The Lions Congregation: Week 2

>> 9.18.2009

It’s time once again for The Lions Congregation!  I have sadly been a bit of a “Creaster” (just showing up for Christmas and Easter) lately at the Church of Schwartz—but I’ll be contributing every week from here on out!  This week’s questions for the men of the Lions cloth:

  • 1. Explain how you’d defend the Vikes this week.
  • 2. How do you fix the Lions inability to run the ball in short yardage situations?
  • 3. What’s your projected score for Vikes - Lions?

As always, there's tons of interesting and varied takes from the most pious of the Lions flock. I heartily encourage everyone to go worship at the Church of Schwartz!


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.


neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor dark of night . . . a.k.a, mailbag

>> 9.16.2009

Earlier in the week, I shamelessly prompted you all to flood me with questions via comment, email, twitter, BBM, telephone, telegraph, smoke signals, or however you else could transfer your ideas to my brain.  Kindly, you folks obliged. Longtime reader Dennis voiced a question on a lot of folks' minds:

I was expecting to see a lot of Stafford-to-Pettigrew on hot routes, or as a safety relief for a rookie QB, but he was largely unnoticeable to my eye. He did not improve the running game either, but I could not always tell if he was in.

First let me say, I'm not finished with the offensive film breakdown, so I can't tell you exactly how much he was really in there. FYI, according to the official depth chart, Will Heller is actually the starting tight end. My guess would be that Pettigrew's quad injury, which kept him out of much of training camp and preseason, also kept him from actually earning the starting job. For the record, here's what Schwartz said:

"Yeah, you know there were a few times looking back at the film that we probably should’ve got him the ball. We were trying to push the ball deeper down the field and all of our tight ends were a little bit more open underneath but some of that again goes to being down and trying to catch back up in the game and it’s hard to be patient and take 5-yard gains when you need three scores in the fourth quarter."

That's a pretty reasonable answer. As we saw time and time again last season, being down by two or three touchdowns before you can open a beer means the OC might as well set his gameplan on fire. I think we'll see lots of Pettigrew in the second half of the Vikings game, once Megatron has stretched that Tampa 2 out a little bit and given him room to work underneath.

Don't forget, Pettigrew is a very effective receiver, but he's NOT an Antonio Gates or a Tony Gonzalez. You won't see him slicing down the seam and burning the defense for zillion-yard bombs.  He's a 5-to-15 yard route guy, a chain-mover who's huge and has great hands. He should also be a size mismatch against the Vikes starting strongside 'backer, 6'-2" , 242 lb. Chad Greeway.

From Travis Duncan, editor of Digital Sports Daily:

Because Jim Schwartz started Stafford in Week 1, are we really to believe that Matthew Stafford is the next Peyton Manning? Are Lions fans only getting set up for a major let down by putting the entire franchise on his shoulders during his rookie year?

Wow, that's a hot potato. I guess my first response would be . . . did Bill Polian set Colts fans up for a major letdown when he put the entire franchise on the shoulders of the first Peyton Manning?  When it's all said and done, Peyton will stand as the greatest quarterback ever to play--so anointing Stafford's head with THAT oil would be incredibly bold, and probably wrong.

It's apparent that Stafford has the physical tools to be as good as anyone has ever been. His arm is incredible, and he's more athletic than Manning. I've often thought that if he reaches his potential, the most apt comparison would actually be Elway . . . and man, it scares me to even put those words "on paper".

I've been round and round on this one . . . I've gone from thinking that drafting Stafford would be a critical, horrific mistake to thinking that starting him from Day 1 was absolutely the right decision. He will take his lumps--and I'm perfectly willing to accept that the Lions may win 1 or fewer games than they would have with Culpepper at the helm all year.  Culpepper's out of here at the end of the year; I want Stafford to have a year of experience, a year of film, and a year of chemistry with Megatron and Pettigrew and all those guys to build on for next season.

