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.