Panic. White-knuckled, full-body panic as the Redskins drove for the game winning touchdown. So conditioned to failure, so used to heartbreak, so prepared for defeat. It was going to happen, I was sure of it. Frantically, my subconcious began running scenarios, trying to imagine exactly how the Lions were going to blow this game. I knew they would lose again, and it would crush me again. All I wanted to know was how, so I could start bandaging the 20th straight blow to my spirit.
Sometimes, I wish I had the jaded heart of the bandwagon jumpers. The fools who turned off their TV/radio/internet feed after halftime, when the Redskins overpowered the Lions like an older brother who just decided to start playing "for real". The tools who, come December, will be sporting all their Lions gear and trying to high-five me like we're united in fandom. The ones who've never felt the urge to run for the door before this team discovers yet another way to lose.
As the clock ticked off the closing seconds, and Redskins chucked the ball around, I still thought it could be snatched away. I'd still thought I'd be spending another evening looking at the bright side; another night of taking the positives. Another Monday at the coffee pot, weakly grinning at my co-workers' playful jabs; another thousand words written about how things are probably getting better.
It may sound silly, but I didn't feel like victory was secure until the ball landed in Ladell Betts's hands. I knew that every damn Lion on the field was faster than him; at that point victory was inevitable. That pure, sweet moment of elation was the emotional cash-in on almost two entire years of suffering. My BlackBerry exploded with calls and texts and Tweets and emails and everything else. The sports bar I was at erupted in cheers and claps and whistles.
I received much dap for my Stafford jersey. Several folks asked me where I got it; one even asked me how much I paid. It was already starting! I had a grin on my face that absolutely could not be erased. On my way out, I stopped at the restroom, and encountered an absolutely plastered Browns fan--one of almost twenty who'd gathered at this particular establishment. He congratulated me on the win, then mentioned he was this close to buying a Favre jersey and becoming a Vikings fan.
I wish I could say I gave that man a rousing speech about fandom and loyalty and respect, about how joy when your team wins is fraudulent unless you steadfastly greive when your team loses, and about screw the stupid Vikings anyway. But, of course, I didn't. Besides not being anywhere near sober enough to take the message to heart, such a "fan" will always be that kind of fan. No sense wasting good breath after bad . . .
The Lions, and Lions fans, are getting a lot of love right now nationally for not being an 0-19 team anymore. Well, they're right. We celebrate this victory tonight--and then the Lions are merely 1-2. Celebrate, Matt Stafford. Celebrate, Calvin Johnson. Celebrate, all you Lions who've never tasted victory before. Celebrate . . . and then get to work. Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of the season.