the blue fire still burns

>> 9.17.2009

With the news that the Lions have been granted a 24-hour extension to the sellout deadline (typically only approved when there is a deal in place with a sponsor to purchase the remaining seats), it is a virtual certainty that Lions fans within a 75-mile radius of Ford Field will be able to see the first home game of the New Lions.  I have to say, it’s a source of incredible pride for me as a fan—as hard as the bitter winds of 0-16 blew, the little blue flame was not extinguished.

At ProFootballTalk, I saw this post about the blackout, and scanned the comments. There, amongst thirty or forty nincompoops pointing out one typo, was this little gem:

I live here in Jacksonville and I just read about 10 different posts that ask what's going on down here? The fact of the matter is that people believe they don't have to buy tickets to have their own franchise. They believe that sitting at home watching the game is helping just as much as attending the game at the stadium. There are also a lot of younger people who already believe the franchise has been lost. We can attribute that to 15 years in the league and no SuperBowl. Its tough to even bring up the Jaguars here locally because people don't think they'll even be here much longer. Its a sad time. I remember when the AFL"s Jacksonville Bulls were here. I sat in the same stadium enjoying every minute of it. Now, many years later, I am thankful that we have a team as extraordinary as the Jaguars. It must be unfathomable about what we're experiencing here right now but its nothing that can be fixed overnight. 17,000 Unsold Tickets is PRODIGIOUS!! That's a sign as to what's to come. Again, from someone that lives here, its a sad, sad day.

Somehow, this fan's tale of woe doesn't exactly bring me to tears. "We can attribute that to 15 years in the league and no Super Bowl"? Seriously?

The Jaguars were incepted in 1996, made the playoffs in 1997, and in fact have made the playoffs in fully six of their fourteen years of existence. The Jaguars have even artificially reduced the capacity of their stadium to try and avoid the Blackout Reaper, to no avail. This is not the fault of a team's inability to perform.  It's the fault of overoptimistic expansion into a fairly small TV market with no real downtown; it's the fault of putting a new team in a state with two other teams and three major college football programs.

It’s the fault of a "fan base" that has no love in their soul.

With Lions fans, our team is part of who we are. I have vivid memories of my whole family gathered around my grandparents' dining room table; a monstrous Thanksgiving spread being casually picked at, while three generations' worth of ears strained, necks craned, and eyes furtively glanced at the TV in the other room, trying to keep tabs on the game. Being a Lions fan isn't something that changes based on what happened yesterday or what might happen tomorrow--It's genetic, it's inherited, it's inherent. It's part of who we are; it pumps through our veins.

I've often been called a sucker and a fool, a victim and a dope. I've been called a moron and an idiot, "part of the problem", and even a traitor.  My unwavering support of my team has brought all sorts of ridicule upon my head. But you, my friends, you folks know what it means to be a true fan, to simply cheer for your team to win, despite all their failure to do so. You folks know why I chop the wood, load and the sled, and poke and prod and feed and fuel the fire.

Most importantly though, you've come! You've sat around the fire with me, thawed out frostbitten fingers, and enoyed a warm drink and a hearty laugh. You've befriended me, and you've befriended each other. You've helped spread the word, you've helped tend the fire, and now look.  LOOK! The home opener will sell out!  Despite all that's happened, despite the wind and the ice and the bitter, bitter cold, despite having every reason to simply abandon hope and wait for lighting to strike, Lions fans have worked and worked to keep the little blue flame flickering--and now, a fire roars!

I cannot wait to literally gather with you all on Sunday; to see and hear and feel and yell. I will be there, friends. And with luck, I'll see the beginning of a new era, the beginning of new hope, the beginning of a wonderful time to be a Lions fan--and the end of the losing streak.


Big Al,  September 17, 2009 at 5:33 PM  

Well said, Ty. As bad as the Lions have been over my lifetime, and as much as I rag on them, I could never see myself not rooting for them.

The Lions are my team. Period. Those who say they are "Lions free" and rooting for another franchise? Well, as I once said on my old site:

I have tons more respect for fans who stick with their teams, for better, or in the Lions case, catastrophically worse. I can respect those who can be critical of their team, and demand change, yet still remain loyal. Those who just give up, and decide to root for whatever team is the flavor of the month? For them, I have nothing but contempt. Screw 'em.

Pacer,  September 17, 2009 at 10:33 PM  

Nicely said Ty-been a fans since 1971 when I lived in Windsor and saw my first NFL game live- ever and went to the Thanksgiving Day game. Even thought I moved to Edmonton in 1981 I have always followed the Lions. When they changed the jersey's this year I ordered one of the black ones-I know-reminds everyone of Millen but I loved that jersey colour combination. Enjoy the game on Sunday.

