This morning, I woke up to the sounds of my alarm failing to go off. The morning sun was warming through the miniblinds, the cats were pawing at the basement door, and my eldest child was sneaking around the house doing things she knows she's not allowed to do. Typically, waking up like this means I'm already well past late for work, and the day will be an exercise in futility and frustration, of running behind and losing my head. Today, however? Today was different.
It's spring. The sun comes up earlier these days--and with it, come the early rays and the chirping birds, the joggers and the potholes. Today was the first weekday where I made it all the way out to the car without ever once considering wearing a coat. In fact, I had to go back into the house to fetch my money clip from said coat--and opted to leave the coat right where it sat.
I twisted the keys in the ignition, and as my mount quickly purred to life, it hit me: four months ago, nearly to the day, I started this blog. In some ways, that day was the complete opposite of today--yet in other ways, it was exactly the same.
"When I walked out the door into the early morning darkness, the wind was a stinging, bitter smack to the face. After a warm and lovely holiday weekend, where most of the near-foot of accumulated snow and ice melted off, last night Winter came roaring back. A silvery sheen of frost and ice glazed over everything, including my car. After cranking the engine, I began the routine: hacking, scraping, brushing, and scouring the exterior glass--while my car desperately tried to maintain a series of small fires inside a solid metal block chilled to a temperature well below freezing. With the grueling work done, I collapsed into the driver's seat. It was then that the voice on the local sports talk radio station smacked me in the face with an even colder reality: I'm a Lions fan."
At that moment, it was the morning after a landmark in Lions (and NFL) history. It was the nadir; it was rock bottom. The edges of the winter wind cut and sliced my skin like thorns, yet didn't hurt half as badly as the 0-16 knife in my chest. That bitter, freezing day smacked me in the face, and then kicked me in the stomach. This morning, however? It was the morning after the new start. There were buds on the trees, daffodils already in bloom. This morning was the first day of the spring, the first day of the new Lions. Then first day of the Matt Stafford era.
Yes, the Matt Stafford era. The Lions chose to make Georgia quarterback Matt Stafford the face of the Lions for at least the next four years--and paid him at least $41.2 million do it. On a team with few--possibly no--veteran leaders, Stafford will look to fill the huge power vacuum in the huddle. He'll also need to fill the huge performance vacuum under center. The Lions have not had consistently good quarterback play . . . well, ever. But beyond that, Stafford and the Lions are now incontrovertably bound together. From this day forward, no matter who you wanted the Lions to draft #1 overall, no matter how you felt about the contract, no matter what you think about Stafford's chances at the next level: if you are a Lions fan you will root for this kid's success with everything you have. If he succeeds, the Lions will be contenders every single year for the next decade or more. If he fails, the Lions might well have to have yet another regime change at the top, and we'll all be in for another six more years of winter.
As far as the rest of the draft goes, the Lions did what they said they would do: they drafted for talent, not need. They took the highest-rated player on their board, except for when they made (brilliant) trades back for more picks. They drafted like they had a clean sheet of paper from which to start, and--especially on day one--they took the rest of the NFL to school on how drafting the best players is done. They didn't draft to reach for 2009 needs--they knew that the Week 1 roster for 2009 was going to have holes in it no matter who they drafted this weekend. Most importantly, they took players that everyone agreed on. The scouts, coaches, and front office folks came together to draft players that will never be anyone's pet project or sacred cow. These players will all get plenty of opportunity to compete, and all will ultimately be judged by their efforts when granted those opprtunities. As I've already said, in two or three years, when other teams' fans review other teams' 2009 drafts, these Lions are going to be named over and over and over as the players those other teams "could have had". To me, that alone speaks volumes about the change in direction, change in execution, and change in the weather. That's not to say we won't see stormy days--we will, and sooner rather than later. But it comes down to this, what I said four months ago:
"I'm a fan. I was born a fan, and I will die a fan. The hooting and derision of the American sports culture has set my resolve. I'm sick of getting snickers on the football-y corners of the Internet. I'm sick of getting reaction takes when I wear Lions gear around town. I've thought about starting this blog for years, but this morning I knew that today was the day. I've pulled my hood tight, I've loaded up the sled with wood, and I've got fuel and spark to spare. I'm going to reclaim my Lions pride. I'm going to fan that little blue flame into the great big bonfire it ought to be, and nobody's going to be prouder than me when thousands are once again carrying torches to rally behind this team."