Seeing Is Believing

>> 5.17.2010

On Friday morning, I awoke to an unpleasant surprise: my glasses were missing a lens. After twenty-odd minutes of tearing their perch on my bookshelf apart, I concluded that the Lens Gnomes had simply made off with it. Acute myopia, with a twist of astigmatism, renders me worthless without corrective lenses--but the rat race must be run. So, into work I drove, one eye closed.

Shopping from a list of nearby insurance participants, I called SEE Eyewear and got their earliest available appointment: 3:00 p.m. After a long hard day of squinting at computer code, I drove over there pirate-style. That's when they broke the bad news: they had no on-site lab, so the very earliest they could get me new glasses was Wednesday--maybe Tuesday, if God and UPS made a tiny miracle together. I had a Big Problem.

Fortunately, the good folks at S.E.E. (it's an acronym!) had a solution: they could sit me for a quick contact fitting, and I could wear trial lenses until the day my specs arrived. Easy-peasy, yes? No.

You see, I've had glasses since the first grade. I've never 'made do', never worn contacts, and never considered RK or LASIK. Going without my glasses would be like going without my nose; for the past twenty-three years I've never looked in the mirror and clearly seen one without the other. That nose has pad-shaped divots at the bridge, and my temples sport thin horizontal grooves. My glasses are a literally a part of me.

However, I had to face my face without them. A brief fitting session, and slightly-less-brief crash course on contact lens insertion, and the contacts were in.

My eyes felt more opened than they ever had before. My entire field of vision was clear. I could see all around me, wind wafting past my eyes, my face relieved of a polycarbonate burden it had borne for decades. Everything was new again! You couldn't wipe the smile off my face as I walked around looking at things. Mrs. Inwinter exclaimed that in our twelve years together, she'd never looked into my eyes knowing I was looking back--until now. It seemed like a wondrous new world had opened up for me . . . then I realized: this is what it's always like for everybody else.

The Detroit Lions are facing a similar crossroads. After the incredible burden of 0-16, the glorious celebration when that burden was cast off, and two straight offseasons of talent addition, the Lions cannot go into this season hoping to win a single game, or even win a game or two more than last. No, the Lions have assembled a talented roster, with legitimate talent on both sides of the ball. The veterans will be expected to play as they have, and the youngsters will be expected to produce up to their potential. A 3-13 season will be a disappointment, not a thrilling sign of what's to come.

You can see it best, perhaps, in the defensive line: Jason Hunter. Jared DeVries. Landon Cohen. Turk McBride. Andre Fluellen. These guys are good players; they certainly belong on an NFL roster. But Sammie Hill, Corey Williams, Ndamukong Suh, Kyle Vanden Bosch, and Cliff Avril take up five spots, and seventh-rounder Willie Young should catch on. That leaves three, maybe four, more spots for five players. A player who is good enough to play in the NFL will be released, because they aren't good enough to play for the Lions.

As Uncle Ben told us, with great power, comes great responsibility--and with great potential, comes great expectations. It's assumed that second-year quarterback Matthew Stafford will take a big step forward. It's assumed that Vanden Bosch and Nate Burleson will step in and produce. It's assumed that both Lions first-rounders, Suh and Jahvid Best, will step in and be the impact players they were in college. If these players don't step up, there are going to be some serious grumblings from the fans--and presumably, the owner, since he's on the hook for these players' staggering contracts.

If they do, the Lions will have, at minimum, a legitimate NFL offense: everyone running with the ones is either an established NFL starter, or a first-round pick of the last three years. It's tempting to start pencilling in pinball numbers for this newly-legitimate Lions offense, but then it hits you: this is what it's always like for everybody else.

The Lions, like Pinocchio, have cast off their strings and become Real Boys, but now they face real dangers, difficulties, and pitfalls. Yes, it's terrible coming off of an 0-16 season. Yes, it's terrible being the butt of every joke. But, there's also something easy about that, something safe: a real team, with real expectations of competitiveness, doesn't come back out of the locker room for an extended curtain call because they won a game. Those days are over, thank God, but it's a mixed blessing: there's no longer nowhere to go but up.

