With Great Potential, Great Expectations

>> 7.20.2010

My car, nominally a Pontiac Vibe but functionally a garbage scow, needed to be cleaned out.  I drove to a car wash and began the process, in traditional “open up all the doors and crank the radio” fashion.  Only, instead of 80s metal or 00s hip hop, I cranked Ryan Ermanni on WDFN.  The host was setting the bar for the Lions—but did it in an interesting way.  He not only set a minimum number of wins, seven, he specified when they must win their games: at the beginning of the year.

I flashed back to my last post about expectations for the Lions' 2010 season:

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.

In sports, expectations are a huge part of fandom.  There’s no clearer example of this than the most recent Super Bowl: New Orleans set up a massive Super Bowl parade—regardless of whether the Saints won or lost.  Meanwhile, when the Colts returned to Indianapolis, they were met by a crowd of . . . eleven fans.  Even if the Saints hadn’t brought home the Lombardi, they were far and away the best team NOLA had ever seen.  Meanwhile, Peyton and the Colts have set the bar quite high for themselves over the past decade or so—and last season, anything but a championship felt like a disappointment.

There are generational expectations, bars set by great epochs of success, spanning many players, coaches, and executives: the Yankees, the Lakers, the Steelers.  These fan bases simply assume they’ll be contending for titles year after year, and are livid when they don’t.  It’s these kind of expectations that lead Michigan fans to snarl that Michigan State football will never supercede Michigan football, “no matter how many times” in a row MSU beats U of M on the field (and yes, Wolverine fans, I have heard some of you say this).

Next, there are institutional expectations, inspired by dynasties beget by one player, coach, or executive.  A decade or more of perennial title contention caused the bar to be set there, temporarily.  The current Colts are a perfect example of this: they were mostly irrelevant before Peyton Manning, once blessed with Peyton became perennial title contenders, and may slip back into mediocrity when he’s gone.  For what it’s worth, I’d say the Red Wings are between this stage and the one above—though if they won a post-Lidstrom Cup, they’d get a promotion.  Coming down off of this high can be painful.  See: Cowboys fans who think the road to the Super Bowl always runs through Dallas—despite only 3 double-digit-win seasons since the onset of the Dave Campo Era a decade ago.

More fleetingly, there are annual expectations, which is as atomized as this discussion usually gets.  What happened last year, what happened in the offseason, how many “wins are on the schedule,” etc.  Talk right now is about what “you’d be happy with” in terms of number of wins: would five wins be acceptable?  Would you be pleased with six?  Is seven wins a run-naked-through-the-streets number, or would you keep your clothes on until the Lions won more games than they lost?

Ermanni touched on something I always think about when discussing expectations: the week-to-week grind of finding out what this year’s edition is really all about.  Every week, fans’ idea of exactly what their team is varies wildly from week to week.  We might, at the beginning of the year, say that we’d be “happy” with five wins, but when your team is 2-8 out of the gate, can you really be happy—even if they rally to a 3-3 finish?  Ermanni said he just wants the Lions to be in the mix, to be relevant, deep into the season.  That they have to “win ballgames”.

Really, what we're talking about here is a belief that there’s a point.  That it’s worthwhile.  That there’s a reason to tune in.  At the tail end of 2010, there simply wasn’t.  Once Matthew Stafford was shelved for the rest of the year, Lions fans knew that there was zero chance of victory, zero chance that the games would be worth while, and zero reason to watch.  So, Ermanni argued, the Lions have to come out winning.  Even if the end result is 6-10 or 7-9, if they’re at least not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs when Thanksgiving rolls around, Lions fans will be happy.

It’s a solid point; he’s probably more right than wrong.  However, one of the most interesting examples of shifting expectations was the Lions’ 2007 season.  Despite horrific road losses to the Eagles and Redskins, two of the most appalling on-field forfeits I’ve ever seen, the Lions got off to a 6-2 start.  Quoth Mike Furrey after a post-bye-week win over the Buccaneers:

The Lions are 4-2, media! You can kiss my ass!

The Lions kept winning, picking up two more Ws in spectacular fashion, including the last time the Lions kicked anyone’s ass, a legendary 44-7 whupping of the Broncos.  I would be remiss if I did not include this clip, so I will:

. . . brings a tear to my eye every time.

Lions fans were exultant.  The Lions were 6-2!  The playoffs were nearly certainty.  The division crown was well within reach.  Fans even started speculating about playoff byes and home field advantage.  Certainly, these mighty Lions could not be satisfied with a one-and-done run through the postseason!  No, they [embarrassingly premature smugness redacted].

The crash back to Earth was excruciating.  The Lions finished 7-9, and played some of the most God-awful football anyone has ever seen along the way.  The nine-turnover, nineteen-penalty 21-31 turd at Arizona bobs up to the top of the Honolulu Blue Port-O-John liquid that marinates the worst games ever.  Look at the weather: “72 degrees, no wind.”  The two teams combined to lose six fumbles.  How does that even happen?  As Greg Eno put it over at Out of Bounds:

OK, Mike. Ready? The Lions are 7-8! You can plant one between my back pockets, too.