Another from Dennis:

I hardly heard Ernie Sims's name called at all, at least not until the late hit personal foul. Thoughts?

This goes back to the fact that the defense was on its heels from the get-go. Phillip Buchanon was a surprise scratch--so, facing the most potent passing offense in football, the Lions were starting Eric King at corner, and Marquand Manuel and rookie Louis Delmas at safety. Henry played well--and even got a pick!--but it was "All Hands On Deck" to try and stop the bleeding from the opening kickoff. The Lions were playing with a bend-but-don't-break philosophy. Again, to quote Schwartz: 

"On defense we knew that they were going to gain yards - points were the bottom line - we couldn’t allow touchdowns. We were poor on third down, we were poor on redzone defense and on those first two drives we allowed touchdowns on both and our offense went three-and-out right in between. You couldn’t start off the game any worse than we did."

So, all you've been hearing about all season? All that talk about Ernie Sims being unleashed, a 40% blitz ratio, taking the burden of read-and-react off of Sims' shoulders and just asking him to be a weapon up a lane? Yeah, all that stuff went away. There simply wasn't any choice; the Lions knew they simply didn't have the personnel to stop the Saints--so they tried to emphasize red zone defense, generating turnovers, and special teams excellence to keep the Saints on a long field and their offense on the short field. It almost worked. If Sims is again invisible in this Vikings game, feel free to be as concerned as you like.

From an anonymous commenter on the solicitation post:

Why do you rock so hard?
Because I am secretly the Reel Big Fish.

John, from Champaign, wrote a wonderful email centered around this question:

Just wondered if you could give a quick rundown on what the game day environment is like around Ford Field on game days, and possibly how that compared to the old days at the Silverdome? For long distance Lions fans like myself that aren't from MI or Detroit, I kind of wonder what's it's like sometimes, and how the losing has affected the game day experience.

Well, I would absolutely love to give you an answer.  Unfortunately, seeing the games live hasn't been something I've been able to do often enough, either.  I live in the Lansing area, not Detroit--so when I've gone, it's not been the kind of thing where I tailgate all morning and then party all night.  Second, when I was a little kid, spending the time and money to drive, park, eat, watch, etc. wasn't really something my mom was willing/able to do. The first time I was able to actually drive to and attend a Lions event on my own was the first training camp of the Millen era--so I can't really tell you how it used to be like in the Glory Days of Fontes and 5-11.

Honestly, the difference between the Silverdome and Ford Field, in my experience, has been that fans came to the Silverdome 80,000 strong, ready to raucously cheer for--or boo at--the home team at the drop of a hat.  Now, fans come to Ford Field on a pilgrimage of quiet desperation, hanging on every moment, hoping to see something, anything positive.

I honestly think that the crowd will be going nuts at the beginning of this game--and if the Lions play well or win, it's going to be a madhouse. But if the Lions are out of it early, it's going to be a long, dreary day--and it'll be mostly Vikes fans by the bitter end.

But as I've said, I'm making a point to be there for this game--and if I have to be a one-man 12th man, then with you all as my witness, I will. If I have any voice left at the end of this game, I'll consider myself a failure.

Thanks again for all the great questions, folks—please, hit me up again whenever you want!  You can email, hit me up on Twitter @lionsinwinter, or of course just comment here!


the watchtower: Lions vs. Vikings

>> 9.15.2009

In last week’s Watchtower, we matched up the historical OC vs. DC tendencies to see if there were any schematic mismatches—that is, if either team had a systemic advantage over the other.  Looking over the history, and the presumed talent levels of each team, we came to a conclusion: the most probable outcome of the game was a shootout that the Lions lose.

Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened--though some of the Lions’ scoring contributions relied heavily on special teams providing great field position, and one of the TDs was defensive.  It seems as though the breakdown, though statistically flawed--very small samples of head-to-head matchups, relying entirely on the mean averages of 16 data points, etc.—had enough predictive value to be worthwhile.