Matt,  September 18, 2009 at 9:25 AM  

I feel bad for the Jacksonville fan Ty quoted. I can't imagine the feeling of impending doom this guy, and other Jaguars fans, have at the thought/fact that their team will be snatched away. I also relate to the frustration of not being able to talk up your team around town. Many Lions "fans" drive me crazy with their relentless pessimism and unwillingness to allow for even the thinest of silver (and blue) linings. Obviously, I'm not talking about anyone here, but I bet you all can name at least one person like I just described.

All this being said, Jacksonville's probably getting what it deserves. Obviously, most folks there just don't care. And maybe, as this guy exemplifies and Ty points out, the Jaguars' true fans aren't great/knowledgeable NFL fans. The Jags' worst season was their first: 4-12. They were 118-106 all-time going into 2009. They haven't picked in the Top 5 of the draft since 1996. They've been to two AFC Championship games. While, on the one hand, I like the "Super Bowl or Bust" mentality, if this franchise's success in its short history isn't good enough for you, you don't deserve a franchise. I always liked Carolina better anyway. :-)

Interesting note: the sports media yesterday was buzzing with stories out of Jacksonville that they're ALREADY looking at Tim Tebow in the 2010 Draft to, quite literally, be the savior of the franchise. That's pretty desperate. I suppose, though, if I were a Jags fan, I'd say "Do whatever it takes to save my team."

Isphet,  September 18, 2009 at 12:43 PM  

I wonder if Jacksonville will just trade their team for ours, soup to nuts. We'll take the Jags.

Ty,  September 18, 2009 at 3:15 PM  

Big Al--

Absolutely spot on. I couldn't imagine "deciding" to follow another franchise; it just doesn't work that way--at least not for me. Anyone can buy a hat and be like "look at me, I'm a [Patriots/Steelers/etc.] fan!", but it takes heart to live and die with a team that isn't the flavor of the month.

I've never understood, when you flip allegiances like that, and your "new" team wins, do you really feel happy?


Ty,  September 18, 2009 at 3:20 PM  


Very cool! I think it's awesome that the Lions Nation actually includes another nation . . . it's one of the few unique and excellent things about our team, along with the Thanksgiving day game itself.

Don't tell anybody . . . but I loved the black jerseys, too. I wanted an authentic black Sims really, really badly for a while there.


Ty,  September 18, 2009 at 3:31 PM  


You're right, I do actually feel bad for that guy, and for any of the few diehard Jags fans actually buying tickets . . . I couldn't imagine having the Lions ripped away from us. It would be traumatic. Horrible.

Excuse me while I shudder.


Okay I'm back. Yeesh. Let's never speak of that again. Anyway, I think this speaks to how careful the NFL has to be with franchise relocation/expansion/etc. Franchises should go to fans who NEED a team--and they should never leave.

Unfortunately, when a fan base is as indifferent as the Jaguars' has been . . . well, at some point that team will have to go to a city that gives a crap.


Ty,  September 18, 2009 at 3:39 PM  

BTW, if they replace David Garrard with Tim Tebow and expect that to solve all of their problems, I have a feeling that they are going to be extremely disappointed.


Matt,  September 19, 2009 at 12:46 PM  


"I think this speaks to how careful the NFL has to be with franchise relocation/expansion/etc. Franchises should go to fans who NEED a team--and they should never leave. "

Exactly. When the NFL went through its last big expansion/relocation from the mid-90s through the Texans (2002?), I figured they knew what they were doing. Who am I to question the NFL's market research? And the end result - 32 teams, 2 conferences, 4 divisions with 4 teams each - was perfect (I HATE unbalanced divisions in any sport).

In hindsight, though, they should've done it differently. First, leave the Browns and Oilers alone. They could/should have just dropped brand new franchises into Baltimore and Tennessee. We know Cleveland fans are die-hard (glad they got a team back) and I really felt bad for the Oilers fans. The last few weeks of the Oilers was a wake in Houston and the team they replaced the Oilers with might have the lamest team name and logo in sports (those Oilers throwbacks Tennessee wore for the Hall of Fame game were SWEET!!!).

Ultimately, all of this stuff worked out (HOU, CLE, TEN, BAL, and CAR all have solid franchises). The problem is Jacksonville. Again, in hindsight, that city had no business getting an NFL team. As you said, Florida already has 2 NFL teams and, like, 42 major college football programs. I don't know where they're going to move Jacksonville to, but it IS going to be moved, so they should've just put it in that city (Los Angeles seems to be the leading contender) in the first place.

Matt,  September 19, 2009 at 12:54 PM  

As for Tebow, I don't have a strong opinion on him as an NFL prospect like many people do (both positive and negative). The Jags theory is that he would have an effect on season ticket sales like Vick had in Atlanta (and the trickle-down effects from there). They are probably right, but unless Tebow is truly capable of being a star NFL QB, not just a rookie novelty, those initial returns will be very short-lived.

In summary, counting on Tebow to save the franchise is a mistake and, frankly, I'm not sure Jacksonville deserves to have the Jaguars saved anyway.

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