We no longer view this team through the glasses of perennial loserdom. We no longer see them as a ragtag bunch of misfits for whom victory is a rare and treasured accident, we see them as they are: a very young, talented team with a lot of potential--and a whole lot to prove. It's been a long time since we've been able to take the Lions at face value, but now, as full-roster OTAs begin, it's time. Let's take the blue-colored glasses off, step into the warm spring sun, and see the Lions as they truly are.


21 comments:

Anonymous,  May 17, 2010 at 9:47 AM  

"a very young, talented team with a lot of potential". Young, yes. Potential yes. Talented ... yet to be proven.

Ty May 17, 2010 at 11:40 AM  

I'd disagree. It's skill, or ability, that isn't proven. Calvin Johnson, Matthew Stafford, Ndamukong Suh, and the rest are unquestionably *talented*. What we don't konw is whether that talent will translate into production.

Peace
Ty

Razmo,  May 17, 2010 at 1:28 PM  

There are two brands of Lions observer at work here -- the cadre who looks with optimism because they understand talent will overcome history, and those who castigate the team as a bizarre, cathartic exercise in keeping their distance from a perennial loser.

The former (often visitors to this blog) hasn't had this collection of players and management in the past, and see beyond the rancor and nay-saying that accompanies fans of basement-dwellers. They look at this team and see a much different landscape than ever before, including the holy, untouchable Barry days.

The latter has been burned by missed expectations and monumental failures too many times to throw faith into a mysterious cauldron, and prefer to hold back in wait, not wanting to expose themselves as naive or unsophisticated, citing past Lions teams (and their failures) as authority to play the cautious.

I'm a former 'latter,' now rehabilitated as a present 'former.' (took a while to sort that out)

Remember when the Wings, Tigers and Pistons were without championships and subject to yearly ridicule? With rings a-plenty, few are laughing at them now. The Lions will get there, not because we want them to, but because THEY want them to. The tide is turning, whether we're accustomed to it or not.

Excellent "contacts to Lions" corollary, Ty!

Scotty G May 17, 2010 at 1:35 PM  

One again Ty you've smitten my frontal lobe with your silver (and honolulu blue) tounge. I bask in your literary greatness and in the warm glow given off by the fire that is your fandom. Long live thiw. Hip hip GO LIONS

A Lion in ViQueen territory,  May 17, 2010 at 1:42 PM  

ditto to Scotty G.

So are you sticking with contacts?

ALiVQT

Neil May 17, 2010 at 1:53 PM  

These are pretty much my sentiments exactly. We almost don't know how to behave as Lions fans because we haven't won in such a long time. When we get actual talent, we're not sure what to do or how to react. It's a brave new world and the pendulum between hopeful naivete and savage cynicism will swing wildly.

Razmo - You nailed it. I touched on that a little bit, or at least a variant of it, in my last blog post. So many people are afraid to hope because it's easier that way. You won't get burned that way. But it's not rewarding at all either. There's no point in it. You have to invest at least a little of yourself in your fandom if you want it to mean anything when the team does win.

Mike aka CJ81TD,  May 17, 2010 at 5:10 PM  

Well written post Ty but I have to disagree with the general premise that we need to come to terms with this paradigm shift. Speaking solely for myself, this new found potential which we are all excited about isn't going to change the way I follow the team, at least not in the short term. I still remember Darren McCarty streaking in on the Philly goalie in game 4 of the 97 finals (I think all those details are correct but I'm too lazy to research and confirm). That was the start of the Wing's modern day dynasty. From that point forward they would spend a decade always being mentioned among the elite franchises and would be expected to compete if not win on most nights. My Lion's fandom started out with Barry and grew to what it is today. I've dealt with years of underachieving and ridicule from other fans, friends and even family. I would love for them to make the playoffs this year but 5-7 wins seems more likely and even something less than that isn't going to shake what took years to build. I've been in this spot before. I remember trying to convince a buddy how it would be utterly impossible to cover Roy Williams, Mike Williams and Charles Rogers once they were all deployed on the field at once. Maybe I'm missing the nuance of your argument but until they are actually hoisting the Lombardi trophy, these guys are still going to be the same old Lions to me. Don't get me wrong, I love me some Same old Lions - I'm just not sure we suddenly have some idea how it feels to be a Pat's or Giant's fan.