This week, the Lions take on the Vikings.  Again, the Linehan offenses are the 2006-2008 Rams, the 2005 Dolphins, and the 2002-2004 Vikings.  Gunther defenses include the 1995-2000 Chiefs, and the 2004-2006 Chiefs.  I tentatively include data from his 2001-2003 stint as linebackers coach with the Titans, since Jim Schwartz was the DC at that time--but the Lions’ scheme is thought to more closely resemble Gun’s system in KC than the balanced D Schwartz ran in Tennessee, so I include those years on a case-by-case basis.  I also discount Cunningham’s ‘06, ‘07, and ‘08 seasons in KC, as he merely executed Edwards’ conservative flavor of the Tampa 2 defense.

For Minnesota, I’m calling the 2002-2005 Eagles and 2006-2008 Vikings “Childress” offenses.  Unfortunately, Lions OC Scott Linehan never faced off against Minny DC Leslie Frazier as a head coach or offensive coordinator.  However, we know that Frazier, after studying under Jim Johnson in Philly, and a contentious two-year run as the DC in Cincinnati, became Tony Dungy’s star pupil in Indianapolis, and now runs the Tampa 2.  Therefore, I included Linehan’s games against Dungy’s Colts and Monte Kiffin’s Bucs defenses.


In the first matchup, we see that Philly comes in as a potent scoring offense, ranking 4th in the NFL with 25.9 ppg.  Note they ran the ball especially well, with 4.54 yards per carry.  Tennessee’s defense was solid; ranked 11th, at 20.2 points per game.  I’d expect scoring to be right at or just below Philly’s average on the season—and indeed it was: 24 points scored.

The passing yards-per-attempt was right about on target (6.18 avg., 5.89 actual), but look at the rushing!  Philly rushed for 0.9 ypc below average for that game; it was also on 22 attempts, so they didn’t just abandon the run—and the only rushers were starting RB Duce Staley and QB Donovan McNabb, so it’s not as if injuries were a concern.  Also, look at the disruption numbers: 2 picks, 1 fumble lost, and six sacks for a loss of 31 yards!  Still, this was with Schwartz making defensive calls, not Gunther, so let’s hold off on drawing conclusions.

In 2005, the Eagles were a below-the-median scoring offense, ranked 18th with 19.4 ppg.  Passing for 5.93 yards per attempt, and rushing for 3.92, the Childress-led offense was considerably less fearsome.  Though not boasting anywhere near the personnel the ‘02 Titans had, the Cunningham-coordinated Chiefs were the 16th-best scoring defense, allowing a mean 20.3 points per game.  The expectation would be a very-close-to-average output by Philly—but instead, they blew up with 37 points, and passed far more effectively than usual(5.93 avg., 7.68 actual).  Terrell Owens had a huge day (11-171, 2 TD). 

However, the Philly running game was again stymied.  Brian Westbrook and Lamar Gordon combined for just 28 yards on 17 carries.  KC also forced three fumbles, recovering one, picked off a pass, and sacked McNabb once.  Since the first data point is still “iffy”, I’m going to look at the last one.

In 2007, the two coordinators again have closely-matched, close-to-the-median scoring units: the Vikings were ranked 15th with 22.8 average points scored, and the Chiefs were the 14th-ranked scoring defense, allowing an average 20.9 points per game.  The ‘07 Vikes looked much like the ‘02 Eagles: passing for 6.35 ypa, but absolutely toting it for 5.33 ypc.  The Chiefs allowed an average of 20.9 points per game, ranking them 16th in the NFL and matching Minnesota’s average output.  Therefore, we have a very strong expectation that Minnesota will score 21 points.  However, they only mustered 10.

They passed much less effectively, gaing 0.53 fewer yards per attempt than their average.  The juggernaut running game was staunched even more, gaining 1.09 yards fewer than expected with every attempt.  Also, we see another raft of sacks (5-36), and 2 fumbles (1 lost).

