in the june heat, the fire roars

>> 6.24.2009

The Grandmaster, speaking to the media yesterday.  Here’s the quote I’m both thrilled and fascinated by (a response to being asked if the fans are angry):

"It's hard to be angry at me, so I generally don't get that that. I don't know the best way to put it ... they're guardedly optimistic. I think when you put yourself out there, the way you do when you're a fan, when you expose your soul to rooting for your team and you get hurt time and time again, sometimes you have a tendency to hold back and not put yourself out as much. and not become as, you know, I don’t know a good way to put it, but not become as  . . . fanatical a fan.  Is that redundant?  “Fanatical a fan”?  But the one thing is, they keep stepping up.  They’re true football fans in this city; they’re excited about it.  Everywhere I go, I get positive, positive feelings from the fans here.”

When I saw this video for the first time, late last night, my eyes grew wide and my mouth slowly went open.  I played it again:

I think when you put yourself out there, the way you do when you're a fan, when you expose your soul to rooting for your team and you get hurt time and time again, sometimes you have a tendency to hold back and not put yourself out as much.

I’ve been following sports pretty closely for my entire life.  When I was in kindergarten, I took the sports section of the Free Press to bed with me.  When I was in first grade, I begged my mother to subscribe to Sports Illustrated for me—and she relented.  I’ve been consuming all the sports analysis I could get my hands on since before I had any adult teeth.  I don’t believe I’ve ever read, seen, heard, or heard of a coach or athlete “getting it” like this. 

Usually, professional athletes and coaches have a love/hate relationship with the fans.  They love the cheering and the adoration, but hate the irrationality, lack of understanding, and impatience.  At worst, they have a dismissive attitude—like Mike Golic’s recently-reprised rants against fans and superstition.  But what Jim Schwartz said in that little throwaway interview was absolutely spot on: he understands.  He understands what it’s like to be a fan!  He understands how hundreds of thousands—maybe even millions—of complete strangers are now looking to him to validate the countless hours and dollars spent weaving the success or failure of the Lions into the fabric of their daily lives.  He understands how we are constantly living and dying with this franchise: scouring the internet for news, watching all the TV and listening to all the radio, piping all the Twitter feeds to our cell phone, going to the forums and rehashing the same arguments over and over and over and over . . .  He knows we’re desperate for all of the suffering to pay off; we’re desperate to see returns on the massive emotional investment we’ve made in this franchise.

I’ve always thought that coaches and players, walking amongst the trees, can’t see the forest that they live in.  To the players, this is their job—a grinding, grueling, annualized slaughterhouse that demands incredible hours, body-breaking effort, mind-numbing amounts of memorization and regurgitation, and—oh yeah--all the politics and frustrations that come with any intensely competitive career field.  Imagine a law firm where promotions are based on the outcomes of inter-practice cage fights, and you’re close.  To coaches, this is a 70-, 80-, 90-, 100-hour-per-week obsession that haunts every waking and sleeping hour of their lives for about 46 weeks a year.  The amount of film study, gameplanning, whiteboarding, meetings, and player film sessions these coaches take on—on top of all the actual exercises, drills, and scrimmages they run—is incomprehensible to most fans.

When a receiver breaks off a route and the pass intended for him gets picked, fifty thousand fans boo the quarterback for throwing “another stupid interception”.  How can that man not recall the small forest that died to print the 800-page playbook he’s got memorized cold, and want to strangle all the yahoos in the stands calling for his backup?  Likewise, I don’t think are any jobs in our society where more brilliant, hardworking, well-qualified, and well-compensated individuals are called “idiots” and “morons” more often than NFL head coaches.  To them, the pissing and moaning of the laborers and lawyers, the griping and sniping of Joe the Plumber and John Q. Public, they couldn’t possibly matter less.

. . . and yet, here, in the sweltering June heat, is Jim Schwartz, head coach of the Lions.  With the bone-chilling cold of this past winter an impossibly distant memory, he's talking earnestly about how hard it is for fans to “expose their soul” to a team, only to get hurt again and again.  Could there be a better fit?  Is there a team that needs a man like him more?  Is there a group of fans more desperate for someone to understand the depth of their devotion, and the depth of their suffering?  Is there a coach more perfectly suited to stoke the blue flames, and melt the ice around Lions' fans hearts?  Has there ever been a coach brilliant and bold enough to rock the Frank Zappa moustache/soul patch combination?

I submit to you that the answer is no.


6 comments:

DrewsLions June 24, 2009 at 3:27 PM  

Ty,

I couldn't agree more. I thought the same thing as I heard that interview yesterday... the man simply gets it. He really, truly understands. He chose the exact wording and phrasing to a sentiment that I've never heard another coach or player convey. Most players or coaches don't understand that they are in a position every diehard fan wishes they were in... being a part of a professional sports team. Those of us who can't play or coach at that level become the next best thing... diehard fans. We live it and breathe it. Because these coaches and players get to actually live out our dreams, they don't understand our fanatical nature. Well, it seems Schwarz does in fact get it.

