Maybe it’s a generational thing. There are a lot of football fans I know—especially those over 40--who won’t buy or wear jerseys. The typical line goes something like, “What kind of limp-wristed pansy wears a jersey with another man’s name on the back?” Others simply don’t like the look, or won’t spend the money. No matter your age, most put off buying a jersey because they're deathly afraid of being That Guy:sadly mothballing the jersey of the bust/flameout/druggie/woman abuser who looked so good a season or two before. Or worse, being THAT That Guy, walking around repping the loser anyway, maybe even getting enshrined on Straight Cash Homey.
Fans my age, 27, were growing up when wearing the jersey of your favorite player became legitimately fashionable. The “throwback” craze hit just as my generation was discovering the wonders of summer jobs and disposable income. It’s only natural that when I, a rabid Lions fan, reached college in 1999, I began my unintentional quest to be The King Of That Guy.
It started with a home Charlie Batch replica--right before Millen came in and changed the jerseys. Shortly thereafter, I added a Duce Staley (Eagles) home replica. After both players flamed out and went to the Steelers, I was desperately in need of a new jersey—both to rep a current player, and to get one of the new jersey style. My fellow Spartan, and acquaintance, Chuck Rogers happened to go #2 overall in the draft to the Lions--the question of who to rep had been answered. My then-girlfriend (now wife) surprised me on my birthday with an away “C. Rogers” #80 replica. It's still one of the best gifts I've ever recieved, even if it didn't turn out so hot. After we married, I picked up a home replica of her favorite Lion, Roy Williams, and a kids-size Kevin Jones home replica for our first daughter. When my son was born, we picked up a youth Mike Furrey home replica for my daughter, and my son inherited the Jones.
At this point, I desperately needed a new jersey, but wasn’t quite ready to take the plunge on a current Lion. I’d been planning on going big-time with an Ernie Sims authentic, but it was a pretty big investment on a player who took a pretty big step back after his rookie season. After winning a fantasy championship partially on the back of Chad Johnson, I went to a Reebok outlet sale and snagged a Bengals “Johnson” #85 home replica on the cheap. So, to review: as of Friday morning, I myself had four jerseys, my wife had one, and my kids had two. Of all of these jerseys, only one player has not left their depicted team in disgrace—and that guy HAS SINCE CHANGED HIS LAST NAME.
At the open practice tomorrow, the new-look Lions take their home field for the first time--all decked out with their new uniforms and new logo; I knew I couldn’t trot out the Chuck Rogers, or the peeling-numbered Batch “throwback”. As the Flamekeeper, the torchbearer, the self-appointed philosopher king of all true diehard Lions fans, I knew there was only one player I could in good conscience come bearing the livery of: Matthew Stafford. As much as I like Megatron, Kevin Smith, Julian Peterson, Cliff Avril, all those guys, Stafford is the franchise. He’s the quarterback, the field general, the spokesman, and the lynchpin of the entire organization.
Sure, there are a lot of naysayers, a lot of doubters, and a lot of obstacles to his success. But forget that. I’m throwing down the gauntlet. I’m investing my fandom—and my hard-earned jack--in this wunderkind. I said before the draft that if he’s the pick, we fans have got to support him the way we never supported Joey—and I’m not only going to support him, I’m picking up the banner and running. I hope that people see me, hand-in-hand with my wife and three kids, rocking the authentic Stafford, and think, “Wow, that guy must really believe.” And, maybe, possibly, then think “maybe I should, too.”
When I had this epiphany, I first obtained the blessing of my incredible (and incredibly understanding, and incredibly forgiving) wife. Then, I went to a Michigan-based collectibles chain called Legends Sports & Games, calling first to reserve one in my size. The employee working behind the counter, by appearances in his mid-40s, seemed almost bemused by my eagerness to score this shirt. He asked if I was a Lions fan, or just thought maybe they’d turn it around this year. My reply kicked off a nice little conversation about being a Lions fan, my blog, and the proper sizing of an authentic (the shoulders are cut to accept pads; going too big will have an effect not dissimilar to “princess sleeves”).
I asked him if he was a fan too, and he replied that he was--but after all the years of frustration, he was finding it hard to even try anymore. He looked at me and said, “Just give me something. Please, tell me these guys are going to do something worth watching this year.” I didn’t hesitate to reply in the affirmative, specifically that the defense will be incredibly aggressive. He smiled, said he hoped I was right, and proceeded to cut me a great deal on the jersey. That put a smile on my face, and—I hope—stoked the little blue flame in his heart.I likely won’t be posting again this weekend, but I do plan to be Tweeting updates from Ford Field all day long. So, if you aren’t coming, stay tuned to @lionsinwinter for live firsthand reports. If you are planning to be there, email me at email@example.com, and maybe I’ll see you there.