Merch May 17, 2010 at 9:30 PM  

I must say I was burdened with glasses for years. Then they lasered me. Not perfect vision, but good. That's been nearly 10 years and I'm quite happy with the outcome.

As for the Lions and our expectations, I hope we're not jerky fans. I'm having nightmares about mlive.com forums around the time of Michigan/Michigan State week, what a load of obnoxious.

RIP May 18, 2010 at 1:57 PM  

Great timing on year article as far as the defensive line. This has been on mind since the draft.

Barring any type of injuries, this is what we do know.

Vanden Bosch was sighed to start at RE. Jared DeVries was the starter last year at LE before his injury and Hunter being added to the team. If DeVries is back to his old self, we will have DEs with similar styles in that they collapse thier tackles towards the QB. Hunter was the starter over Avril, and McBride may have more reps at DE then Avril after joining the team, and at DT than Ladon Cohen. Joe Cohen, who no longer on the team, seemed to have more reps after joining the team than Landon.

So having Avril written in ahead of Hunter, McBride, Young and that guy out of Canada is a little premature. Didn't Avril promise a better second year from himself last off season?

I do like the athelitism of our new DTs compared to last year with the addition of Williams and Suh. I think the DTs are the key for an improved defense. If the DTs can control thier gaps while collapsing the interior pocket, we will have a better chance to run our offense with an improved defense.

I am really excited for the off season to end. Our defense could be really improved or we may need more help at CB, DE, OLB, and/or S.

Matt,  May 18, 2010 at 2:32 PM  

This is one of my favorite posts that I've read here in awhile. Nicely done!

From the comments, I love this line from Razmo: "I'm a former 'latter,' now rehabilitated as a present 'former.' (took a while to sort that out)"

I like to think that I sit right in the middle. Let's call it "cautious optimism" or maybe even "realism." My dad, for as long as I can remember, has been a "former" who was/is always willing to become a "latter" if the dang team would just finally do something. I'm really hoping the day of transition for my dad is within sight - so I don't have to listen to him piss and moan about MY team all the time. :-)

Matt,  May 18, 2010 at 2:34 PM  

oops, I reversed it. My dad has always been a "latter" (pessimist). It IS tough to figure out, Razmo. :-)

Razmo,  May 18, 2010 at 3:43 PM  

Geez, Matt, now you have me circling back to make sure I didn't goof it up in a vane attempt at avoiding goof-ups in front of the fellas!

But I think your point about cautious optimism pretty much spells out how most of us feel. We've all been hammered by the futility our Lions seem to have perfected, even up to and including the alchemic possibility the culture is unchangeable.

Chris, my fellow Lions faithful here, calls Detroit "The place where football players go to die." He's an ex-Rams dude from Southern California who chose Detroit when his team bolted for St. Louis because we drafted Rodney Peete out of his beloved USC (I think I just puked in my mouth). His good-natured sarcasm speaks to the belief we can never be good, simply as punishment for having been so bad.

But a different wind is blowing now, and nobody can tell me they haven't felt it, even in their private moments. It's a new crew, top to bottom, and that's how teams turn around. We've seen it before in places like New England, New Orleans and Tampa Bay. Is it not reasonable to believe there are fans in those towns who sounded exactly like us, as their teams began the slow ascent from mediocrity to the fresh air of respect?

Nothing is guaranteed, and caution is surely the order of the day, but I'm saying this is not like the misplaced optimism we suffered from in years past. It's not Millen, and it's not Moronelli anymore -- be of good cheer because the corner may already have been turned.

Ty May 18, 2010 at 4:27 PM  

Razmo--

Thanks! May I say, well said on your part as well . . .

You know, we could keep adding layers to this: I'm an optimist, in so far as I've spent the past decade or so believing that the Lions will eventually turn it around. I'm an optimist, insofar as I've believed wholeheartedly in Jim Schwartz from the beginning. I'm an optimist, because I choose to support my team, and root for them to win, regardless of my opinion of their coaching, management, or ownership.

