Please take a few minutes to watch this short film. It's a message to the International Olympic Committee, touting Detroit's bid for the 1968 Summer Games. I'll pause for a moment to allow for the leveraging of jaws up from the floor, the application of hankies to lone tears on cheeks, and the removal of cotton from ears--apparently, public speaking was not Mayor Cavanaugh's strong suit.
Now, to remind those reading this: I was born in Lansing, in 1981, and have lived and worked within 15 minutes of the Capitol ever since. I neither saw nor knew nor loved the Detroit portrayed in this film. In fact, that Detroit wasn't quite what residents of the time saw or knew or loved either--this was, of course, an advertisement for the city to the world; little things like the '67 riots were not exactly going to play a feature role. Any native of the Motor City will also note that an eighteen-minute movie about Detroit that contains just three seconds of snow is disingenuous at best.
Still, it's jaw-dropping to see how far the city has fallen in forty years. "Mammoth" Cobo Hall, then newly built and gleaming in the sun, is now struggling to get the renovation and expansion it needs to stay relevant. The gorgeous beach so prominently featured as the centerpiece of a "water wonderland", now is oftenclosed to the public, thanks to E. Coli. A native could probably watch this film and, off the top of their head, point out what has since been closed, condemned, or diminished. The "Renaissance" underway during those days led not to a vibrant and contemporary center of commerce, but a vibrant and contemporary candy shell of suburbs coating a rotten core of unemployment, crime, and bombed-out buildings. I have neither the firsthand experience, nor the secondary education necessary to tell you what went wrong along the way--but here we are. Detroit--both the city itself, and the auto industry it's synonymous with--is the loss leader for our nation's recession, and the butt of jokes nationwide.
The Lions find themselves in the same unenviable position. Coming off the worst season in the history of the NFL, the Lions have duly been christened the Worst Team of the Decade by NBC Sports. They've been rated an absolutely heinous 65 overall in Madden 2010. They're slotted no higher than 31st in any major media outlet's preseason power rankings--and I suspect Peter King was just baiting Cleveland fans. What does this mean, other than another discouraging fall of getting whipped in Madden by 12-year-olds abusing me with the Colts and Steelers?
It means that those people haven't been paying attention. It means that those people haven't noticed the changes. It means that those who make the easy joke or the out-of-hand dismissal haven't gotten down on their hands and knees to find the little green shoots and saplings popping out of the ground left and right. Sure, it's easy to look at the deserted high-rises and 31-81 and write Detroit off. It's easy to crack wise about bailouts and wideouts and Pintos and BMWs.
What's hard is the New York Post descending into "hell" to find out that:
"Detroiters, quite simply, are people people. No visitor ever need be a stranger here, unless they want it that way. Stick around and, pretty quickly, you'll be longing for the day when you could just sneak around without being recognized. Most of the time, you don't even need introductions -- simply showing up makes you part of the gang. Everyone wants to know how you got there. At times, you feel like you're in a small town in Japan, except there are fewer schoolgirls pointing at you and giggling . . . Everywhere you go in Detroit, you automatically have one thing in common with the people around you: You're here and alive and making the best of a city that so many people long ago left for dead. As conversation starters go, it doesn't get much better than that."
What's hard is Pat Kirwan going through the Lions' staff and roster, position-by-position, to find out that he's actually optimistic about the Lions; that there's a "light at the end of the tunnel". What's hard is not looking at the recent past and describing what you see--but examining the present, sifting through the dirt, bagging up the trash, gathering seeds of truth, and sowing them. What's hard is looking at a sapling, the earth it grows in, and the air around it, and imagining if it will grow into a tall and healthy tree. What's even harder is coming back with a watering can and a bag of fertilizer . . .
Too often, we take the easy way out. Too often, we boo and hiss. Too often, we say "let them die". Too often, we trample on the little green shoots that might replace the forest that once was. But I have hope that this team, these Lions, will not only restore our faith and pride in the team, but be a catalyst for the continuing rebirth of the city. Maybe Detroit will never be the gleaming nexus of international commerce and leisure portrayed in that video, and maybe the Lions will never be a multiple-title-winning dynasty of dynasties. But, I'll be thrilled when I can to take my kids to see a Lions game, watch a good team play hard, and then enjoy good food and good fun in a healthy city.