Monday, December 5, 2011

Howard Hughes, A Detroit Lions Inspiration

I watched The Aviator this weekend. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it (and you might want to skip the next few paragraphs, as there are small spoilers ahead). The film tells the story of movie producer and airline tycoon Howard Hughes. At the film's peak, Hughes (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) has just encountered a near-fatal plane crash during a test flight for a potential military plane. Upon failing to deliver the military plane he was contracted to create, the government deployed an investigation against Hughes, accusing him of war profiteering. The investigation included a very intrusive combing of his house and assets. This event triggered Hughes' already fragile mental state. His OCD got worse, he became increasingly paranoid, and eventually ended up locking himself in his own screening room for three months. At this time, a competing airline offered a proposition for Hughes: sell his airline and the investigation will go away. In other words, give up. Hughes proudly refused, but soon realized that he had been subpoenaed and will be forced to go in front of Congress despite his clearly psychological illness. If he failed to properly defend himself, he would lose everything: his company, his fortune and most-importantly to Hughes himself, his clean reputation. In fact, tabloids had already started to spread rumors that he was crazy, fatally ill or even dead. Everything was on the line for Hughes.

With a little help from his ex-girlfriend, Ava Gardner, Hughes composed himself. He left his recluse, he shaved his scraggly beard and fought off his debilitating compulsions. Hughes eventually showed in front of Congress, still slightly crippled from the plane crash. But, instead of acting like a victim, he countered by accusing a Senator of bribery and showed to the world that he is still a smart, cunning man. The investigation was dropped and Hughes' reputation was left unharmed. After the hearing, Hughes completed his greatest masterpiece: The enormous H-4 Hercules transport aircraft.

Hughes was able to overcome his severe mental illness and injuries sustained in a plane crash to save his company and his image. The Lions had a chance to do the same.

On Thanksgiving, the Lions plane crashed into the mountain, leaving them ailing, both mentally and physically. They lost the services of Chris Houston, Louis Delmas, and Kevin Smith. Ndamukong Suh lost his sanity, stomped a guy and left for Portland (where he proceeded to get into a more literal automobile accident). It didn't take long before the media started damaging the Lions' name.

But the Lions had the same opportunity to rebound and save their public image. For a second consecutive week, the Lions were forced to face the entire nation. They had the ideal opportunity to take down a powerful entity and change the discourse of the season, even if the public had already made up their mind. A Lions victory would put the Suh incident in the rear-view mirror and have the media start focusing their Lions' coverage on playoffs and not on reputation. The Lions could complete their own masterpiece: a three year journey from perfect imperfection to playoffs. Instead, they did the absolute opposite. They reinforced the negative public opinion, exposed their vulnerable psyche once again, and hurt their chances to ever recover.

What was amazing about last night's meltdown was that, despite the numerous errors in the first three quarters of the game, the Lions STILL had the opportunity to control their destiny. Down only seven and now getting the ball, Stefan Logan returned a punt to the Lions' 33-yard line. But, again, the Lions' mental illness reared its ugly head and Logan lost the team 15 yards with a flick of a ball. The Lions proceeded to drive down the field, only to stall and miss a 55-yard field goal. Probably could have used those 15 yards there. In the end, the Lions' handicap cost them over 100 yards in penalties and, likely, a win. Additionally, they laid out the blueprint for defeating the Lions: frustrate them, then sit back and watch the impending psychological meltdown.

In the final scene of The Aviator, Hughes is celebrating the flight of his amazing Hercules. In the midst of handshaking, toasting and planning for his future successes, his compulsions begin to seep through his core, proving he can never fully escape who he is. Hughes' assistants quickly escort him out of public view and salvage his image once again. The Lions, too, cannot (and should not) escape their true identity. They are a tough, angry team, and there's no escaping that. But Jim Schwartz needs to do his part in concealing the truth. He needs to follow through with his promise and escort mentally ill players to the bench, before it ruins Schwartz's reputation and organization.

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