Technically, I’m still on vacation. But this morning, I had an errand to run, so I woke at my usual time. Throwing on jeans, a T-shirt, coat, and Lions cap, I trudged out to my snowed-over car. I sighed, pulled my scraper out, and attacked the windshield.
The scraper zipped across the glass, revealing a swath of the interior. To my surprise, there was no ice underneath the snow! I smiled, flipped the scraper over to the brush side, and made quick work of the rest. I hopped into the front seat, turned the key, and the engine roared to life. Local AM sports talk radiated out of my speakers, and the dashboard informed me: “OUTSIDE TEMP 22”.
I gave the throttle a few quick blips, then rubbed my hands together while I waited for the coolant temp needle to budge. The sports talk was centered entirely around Michigan State basketball, and for that I was thankful.
You see, it was one year ago that I found myself in this same position—only then, winter’s grip on my car, and my spirit, was much tighter. The temperature was eight below zero, I’d spent ten minutes chipping the ice off my car, and the radio had spit venom about the Lions just having completed history’s first 0-16 NFL season.
The dizzying range of emotions—dejection and determination, hopelessness and hope—that I went through that morning inspired me to grab a Blogspot account and put it all “on paper”. This year? It’s almost the opposite.
The Lions are better this season than last. They’ve won two games, and have taken many others deep into the fourth quarter. They’re also further along in the franchise-building process: they have a quarterback who’ll be their starter for the next few seasons, and a rookie has developed into a starting-caliber player at every level of the defense (line, linebackers, secondary). They have a few veterans who’ve played well this year, and will be back next year. Most importantly, the head coach and coordinators will be coaching these same systems throughout next year—ensuring continuity for the first time since 1997-1999, when Sly Croom handled the offense, and Gary Moeller assisted Bobby Ross with the defense.
Though Ross, of course, stepped down in the middle of the '99 season, those three consecutive seasons included the Lions' last two non-losing campaigns, as well as their last playoff appearance. I'm not suggesting the Lions should clear their travel calendars for January 2011—but the complete lack of continuity, of building, of progress is at least partly to blame for the Decade Of Failure.
Simply knowing that this franchise has a direction, regardless of what direction it is, is comforting. We know exactly what will happen this offseason: the Lions will add talent to what they already have. There will be no addition by subtraction, no change for change’s sake, no “looking for a spark”. Indeed, that’s the best part: there already is a spark—it just has to be fanned into a fire.
While I cannot pretend that anything I say or do will ever cause the Lions to win or lose a game, what I can do is keep the flame of fandom burning. Believe it or not, that will be just as harrowing of a task as it was last season.
You see, a week from now, the waiting will be over—and the “getting on with our lives” will begin. Unlike the 2008 campaign, where incredible passion about the new front office and furious speculation about the coaching search frothed and surged within hours of the final gun, 2009’s ending will be a languid drift into permanent sleep.
It’s often been said that fan apathy is far more dangerous than fan anger. Will the fans won’t come back, after having checked out for so long? The 2009 home opener sold out; everyone wanted to see the New Lions with their new coach and their new quarterback in their new uniforms with the new logo. It’s hard to imagine the Same-as-Last-Year-But-Better-We-Hope Lions having the same draw.
So enjoy this last round of cider, folks. Let’s swap a few more tales before we again don our hats and boots and gloves, and trudge back out onto the barren tundra. Maybe some folks will even stick around through the lean, bitter months. We can tend the little blue fire together. We’ll pack up snow to protect against the wind, and we’ll keep plenty of sticks on hand to fuel the flames. I can’t promise it’ll be fun, but it’ll be more fun than doing it alone.
For now, though, let’s just enjoy what’s left. Let’s hope the Lions give the Bears all they can handle. Let’s hope they go out on a win. Let’s cheer on every Lion, young or old, starter or backup, on a multi-year deal or on the back of a bus ticket. Let’s see if these men can stoke the blue fire for us one more time, before Winter descends on us with everything it’s got.