We see the same pattern in all three games; therefore I feel safe concluding the following: given equal or lesser talent and execution, Gunther Cunningham’s hyperaggressive 4-3 disproportionately disrupts Brad Childress’s conservative Walsh-style offense, especially in the running game.  However, a very effective deep passing game can stretch the defense, reduce QB pressure, and produce points.


Linehan had a very strong roster when he first faced a Dungy-style defense—24.4 ppg (8th best in the NFL), and carrying for 5.3 ypc.  However, those Bucs were ridiculous; the #1 scoring defense, allowing a miniscule 12.2 points per game!  Yet, the Vikings weren’t slowed down at all.  They scored their average 24 points, passed for a well above average 7.75 yards per attempt, and rumbled all over the Bucs for an absolutely ridiculous 7.52 yards per carry.  The disruption numbers were very high: 2 picks, 3 fumbles (2 lost), and 2 sacks, but with a young Daunte Culpepper at the helm, that was not unexpected for those Vikings.

Against Dungy’s Colts in 2004, Linehan’s Vikings were again very strong: 6th-best in the league with 25.3 ppg, passing for 8.18 ypa, and rushing for 4.71 ypc.  The Colts, however, weren’t executing that Tampa 2 nearly as well as the ‘02 Bucs: the Colts were a below-median scoring defense, allowing 21.9 points per game.  One would think the Vikings would outperform their average, and that’s exactly what happens: 28 points, a robust 8.89 ypa, and a walloping 5.75 ypc—0.71 and 1.04 yards per play above their season averages, respectively!  Again some disruption: 2 fumbles, 1 lost, and 2 sacks—but overall, a strong Linehan O met a mediocre Dungy D and mildly outperformed expectations. 

Finally, we see the 2005 Dolphins, the median offense that season (19.9), going against the 8th-ranked Buccaneers, who were allowing only 17.1 yards per game.  The expectation would be that the Dolphins’ offense scores well below season averages, and that’s what happens—they muster only 13 points.  However, the passing game and running game each hover near their in-season per-play expecations (5.94 avg,, 6.21 act.; 3.69 avg., 3.56 act.).  There is, again, a lot of disruption (2 fumbles, 1 lost, 5 sacks for -36 yards), but this time it can’t be blamed on Culpepper.

Strong patterns are emerging, so I feel pretty comfortable in making this statement: given greater or equal talent, Scott Linehan’s balanced offense significantly outperforms its averages when facing a Dungy-style Tampa 2, especially against the run.  Given lesser talent, Linehan’s offense meets or mildly outperforms expectations against a T2.  However, a disproportionate amount of sacks and turnovers seem to be created by a Tampa 2 when facing a Linehan offense.

It’s that pesky turnover thing that will make the difference; if Minnesota sacks Stafford five or six times and generates two or three turnovers, the Lions  will have an extremely hard time keeping pace, even if the ground game is working well (and scheme or no, nobody runs on the Williams Wall!).  However, Minnesota’s lack of a downfield passing game should allow Gunther Cunningham to turn up the defensive heat to an extreme level, which should have a disproportionately disruptive effect on the Vikings’ offense.

Given how amazing Adrian Peterson looked in the Vikings’ first game, and how inept the Lions looked against the Saints, it’s tempting to say this will be a blowout—however, the Vikings didn’t blow out the Browns, and I don’t think this one will be a blowout either.  It appears as though the Lions have a decided systemic advantage on both sides of the ball, assuming Gunther feels safe enough to crank up the heat.  It remains to be seen if those advantages will be enough to overcome the gap in talent on both sides of the ball.

Therefore, the most likely result of this game is a closely contested, medium-to-low scoring slugfest, with a lot of turnovers and penalties.  It is slightly more likely that Minnesota’s talent overcomes Detroit’s systemic advantages, but this will be a volatile game in Detroit’s home opener.