I'll truly be disappointed if Schwartz doesn't work out for Detroit. I think he is everything we need in a Head Coach and more. He's a guy's guy and an interesting, smart character that the Lions need right now. I've been wrong about many Lion's coaches in the past, but I'll say it again anyway... I just can't see him failing. I think Lions fans have a pretty bright future ahead.

Thanks,
Drewslions

Ty June 25, 2009 at 1:47 AM  

Drewslions--

You touched on something that I've been afraid to really explore. I didn't think Morninweg would be that great--but nothing could have prepared me for how awful his teams were. I KNEW Mariucci would be awesome, and was stunned when his teams weren't great either. Marinelli kind of "felt right", like the appropriate kind of hire to follow Mooch--from the polished, smooth, experienced, savvy, TV-friendly "glamour coach" to the asskicking Marine who once wrestled a bear. Lots of straight talk about fundamentals, execution, high effort, high energy . . . I was optimistic, I bought in, but my bar was still pretty low.

At this point, I've really kind of swooned for the Schwartz. My faith in him is unjustifiably high, given that his career record is still 0-0. However, his intelligence, approachability, and T-shirt-and-jeans-and-Metal image just fit right in with what I want the coach of the Lions to be. I'll be absolutely crushed if he doesn't coach the Lions to the playoffs, repeatedly, for the next decade.

Considering where he started from, those are truly ridiculous expectations--but hey, he's earned those expectations with his resume and (to this point) peformance. All that's left is for him to actually go out and win games.

Peace
Ty

Anonymous,  June 25, 2009 at 8:14 AM  

My honest hope is that people don't get too caught up in the hype and forget that this is still and 0-16 football team until proven otherwise.

I'd hate to see the Lions go 3-13 or 5-11 and that fans all go back to the same old same old.

If we are really going to give the Schwartz a chance, this year has almost got to be a free pass. As long as the team is improving, or looking like they are finally getting it, I could care about win's and losses this year.

Sure, I want the play-offs and a Super Bowl like everyone else. And it can't come too soon. But I also understand that it's going to take awhile to even come close to that. Unreasonable expectations are what always kills us as Lion's fans.

Jim Schwartz is the right coach for the team and I'm with you in swooning over the guy. Now we just have to keep things in perspective and let the guy work and build this team into something we can all be proud of.

Ty June 25, 2009 at 10:58 AM  

Anon--

You speak wisely. Of course, I am not going to actually expect "success" this year. I would think that after 0-16, three-to-five wins would be more than enough to satisfy the fans . . . of course, fans have a way of adjusting their expectations on a continuous basis. I remember 2007, where we came in thinking 7 or 8 wins--and then started 6-2 and suddenly people were thinking "Home field advantage in the playoffs!". Then the horrible run of losses, and people were ready to kill Marinelli--for winning 7 games, just what we "expected".

I think what people really want to see is a tough, competitive football team that plays 60 minutes and wins every once in a while. As long as that's what we're seeing on the field, I think Schwartz has at least this year as a grace period.

Peace
Ty

Scotty G June 25, 2009 at 12:35 PM  

I've had all kinds of problems w/ my laptop so I'll post while I can. Great article as always Ty. I totally agree w/ all.

For me, it started w/ the hiring of Swartz. To know that we have a "fans" coach if you will is encouraging to say the least. If the Lions have a decent record at all (4+ wins this yr and 7+ next) he will be a hero in this town. When the search was on for a new HC, people everywhere were saying "who the hell would want to coach in Detroit?"....while I was saying who the hell wouldn't. Do you inherit the best team available? of course not. But for a first time HC that can take this team nowhere but up in a state STARVED for respectability, how can you go wrong. He does and says all the right things. He's been preparing for this for years.

Last few HC's, Morningweig-full of himself and, while not a bad coach, not the best leader of men.

Mooch, No Young or Montana here....you get Oh no Jo Jo to mold. Again, full of himself and, imho, not as good of a coach as the record that preceded him.

Merinelli, wow. I don't think I've ever liked a guy more.....that was worse for his position. Never been a coordinator, game management was worse than terrible, let the media get under his skin (who wouldn't in his position though), couldn't adjust on the fly or at halftime, didn't know anything but the tampa two (a dying defense) and, most of all, he didn't know what it meant to be a head coach.

I believe Swartz to be the man for the job for all the reasons above and more. We have two former HC's for co-coordinators, a young, first time HC that knows his job and the fans disposition, an owner that actually cares and doesn't meddle in player decisions (contrary to popular belief), and an organization that is doing their best to appease the disgruntled fans...case in point...free jersey for me!

Summary, a really long way to say the Lions are doing all the right things. I think people will be jumping back on the bandwagon soon....and I'll be their to welcome them back.

GO LIONS!!!!!!!!!!

Ty June 25, 2009 at 10:53 PM  

Great post, Scotty; completely agreed "I think people will be jumping back on the bandwagon soon....and I'll be their to welcome them back."

You and me both, brother! Go Lions!

Peace
Ty

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