Sunday, September 8, 2013

Gameday on a Foggy Horizon

It's gameday.

It's currently 7:20 AM Sunday morning. I'm going on a little over five hours of sleep. My body is tired from late-night shenanigans. My mind is tired from the circus that is Michigan vs. Notre Dame. But I barely feel any of it, because in three hours, the Lions will be taking the field.

I've largely ignored the Lions on this site lately. Much of the reason for this is my disdain the offseason, and more specifically, offseason football articles. It's all largely a waste of time arguing over mock drafts, power rankings and the significance of preseason. None of this has any bearing on the season and none of it is actually football.

But, if I'm being honest, that isn't my entire reasoning for ignoring the Lions. Truthfully, I'm pretty nervous about this year. My typical cheery preseason optimism has instead been a blurry, wandering mess. I still can feel myself getting excited and thinking of all the "what if..." scenarios, but I'm quickly smacked back to an impending feeling of doom. It all began after the first preseason game. While the results of the actual game were quite meaningless, the post-game analysis from the two Lions bloggers I respect the most had me down.

First, Neil of the former Armchair Linebacker, now called Talk Hard, hurled this dagger through the hearts of the cheery after the first preseason game:
Prior to that 2008 season, everyone was all optimistic and pounding their chests and talking playoffs and I felt like the only dude in the world sitting there saying “Uh… what the fuck?”  I hated that team, I hated Rod Marinelli and all his bullshit and of course I hated Matt Millen.  They were full of shit and I knew it.  I am treading on some dangerous ground here but, uh, well… here it is: I have lost faith, completely, in both Jim Schwartz and Martin Mayhew.
While I'm not quite there with Schwartz and Mayhew, just reading those words tapped into a growing sense of hatred and mistrust of the two. Like a reverse-Grinch, my heart grew smaller and smaller and the thoughts of firing the entire front office game me a small, but distinct, amount of pleasure.

Then Ty Schalter, who Bleacher Report picked up in the offseason, added fuel to the fire.
Throughout the offseason, I’ve fought the impression that this is going to be a tantalizing but unsatisfying “sim year,” one we’d simulate though if we were playing on Madden. There are too many young and inexperienced players in key roles, too many question marks yet unanswered, and too little proof that Matthew Stafford has enough rapport with anyone besides Calvin Johnson to take his game (or the Lions) to the next level.

Though this team has more than enough talent to make the playoffs, and my faith in the coaching staff is still strong, nothing I saw on Friday looks significantly better than in 2012—or 2011, for that matter.
That last line especially rang true from me. As I watched the rest of the preseason, all I could see was the 2012 Lions. Dropped passes, Stafford miscues, mental mistakes. It was all there. Hearing it from the typically optimistic Schalter filled me with dread.

But, screw that.

This is the first week of the season, damnit. Anything can happen. Just because it never does for the Lions, doesn't mean it can't.

This is the one time of year it's acceptable to be optimistic as a Lions fan. What good is it to lower your head, kick the dirt and mutter something about hiring Bill Cowher next year? The Lions are 0-0, tied for the lead in the NFC North, and have a chance to get a big division win right off the bat.

There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic. The Lions are filled with a talented roster. They have a back with big-play abilities again. They have a bunch of young starters on defense with endless potential. And they are the healthiest team going into the season.

While the NFC North remains tough, there are undeniable chinks in the Lions' division rivals' armor. The Bears are dealing with a coaching turn-around and an inconsistent Jay Cutler. The Packers have plenty of questions on defense and are one injury away from starting a piece of cheese at quarterback. The Vikings are likely due for regression this year, albeit a small one. The window of opportunity is slightly ajar. If you allow yourself to see it, it's there. 

I know this may just be an effort to drown my realistic concerns in an ocean of Honolulu Blue Kool-Aid, but who the hell cares? You may think that by bringing optimism to the table I'm just setting myself up for failure. Well, you're probably right. But I've stopped caring about making myself vulnerable. All I know is failure. I've survived failure. I can accept failure. Failure hasn't killed me yet.

What I won't accept is surrender. Not in September. I won't accept Mock Drafts for 2014 that already have the Lions in the top 10 again. I won't accept talk of the Lions new head coach or articles looking for Mayhew's potential replacements. And I sure as hell won't accept any season predictions that have the Lions placing last in their division.

As long as there is no asterisk by the Lions' name in the standings notating their mathematical impossibility of playoffs, this is my team, damnit, and I will believe. The minute I stop believing is the minute I give up the Lions, forever. I can't be one of those people that throws up their hands and says, "Enough. I will not have my Sundays ruined. I quit this team." Because when the Lions eventually turn it around, and they will, I refuse to be one of those cowards crawling back to their team hoping for forgiveness. However long the storm, I will weather it. I've come this far, anyway. I've lasted through every imaginable disappointing season and as Skyler White said last week, "What's one more?"

There's plenty of room aboard the Lions bandwagon. I implore you, close your eyes, plug your ears and hop aboard. You know you can't resist it.

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