There IS some room for hope here. But to cash in, the running game will have to improve, Stafford will need to limit turnovers, and Gunther will have be as Gunther as he can be. Also, be prepared for another round of ref-trashing, replay controversy, obnoxious flags, and trash-talking. Me? I'll be up in the Roar Zone, doing plenty of roaring.



>> 9.14.2009


I’ve received a couple of great questions via email, and I’d like a few more to justify a “mailbag” post.  Please, hit me up with questions, comments, remarks, denigrations, salutations, or whatever you got at, or @reply or DM my Twitter account, @lionsinwinter.  I look forward to hearing your thoughts.


three cups deep: at new orleans

In between church and my 10-year high school reunion, I swung the family truckster back home.  My intent was to trim and/or shave the steel wool that sprouts, unbidden, from my face and neck—but the timing was such that with the volume cranked, I could catch the first couple of drives.  By the time I’d finished trimming, shaving, and getting back in the car, the Lions were already down by 14.

I felt a sickening chill in my belly, and a fell curse haunted my thoughts: “Just like last year.”  The only thing I couldn't bear was already transpiring: on the road against an NFC South team, two breathtakingly quick scores out of their explosive passing offense, and the Lions had an L on their record before the first half of the first quarter.  Just like last year . . . only, not quite.

Don’t forget, last season the Lions were coming off of a 7-9 season (after a 6-2 start), and thinking playoffs, while the Falcons were coming off a worse-than-the-record-indicates 4-12 season, where the wheels completely fell off of the bus.  The Lions being down so far so fast was a complete stunner, a shock to the system.

This, however, was exactly what many predicted: Drew Brees exposing a questionable secondary.  While it all seemed painfully familiar, this was anything but a surprise—the Lions are an experiment in slash-and-burn football team agriculture, and the Saints are likely Super Bowl contenders.  In hindsight, what’s most painful to me is how despite Drew Brees threw six touchdown passes, and Matt Stafford threw three picks, for most of the game, the Lions were still in it.

Yes, thanks to a INT by a Lions cornerback (!), two forced and recovered fumbles, one returned for a TD (!!), and a kick and punt return that each went deep into the red zone (!!!), the Lions kept this one within two scores for most of the game.  And that, folks, is really the crucial difference between this year’s opener and last: 0-14 wasn’t the end of it.

Instead of going into full-on meltdown mode, the Lions’ D stiffened up, forcing two straight punts.  The O finally got on board with a field goal and a TD. Stafford threw a pick, but Dewayne White blocked the Saints' ensuing FG attempt. Stafford then hit Megatron for an apparent 67-yard TD--and after about 30 minutes of the refs playing Keystone Cops, Stafford punched it in himself. It went on like this, with the Lions (mostly) keeping the bleeding to a minimum, often failing to maximize their ensuing opportunities, but never totally collapsing. All the way up until the very end, the Lions were fighting tooth and nail, making plays to stay in it.

There were some things I saw that I didn't expect to see, though: after talking for months about how he was going to get after the QB, Gun actually went back into a shell after the first two bombs. I've noticed some grumbling about how he didn't bring the heat like he said he would, but let's face it: that's smart coaching. If the other team's quarterback is gashing your man coverage for 20-to-30 yards every time he drops back to pass, blitzing 40% of the time simply isn't an option.

Also, after being pretty damn accurate with his downfield passes all preseason, Stafford looked quite jittery; after throwing a lot of passes short in the first half, they all started sailing on him in the second half. He also threw one of his picks when he pump-faked and the ball slipped in his hand, producing a knuckleball that wasn't anywhere near where he intended.  Yes, Matt Stafford looked like a rookie--and while it's possible that Culpepper's veteran presence might have saved a turnover or two, I don't think the offense would have been much more effective--and it wouldn't have mattered anyway; the Saints were just too good.