However, I also see myself as an intelligent realist, and I see this team as significantly better the 0-16 squad. Therefore, my expectations are that they will be significantly better than 0-16--and before you ask, 2-14 doesn't count.

If the Lions, after adding all the talent they've added, and making all of the moves they've made, aren't winning 5-7 games and being competitive in most of the others, I'm going to be disappointed. So, is my optimism inflating my expectations to the point where I'm going to be considered unnecessarily pessimistic if they don't meet them?

Peace
Ty

Ty May 18, 2010 at 4:43 PM  

Damn, Neil, gonna go back and read that post; somehow I missed it. After a decade of RSS being ubiquitous, you'd think I'd have figured it out.

Peace
Ty

Ty May 18, 2010 at 4:53 PM  

"I remember trying to convince a buddy how it would be utterly impossible to cover Roy Williams, Mike Williams and Charles Rogers once they were all deployed on the field at once."

That brought a hearty laugh, and a tear, to my eye. I wasted many typed letters and perfectly good breaths of air trying to convince people of the same thing . . . you're right, nothing's really changed since Millen took over. But going into last year, all we wanted was a single victory . . . this year, we should expect a little more.

What I'm saying is, last season, 2-14 was infinitely better than 0-16, and we fans have something tangible to hang our hope on. But, from here on out, a 2-14 season is unacceptable. If this team does no better than last season, I will be upset, and so should you.

Peace
Ty

Kris May 18, 2010 at 4:54 PM  

I think 5-7 wins is a pretty realistic assessment. I think there is even a chance we could be one of those teams that suddenly clicks and does a lot better than that too. I'd feel much better about this if the secondary was a bit better too but at least an improved defensive line will help to mask our secondary issues.

I never got why people chose to continue wearing glasses with other options like contacts and later Lasik. I guess maybe if you always wore glasses it isn't as apparent... my vision got bad later in elementary school and by the end of middle school, I was wearing contacts. Never much liked glasses, don't even really ever wear sun glasses even.

Matt,  May 18, 2010 at 10:05 PM  

Ty - "What I'm saying is, last season, 2-14 was infinitely better than 0-16, and we fans have something tangible to hang our hope on. But, from here on out, a 2-14 season is unacceptable. If this team does no better than last season, I will be upset, and so should you."

That pretty much sums it up (quick aside, though: how the heck did 2-14 ever get to the level of "acceptable?"). I definitely think the Lions have turned the "expectation" corner. During the Millen Era, as a Lions fan, you could make whatever preseason prediction you wanted, but you ultimately just had to take what you could get (and it obviously wasn't much). Now, though, I think we, as fans, are justified in predicting at least a decent season (define that however you will).

Personally, I think you gotta' get a little closer to the season before you make "real" predictions (I like to read some camp reports and what not), but I'll throw one out there anyway. First, though, I think it's EXTREMELY important to consider schedule. Most people just look at their team's roster and go "Yeah, we've got the talent for X wins" without looking at who their team actually plays (I know I accosted a few people on this board for ignoring the Lions' schedule last season). I think both Green Bay and Minnesota (with or without Favre) will be very tough, but we should be able to get Chicago at least once. St. Louis, Buffalo, and Tampa Bay should be "easy" wins. The Giants, Jets, Patriots, and Cowboys will all be very tough. Miami is a coin-flip. I have a real tough time calling the Philly and Washington games because who knows what the "McNabb Effect" will be on each team. So, I've got a BARE MINIMUM of 4 wins and 4 very likely losses. I say we "get lucky" AT LEAST 2-3 more times (Miami, Washington, and another division game?). So, I will be extremely disappointed in anything less than 6 wins and, while I wouldn't predict a wild card spot, it wouldn't surprise me either. I'll reserve my "official" prediction for later, though.

Kris - "I never got why people chose to continue wearing glasses with other options like contacts and later Lasik. I guess maybe if you always wore glasses it isn't as apparent... my vision got bad later in elementary school and by the end of middle school, I was wearing contacts. Never much liked glasses, don't even really ever wear sun glasses even."

