I was angry. The Lions were playing the Arizona Cardinals, at home, and it was 27-7. They were going to lose the game, and it was going to drop them to 0-5 for the year. It was another embarrassing loss to add to the resume of a team that already had plenty. I had received tickets from my mother, who chose the game as some type of bonding experience for us. It was not working. I was angry, and I wanted to leave.
“They could still come back. I paid lots of money for these tickets.”
My mother stood there, pleading with me. She had season tickets with my father, and my dad couldn’t make the game, so she had asked me to come with her. She wanted me to stay and watch the Lions finish losing. It was an “Eat all the food on your plate” situation. Maybe they would score a couple of points and make the score look a little more respectable by the end (they did manage that at least). It was over for me though. I was done with the 2015 Detroit Lions. They didn’t care, so why should I?
“Arizona scored again. It’s 34-7. I want to leave.”
My mom looked at me again. She is a Lions fan too. She texts me during games to ask me what is going on, because she hides in the bathroom, unable to watch. She hates watching Stafford get hit. She hates watching the way defenders hit Calvin in the legs every time. She has been a nurse for many years, and she knows what kind of toll it takes on them. She finally relents, and we head towards the exit. We aren’t the only ones. We follow the parade of people exiting the stadium, down Adams Street towards our car.
If you know anything about Detroit, you know that homeless people are allowed sanctuary on church steps. Any foray into the city will give you glimpses of them. Sometimes you see a bag of clothing and a blanket laying near a bench, the owner off trying to gather the necessary items to survive for another day. A lot of times you see people panhandling, dressed as military veterans with off color camo uniforms, or holding signs with forlorn messages, hands outstretched.
You pass a few churches walking away from the stadium down Adams Street. On one, a homeless toothless woman sat with her can for change. “Did we win?” she asked, genuinely curious.
“Oh. Well, they will get them next time. Did Levy play?”
“No, he is sill hurt.”
“Damn. Well, they still have a shot at the playoffs.”
I dropped some quarters in her can and kept walking, my mother trailing behind. I had been angry, but now I was just sad. A homeless woman sat on church steps, asking me detailed questions about million dollar athletes playing a game in a stadium right down the street. She cared about them. With all of her other problems and worries in life, she still cared.
Detroit is as much of a football city as Pittsburgh, or Baltimore, or Boston, or New York. Yes it is a wounded beast, but that beast is a giant. The people that live near the city spend money to pack the stadium year after year to watch the Lions. All for a moribund franchise that has won nothing of note since Detroit was a shining beacon of the middle class in our country. We deal with other cities who look down on ours, as if it is somehow each of our fault that the car companies our city was founded on outsourced all the manufacturing jobs to cheaper places. We see the smirks from Chicagoans, or the complete disregard from the national media when anything Detroit sports is involved. For any sport other than football, we endure it, because our sports teams have been good. The Red Wings are the model franchise in the NHL, the Tigers have been consistent World Series contenders, and the Pistons have won three modern era championships. We can deal with the condescension, and the national media neglect, because bad things don’t happen to those teams. When they are not doing well, we don’t worry because they find ways to right the ship and come back.
That is obviously not the case with the Lions. We have seen two true star players here, Calvin Johnson and Barry Sanders. Both will have retired early. Neither will have won anything of note. Sometimes we wish the good ones, like Calvin, would leave just for a shot at a championship. Some wanted the same for Barry in his career. We have lived through 0-16, through Mornhinweg and Joey and Mooch and Marinelli and Millen. Through our defensive coordinator trying to order fast food, naked and drunk. Through our team president getting a DUI. Through all of it with an owner who was too patient, too kind, and represented everything that Detroit was, and not what it is now.
Some people watch sports for fun. Those of us who live in this area, we watch sports to allow them to transport us to a different place. We don’t watch to have those sports remind us of the jeers and the condescension. The haughty remarks made by people who don’t live here, who don’t know and don’t care. The Lions are the embodiment of everything wrong with our cities here, and we hate that about them.
We still come, and we still watch. The one thing about us here is that we can hope like no one else in this country. We believe, every year, that this is the year we win. This is the year the league stops treating us like a laughing stock, and we get fair calls during games, even when we play the chosen few franchises. This is the year that our quarterback becomes elite, and shows the rest of the world that fuck you, Detroit has a guy who is just as good if not better than your guy. This is the year that people stop leaving, and jobs come back, and we can drink our fucking water without worrying that it is actively destroying our brains.
These are the reasons we love the Lions, and the reasons we hate them. These are the reasons we keep going to games, keep watching them, keep caring about these athletes who live in an entirely different world that we do. We want to shove a finger in the chest of someone from Seattle, or Denver, or Chicago, or New York, and say “Fuck you, and your city, and your clean air and clean water and your jobs and your money, our guys kicked your guys ass, and there is nothing you can do about it”.
I was at a Monday Night Football game against Chicago in 2011. It was the first Monday Night game Detroit had gotten in a long while. The stadium was electric, but you could feel the restraint, the excited desperation. Everyone was waiting for something. In the third quarter our young running back, Jahvid Best, burst away from the entire Bears defense for an 88 yard touchdown. The place went insane. The foundation at Ford Field was literally shaking. We saw a glimpse of what Detroit could be as a fan base that day. That was a day where hope met expectation, and everyone could revel together in a win over a city which by every conceivable measure was better than ours. A day where we could say sure, you have a better education system, a better job market, more people, but we kicked your stupid Bears stupid ass at football. It didn’t even matter that Brandon Marshall went on a morning show and trashed Detroit. Scoreboard, bitch!
So we enter the 2016 league year. The giant still slumbers, wounded countless times and bleeding. But we aren’t dead. We are still here, still ready for the year that it comes together for OUR guys. The year that we can walk into the room with all the “haves” in our goodwill purchased suit without an invitation and take a big steaming shit right on their kale garnished filet mignon. The year we can finally say, Fuck you. We win. We beat you, without your help, without your money, without your sympathy or time. We did it ourselves, and now you can say whatever the fuck you want about us. We don’t care anymore.