This has been the crux of the "Start Stafford" argument all along: even if Culpepper is marginally better, him playing over Stafford wouldn't make much difference in terms of wins and losses--and even it would, one or two more wins on a 4-12 team won't matter anyway. According to the broadcasters, Stafford watched every game of Greg Williams' defenses for the last five years on film to prepare for this week; tying that to 60 minutes of live game experience is invaluable experience to a rookie. I still think that Schwartz made the right decision.

In the end, Drew Brees was just too much for guys like Eric King, who was starting in place of Philip Buchanon. Drew Brees was too much for Marquand Manuel. Drew Brees was too much for Avril and White, despite being without his blindside protector, Jammal Brown, and losing Brown's backup in the middle of the game. The Saints were the best offense in football last year, and show no signs of slowing down. Moroever, their defense appears to be dramatically improved, too; they're legitimate Super Bowl contenders.

Whereas last year's Week 1 loss had us stunned, reeling, and searching for answers, this game showed us exactly what we, or at least I, expected to see: a shootout that the Lions lose. Believe it or not, the Lions never mustered this many points in any game last season! Now next week's task will be swing the every needle 180 degrees except the one for "Degree of Difficulty": the Vikings have an astounding running game, a lackluster passing game, and a suffocating defense that you can't run on; pressuring QBs and covering WRs without blitzing. I'll be there in person to see how the Lions adjust.


ten year reunion

>> 9.13.2009

Tomorrow is my ten-year high school reunion. It's scheduled for 1:00-5:00, but I'm positive I won't be able to hold out that long without updates! Thank goodness for Sprint NFL Mobile Live . . .

As I write this, it's already September 13th--the first day of the rest of the Lions' lives, so to speak. Matt Stafford, the new face of the franchise, will get his first start on the road against New Orleans. Pen will touch paper to begin writing Jim Schwartz's legacy as an NFL head coach. And, really for real, the 2009 Lions will either be 0-1 . . . or 1-0.

The reunion thing has me thinking--ten years? Why, that was the year that Barry retired . . . and the last year the Lions made the playoffs. In an interesting twist, they opened on the road against a extradivisional NFC foe, and then hosted a Brett Favre-led team; they won both games.

It's been ten years, folks. Ten years since I was in high school. Ten years since the Lions were a respectable football team. Ten years since:
  • The Roth IRA was introduced.
  • David Cone pitched a perfect game for the Yankees.
  • Dr. Kevorkian was convicted of second-degree murder.
  • Star Wars: Episode I was released.
  • George W. Bush announced his intention to run for President.
  • The Euro currency entered circulation.

It's been a long, long, long, long time, people. Back then, I was in high school and had no idea what to do with myself. Now, I'm married, with three kids, a minivan, and a cubicle job. My eldest just started kindergarten, for crying out loud, and she was five years away from being a twinkle in my eye when the Lions last saw postseason action.The Lions won't make the postseason this year, of course--but they might just give us a reason, for the first time since Lance Armstrong won his FIRST Tour De France, to hold our heads high.

I'll be at my reunion tomorrow: hanging out at a local park under the Indian summer sun, reconnecting with friends long gone by, meeting wives and husbands and children that have sprung up in the interim.  But I'll also be gathered around the bonfire with the thousands of Lions fans that have visited the bonfire during the long, bleak offseason.  As I shake hands and hug with all my old classmates, I'll still be with you folks, sporting my warm winter hat, shaking hands and hugging everyone.  While I'll be sipping Coke at the reunion, I'll be passing out mugs of warm mulled cider to just-woken fans who've come to see how big the bonfire got while they hibernated.

I'm sure there'll be moments tomorrow when the wind picks up, the snow falls, or the mood changes from celebration to commiseration.  But the point is that we're here--for ourselves, for each other, and for our team.  There's a lot to be hopeful for, and a lot to be hopeful about.  Here's to Schwartz, Stafford, Sims, and company giving us a reason to believe that all these long, bitter, vicious winter months weren't braved in vain.

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