I dodged the bad-eye bullet in my family. . .so far. My parents and brother all wear glasses. My mom's 3 siblings all wear glasses. All four grandparents wore glasses. I never have. However, I've noticed that my eyesight isn't as sharp as it used to be. If it keeps degenerating, I'll have to look into something (pun intended) and it would definitely be contacts or surgery. I just couldn't wear glasses (though I don't mind sunglasses at all). I think it's just one of those things where if you grew up wearing them, you can't imagine anything different and vice versa.

Merch May 18, 2010 at 11:37 PM  

"I remember trying to convince a buddy how it would be utterly impossible to cover Roy Williams, Mike Williams and Charles Rogers once they were all deployed on the field at once."


Oh that one was RICH! Actually if you based them on how highly they were drafted ...

Charles was 2nd in 2003
Roy was 7th in 2004
Mike was 10th in 2005

I mean.. 3 top 10 picks and Roy is the absolute CREAM of the crop with those 3, amassing an INCREDIBLE 292 receptions and nearly 4300 yards. *whew* The only reason that looks respectible is because he was one of the few options we had and boy could he celebrate a first down, well, if he made it quite as far as the first down marker - lot of effort doing that you know.

CJ came 3 years after him and should surpass those numbers soon even with Roy still playing!

Man did Millen hose us up. I remember that Mike Williams pick and all this talk about how great he was going to be. Especially with his special time off, wow did we ever "steal" one away from the rest of the NFL there. That was until he started stinking it up and suddenly they admitted he didn't have real speed and was a possession guy who couldn't get open or stretch the field.

Ty May 19, 2010 at 9:02 AM  

RIP--

My understanding of the situation is that Avril is currently the #2 at both RDE and LDE, getting a "starter" level of reps while rotating sides. DeVries and Hunter are similar players; DeVries has been the better of the two, and Hunter's younger. They're in competition to be the "#1" LDE--getting the starts and playing on run downs, that is.

That having been said, Avril has gotten a little bigger over the offseason, and is really clicking with new DL coach Kris Kocurek. Avril is much more gifted as a pass rusher than either DeVries or Hunter; if he can stay strong against the run, he may well earn the LDE spot outright. Either way, I would be surprised if both DeVries and Hunter make the final 53. There are just too many good linemen.

Peace
Ty

Ty May 19, 2010 at 9:20 AM  

Matt--

First off, thanks!

"I'm really hoping the day of transition for my dad is within sight - so I don't have to listen to him piss and moan about MY team all the time."

Yeah, the toughest part about being a dedicated Lions fan (besides, you know, how terrible the team has been) is trying to talk football with someone who answers you with "THEY'LL NEVER WIN UNTIL FORD IS DEAD," or similar. It's not like you can credibly say, "Oh, but see? It's for real this time!" Eventually, the team has to win games before you can be "right" for believing.

Peace
Ty

Ty May 19, 2010 at 10:09 AM  

Kris, Matt--

Yeah, I think the potential is there for the Lions to be "better" than 5-7 wins, in terms of talent, but in a division with two of the best teams in football, and a third who's spent about a billion dollars in free agency trying to outgun them, there's a very hard cap on how many games the Lions can win.

Peter King just put the Lions 24th in his offseason power rankings, one above the Bears (!). But he noted that if the Lions were in the NFC West, they could win it . . . actually, Matt, I'm glad you called me out on my use of the word "acceptable," since I normally don't like to do that. When a fan declares "ANYTHING LESS THAN [x] IS UNACCEPTABLE," I always wonder they do when it happens.

Bottom line: I was thrilled at the Lions finally winning a game, the Cleveland win might have been the most breathtaking, rapturous moment of completely meaningless football ever played, and generally we saw a lot of promise and things to build on. That's great. If those things aren't built on from here, though, I'm not going to be filled with warm fuzzies about the Lions.

As far as glasses go, I probably should have been wearing them since kindergarten, or maybe before. As a proud (smug, cocky, arrogant) intellectual in school, I was never shamed by the glasses; they fit who I was. They're simply a part of my self-image now . . . though, I'm glad I can now ditch them from time to time.

Peace
Ty

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