Of all of the many aspects of professional football that we as fans either never see, or overlook, probably the dimension that’s swept the farthest under the rug is this: it’s professional football. This game, it’s these men’s lives--and livelihood. Much was made of the heartwarming story of WR Dane Looker, who’d given up on playing this season, and was working on a new deck when the Lions called. Nobody’s writing stories about Dane Looker taking a red-eye flight back to his wife and three kids, sitting on his new deck with a cold one, staring at the full moon, and wondering if his phone will ever ring again.
I don’t mean to be maudlin; this, of course, is the nature of the business. Just like law, finance, or medicine, these are the best of the best of the best in the world at what they do. While there is friendship and family, and there are institutions and traditions, the NFL is a trust—a oligarchy of thirty-two billion-dollar businesses. From the unspeakably wealthy men who run these teams, to the unpaid interns putting in 90-hour weeks, the pressure on every single member of these organization is unimaginable—and so is their level of performance. The difference between 16-0 and 0-16, in terms of absolute overall franchise quality, is probably only a few percentage points.
You know that guy who sucks so bad you keep bubbly on ice for the day he’s sent packing? He’s an incredible athlete, faster than you could ever believe, ripped to the Nth degree, and probably spent the first seventeen years of his life being the best player on the field, in every game he played. If you challenged him to a footrace, he’d probably cover twice the distance you do in half the time. And yet, as soon as they can find a guy that’s a breath faster, his six-figure salary becomes cab fare and a firm handshake.Many good players, and good men, lost their jobs today. I’m most depressed about Stuart Schweigert—whose dedication to the fans turned my family’s trip to the open practice event from a total fiasco into a nice memory that might never leave my two oldest children. From his Twitter feed, you get a true sense of exactly how painful it is to wholly invest your mind and heart—and literally risk your body—for half a year, only to have your dream snatched away from you on the eve of the season. However, it’s not all bad news. Underdogs like Adam Jennings and Landon Cohen have managed to parlay a consistently excellent camp into a full-time roster spot. The Lions, as anticipated, held four roster spots for quarterbacks, in order to give hometown favorite Drew Stanton time to heal. And, in terms of what we fans usually concern ourselves with, the wins and losses? Well, only 19 of the 53 players from the 0-16 team’s opening-day roster remain; an astounding feat by GM Martin Mayhew, head coach Jim Schwartz, and everyone else with a say in assembling the personnel.
It remains to be seen exactly how much better this year’s iteration of the Detroit Lions football club is than the last. However, it’s inarguably a dramatically different squad, from the bottom of the roster to the top. In fact, it’s still in flux---the “final” list of 53 is really just a snapshot in time, a waypoint on the journey from the opening of camp to the conclusion of this season. The Lions already have their wish list of candidates from other teams; their trash still potentially the Lions’ treasure. They will certainly use and abuse their #1 waiver priority. The revolving door will spin and spin—and with each go-round, the roster will get a little better, someone will get a new job, and, unfortunately, someone will be fired.