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.