstract concepts that mock us with meaning that stretches forever just beyond our reach, turning us into poor Tantalus, forever trying to drink from forbidden waters. And in the end, even though it’s just a sip, just a taste, something so small and absurd and insignificant that others would shrug their shoulders or laugh at our struggle, in the absence of all else, that struggle, that tiny little sip is all we have and it means everything. When all else fails, when the world crumbles and breaks beneath our feet, when possibility narrows and leaves us suffocating in a fetid and collapsed tunnel of our own disappointment and naked terror, the one thing – the one goddamn thing – we always have left is the possibility, no matter how remote, that we can finally watch our team beat the Green Bay Packers in that godforsaken wasteland known as Lambeau.
It is such a fragile thing, such a delicate and barely tethered to reality idea, that it was impossible for me to even talk about out loud before the game. To even admit that it was there, to even admit that I wanted it so very badly, would threaten its very existence, would remind me that it was all I had left to look forward to, that if this barely breathing symbolic dream was somehow smothered and then died that I would have to search for new battles, for new symbols, for new meaningless wars to wage, and goddammit, I am tired of having to do that. I’m tired. So very tired. I’m tired of having to create new reasons to keep going, to keep watching, to keep caring. The heart of my fandom wants to die. It wants to quit beating. It wants to give out and tell me to go do something else, like hunting hobos or writing poetry about aardvarks or something, anything other than forcing my corpse like a zombie through the halls of fandom one more time only to see it obliterated by failure and then picked apart by vultures from hell. This is what it means to be a fan of the Detroit Lions for a lifetime. It is a sentence, not a gift.
This is all very depressing but then again, so is being a fan of this shitbird franchise. Last night, I even decided to do other things – ridiculous things – that at least made me feel happy while I DVR’d the game. That kind of detachment is dangerous, warning signs from a heart that’s had to deal with way, way too much stress in a lifetime of misery and abuse. But before you freak out on me, just know this – by the end of the Lions first drive, I had the game on live again because I am a goddamn addict and I don’t listen to my heart and one day that heart will explode and the fan in me will die a ridiculous and ugly death, I will poop myself and that will be that. I will ride this thing to the fuckin’ grave because in the end, not knowing, not caring, is even harder than the knowing and the caring. And that’s because deep down, in a place that I have no control over, I am utterly helpless and I am so inextricably tied to this idiot team, this horrible shitty franchise, that to simply cease to care is unfathomable. You might as well ask me to quit breathing.
The game itself was awful in the same way that all of the games have been awful this season. There is no point in breaking it down, in asking what went wrong or why, because we all know what went wrong. We all know why. It is the same story, week after week after miserable week. Slamming our heads against the wall one more time in the hopes that somehow we can piece the goo that was our brains back together into something coherent and sane and illuminating is not going to help us at all. No, instead all we have is a sort of stunned and belligerent bewilderment, a vague disbelief constantly struggling with an insane and volcanic sort of rage. In one moment we are moaning “Whyyyyyy?” like Nancy Kerrigan after getting clubbed in the knee and the next we are saying and thinking and feeling the vilest shit a dude or lady dude can say or think or feel. This team breaks our heart, again and again, and we hate it so goddamn much because we love it, because it has the capacity to shatter us like that. Jim Schwartz hasn’t caused so much vitriolic disdain because we think he’s just a useless turd or a worthless coach, but because his utter failure this season has been such a vicious betrayal of everything we believed about him and about his team. Perhaps that isn’t fair and perhaps it says more about us than it does him or this team – it almost certainly does and that’s the tragedy of it all, the reason why this damn thing always feels so hard. Every loss, every failure is magnified by the horrors of the past, and it’s why we sizzle like helpless ants underneath that magnifying glass while the universe laughs and tortures us like the cruel child holding it. Jim Schwartz and this Lions team are caught up in something much bigger, much more horrible and much more tragic than themselves. This is not about them but about us. But this is just the way it is, and their failures, magnified though they may be into something warped and monstrous, remain failures all the same.
So where do you go when your hope lies shattered and the last vestiges of a symbolic triumph lay smoldering on the wasteland behind you while vile heathen natives wearing cheese on their heads dance to awful Todd Rundgren songs and mock your sorry ashes? Well, you do what you always do, you somehow clamber back to your feet like a zombie and you lurch into the horizon, searching for brains and for a new symbolic battle to fight. It’s already happening now. We look at our remaining schedule and we see the opportunity to play spoiler to the Bears, to ruin their playoff dreams, and we groan BRAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIIIINNNNNNNNNSSSSSSSS and off we go.
This is what it means to be a Lions fan. Understanding this is an exercise in naked horror, and yet understanding it is vital to keeping yourself from falling into the pit of madness and despair that lies at the heart of places like MLive or the talk radio circuit. You have to make at least a measure of philosophical peace with the horrible truth. You just have to. You don’t have to like it – hell you can hate it and kick and scream about it – but you have to at least reconcile yourself with its abominable truth. The alternative is to simply cease to care, and when there is a part of you that takes that option completely off the table, that refuses to quit caring, all you have left is, well . . . the grim recognition of a horrible truth, which at least gives you something to work with. You can do something with that, pivot around it, stay just far enough in front of it that it doesn’t consume you completely.
I am rambling, but such is my wont. In the end, I suppose all I have come to say is that deep in my idiot heart I really, really wanted to beat the Packers, not because it means anything in terms of playoff races or momentum or anything like that, but simply because in its absence of meaning it meant everything. It was a symbolic crusade in a world gone mad, a lonely old knight tilting at windmills, not even sure what to hope for, what to believe in, but finding something, anything really, just to keep going one more day, one more game.
That is what we have left as Lions fans in this season of despair. That is what we have left as fans of a franchise that has redefined the concepts of failure and despair in the world of sport. One more day, one more game, and then when that day and that game end the same way they have all seemingly ended for the last 55 years, the way they have all ended before you were even born, when your parents were babies and your grandparents were you, looking out over a world spread before them, hoping and dreaming the same way you do, you scrape yourself off of the earth and you look to the next day and to the next game and you keep doing this and you keep doing this and you keep doing this because it is all you know, because it is what it means to be human, to push forward with an indomitable spirit, with an unbreakable sense that someday, someday, someday either the world will reward you or it will end in a monstrous fireball, but you will not end first. And this is what it means to be a fan of the Detroit Lions.