A bar full of people going completely wild; strangers high fiving and shouting and yelling and pounding the tables. Cell phones ringing, hands clapping, chants, and glasses being drained. In the middle of it all, a young man and his three-and-a-half-year-old son: screaming, yelling, signalling "TOUCHDOWN", and revelling in the moment.
As much as the victory over the Redskins marked the end of an era--of Matt Millen, Rod Marinelli, and total futility--this moment marked the beginning of a new one: the era of Martin Mayhew, Jim Schwartz, and Matthew Stafford. At this point, if you're reading these words, you already know the story.
Matthew Stafford, after scrambling all over the field and back, with time long since expired, let fly a Hail Mary to the back of the end zone--and got driven hard into the turf, destroying his left shoulder. After Hank Poteat was flagged for shoving Bryant Johnson out of bounds, Stafford was helped up; he staggered to the sideline, and collapsed. As team doctors worked on the Forty Million Dollar Man, Daunte Culpepper took the field.
There was a buzz throughout the stadium (and the bar)--both concern for Stafford, and excitement for what was to come; after all, here it was! The Lions had one yard to go to win! While I'm no fan of Daunte Culpepper, if you tell me I need one yard on one play to win, and give me a 6’-6”, 260-pound quarterback who can run . . . well, I like those odds.
Suddenly, the Browns called timeout—and suddenly Matthew Stafford, visibly in pain, gamely gimped back out to onto the field. One play in hand, one yard to go, and zero seconds on the clock . . . touchdown. With that, Stafford became both the first rookie to throw 5 TDs in a game since 1937, and the unquestioned leader of this franchise. In the words of Kevin Smith:
"It makes me feel good, I almost want to cry -- knowing you've got a teammate out there like that, he's willing to put it all on the line and there's no telling what his injury is, how serious it is. You define the type of player you are, the type of person you are. It comes down to one play with everything on the line. He could've easily let Daunte (Culpepper) come in and take the play. But he wanted to be out there.
This will be Matt Stafford's signature win. If he flames out in a blaze of interceptions, people will point to this win and wonder what might have been. If he goes on to be the next Elway, and the Lions win multiple Super Bowls with him at the helm, this will be the game they point to and say “It all started when . . .”
There’s no word yet on whether the new avatar of the franchise will be available to lead his team in the annual celebration of Lions football, Thanksgiving. X-rays showed no broken bones; an MRI is set for today. Still, even if he’s out for the remainder of the season, he’s proven what kind of quarterback he is, he’s proven what kind of man he is, and he’s made this team his own.
As the surge of euphoria quieted to beaming joy, Lions fans at the bar all buzzed and chatted and laughed. A few came up to my son and exchanged high-fives with the biggest little fan in the place. One fan came over to me and said, “Are you . . . Ty? Is your name Ty?” It turned out to be Minker, a regular reader and well-spoken commenter. We shook hands, caught up, and then left for home with dozens of other fans, buzzing about the incredible win we’d just witnessed.
The Lions may be 2-8, folks, but the blue fire still burns. Lions fans everywhere have been desperate for this win, desperate for a reason to hold their heads high and be proud. Today, folks, do it. Hold your head high. Wear your colors, if you can, and speak out loud. Go on the forums and the message boards and set blue fire to everything. We’ll remember this day for the rest of our lives . . .
. . . and judging by the way my son raved about it for the rest of the night, maybe he will, too.