Monday, December 17, 2012

When It Stops, Nobody Knows

My posse and I at the Cardinals game. I'm the handsome one.

This week I return to Ford Field for the first time in four years. The last time I took that stroll down Adams street, the Lions lost their 12th straight game to the Vikings. I remember the cold walk to the car. Ass-to-elbow with my fellow fans. Everyone yelling obscenities and calling for anybody's head. There was chaos, there was anarchy, it was Armageddon and we were walking down the steps of hell to our eventual damnation.

Those were the easy days.

If you're a frequent reader, you know that I'm not the banner-waving type. Rarely do I raise my voice during games. I deal with my frustrations by growing intensely silent and blocking out everything around me. So when walls of Ford Field were crumbling in 2008, I kept my head down, kept walking and let the city devour itself as I attempted to comprehend what was going on in the depths of my inner madness.

It's been awhile since I've felt that way. Even though this season has been wildly turbulent, including heart-devouring losses on a near-weekly basis, I never felt the sort of empty, hopelessness of 2008.

But as I walked away from University of Phoenix Stadium, bathed in gold from the setting sun, all those familiar feelings bowled over me like towering waves. After losing to a team on a nine-game skid, the Lions were once again the joke of the league, and I was wearing the jester's uniform.
After all the tough calls, bad breaks, and unlikely plays, I figured we had taken all the punishment we could physically withstand. The Lions season, after all, was by all means "over." There were no real stakes, and no rewards to be won. The winner of this game gets to be 5-9 with no chance of any real accomplishments. But this team still finds ways to have the ground fall out from beneath us. With the seat under Jim Schwartz warming at an exponential rate, I needed the Lions to not only beat the Cardinals (whose lack of talent is alarmingly obvious) I needed them to destroy them. I needed faith to be restored in the hearts of Lions fans. But I also needed it to restore my OWN faith, my own sanity, which has been despite the mounting losses had remained impressively intact. Instead, I got a first row seat* to...whatever the hell that was.

Surviving an 0-16 season is easy. Aside from the occasional assholes, you get all the sympathy from outsiders. The fan-base isn't broken and cannibalistic. Everyone bonds together knowing that we've collectively hit rock bottom and that change and brighter days were ahead.

But when you have the added weight of expectations, the highs are higher and the lows are lower. Each win feels huge and meaningful, while each defeat feels like a season-ender. Small successes bring delusions of grandeur and invincibility, while losses send strong-willed men into the depths of insanity. And when your expectations are inevitably unfulfilled, no one bats an eye of sympathy. You're just one of tens of casualties to the tumultuous NFL.

But the most maddening aspect of a team with expectations is the unknown. When you're the worst team in the league, that's an easy thing to grasp. It's an absolute. it's irrefutable, undeniable. It's something terrible, but its something real, and true. It's something we can grasp and physically claim as ours.

But when you're 4-10, fresh off a 10-6 season, you know nothing. What is the teams' true talent level? What record SHOULD they be? Who is to blame? How are we going to be next year? I thought I knew most of these answers four months ago, but now I am lost, quietly walking another fiery road of defeat as the world screams in panic and agony. Does the path lead to another pit of despair? Is it just a detour of our journey to peace, love and glory? I have no answers, and that feels so much worse than anything.

As Matthew Stafford hopelessly tried to lead the Lions to one last, meaningless score, my posse stood in stunned silence. As waves of red and blue passed us, almost assuredly looking for some sort of reaction, we kept our gaze forward. Wanting to scream, but being unable to break through the overwhelming sense of defeat and depression, we just looked ahead, hoping we had finally seen the bottom of the pit. 

We may have finally reached the final ring of hell, but who's to say the floor we currently stand on won't give out next week or even next year? But maybe this is just what being a Lions fan is: surviving the falls, pulling ourselves back to our feet only to plunge further and deeper. I just don't know anymore.


  1. Really it makes you question your whole affinity for the sport. Why do we care so much? The Lions determine my mood on Mondays. Twisted and sad, sure.
    The expectations are one thing, but the fact that the problems are so difficult to figure out is worse. 0-16 was kinda ok because the team was terrible. It was all so intelligible.
    This is not.

    1. Exactly. 0-16 is something you cannot fathom happening, but something you can easily understand after-the-fact.

      But this is frustrating and puzzling. I don't know whether we're doomed to the mediocrity of the 90s or if this is a bump in the road or if we're headed to something much, much worse. The not knowing is causing something much worse than the helplessness of 0-16: cannibalism. We can't agree on the problem nor the solution, so we turn on ourselves. We blame each other and the players we loved no longer than five months ago. Our hero GM is transforming into the reincarnation of Millen. Our coach had his "taking the wind" moment. Everyone hates everyone else and it sucks. I hate it.