So, did Lions fans walk away happy?  Were we pleased or content with seven wins?  Absolutely not—even though, had we been offered a guaranteed 7-win season at the outset, we’d probably have taken it.  I think the same applies this season: yes, we’d take seven wins; Hell, we’d be giddy!  And yes, there’s no doubt, winning a few of the first several, or several of the first eight, games would go a long way towards rejuvenating the fan base.  Hitting the halfway point of the season at 4-4 would do wonders for attendance, for spirit, for—yes—the blue flame.  But, who among us is ready for a 1-7 finish?  Who here wants to be eager to come home from church and mow the lawn because the Lions will be on?  Not I.

Yes, I’d like to avoid a three- or four-game losing streak to start the season.  Yes, I’d love for everyone to get amped for Lions football right out of the gate.  But, saying that you want the Lions to blow all their wins up front, because winning them in the back half “doesn’t matter?”  I can’t agree.  The only thing crueler than another double-digit-loss season would be to get a sniff of victory, only to get our faces pushed back into the garbage.

At the car wash.

Technorati Tags: nfl,detroit lions,denver broncos,philadelphia eagles,washington redskins,shaun rogers,mike furrey


Ty,  July 20, 2010 at 5:30 PM  

Yeah I threw that in there just to Mitch Albom all y'all.


Anonymous,  July 22, 2010 at 4:14 AM  

Ty, I love the article.
And Yea, None of us Really want to Settle when it come's to how Many Games we would Like to see the LIONS win.
Strait UP, I want the Superbowl, and I want us TO WIN the Superbowl!
All this about 5 win's 7 Win's? No way! I want the whole ball of Wax.
And I know that this Franchize Could make it Happen.
When I go Back and watch the film's on the 1991,1993 Season's, They are Unfinished Business. That Never Materialized.
Where, the changing of coach's and bad drafting and picking of QB's Just seemed to fall into the camoed. And Not to come anywhere close to the big game again.
Until NOW, I hope!
And I hope that this city can stick it out?
In order to get to where we want to go we have to stick with the coach's, GM, and Scheme that is Being put into place until the Job Get's Done!
In 2007, I was on my way to the Superbowl!
Only to feel what everyone else felt. Failure!
We are All Kidding ourselves in this city when we say such things as we would be Happy if we were just competative.
I wish that there was some way to get all the Prediction's to Just STOP!
And Just Be able to have this city and the fans here just take each Game one at a time And just see what happens?
It was funny to know that the TEAM Itself also got caught up into All of the Hype and making of the Plans to Go to the Playoffs and beyond. Such is Human Nature.
However, Marinelli said it himself that as Long as they were taking the Season one game at a time, Thing's went well. When we got ahead of ourselves or Full of ourselves, that thing's Went South.
Why do we continue to Let other people,Team's,anylist's,Player's Or even Just the Home town Pesimist's tell us what the Season will end up like?
There for a while I was debating with other's about how Many we might win.
Why? Why do I let Myself get caught up into all of that?
Why,Can't I just Wait and see What Happens?
When it comes to the Tiger's, Red Wings, and Piston's I don't get caught up in all those prediction's And or Listen to what other's say about them one way or the other? I simply wait and See and I allway's have the attitude that If they don't Have it Now Then they wil before Long.
What is it about the Lions that I or people in our city can't take the Lions like we do the other TEAMS in our city?
Why is it that when it comes to the LIONS It is allway's this negative Attitude that it just can't be done?
They say that ANY givin TEAM in this League can Win at any time. Right?
So then, when we are putting thing's together and Building a TEAM, we shouldn't allow ourselves or other's to put Limitations On our TEAM and what we may or may not accomplish.Maybe If we Just sit back for once and try to stop worrying about how many we will win or lose. Maybe we Might Win More than a lot of people think we will.

Anonymous,  July 22, 2010 at 4:15 AM  

Sorry about the Long post

RIP,  July 22, 2010 at 1:44 PM  

Going into this season, there are a number of key factors that I will be looking at. It is not the wins and losses, but how competitive we are especially early in the games.

I have been frustrated with 17 or 21 point deficets early in the game, like beginning the start of the second quarter. The defense has been terrible at rushing the quarterback since the Shaun Rogers trade, and in the secondary. The offense had thier hand in it too with the quarterbacks and wide receivers play. We have had some talent at wide receiver, but did Roy Williams ever run the correct route?

Can Stafford really improve enough for this season to give our team a chance to win each week. He was not been a consistant performer in college, even with all the talent he had, from game to game or even during the game. His passing percentage in college was not that great, and so far his professional career. That being said, he along with the defense needs to be competitive from the very beginning of games. We do not need to put our offensive line in a position to pass block most every play, especially if that may be thier weakness.

Doing we actually have the left guard position fixed. Rob Sims (if he is the starter) is noted for being a good pass blocker. But can he open up running lanes for our running backs. Backus has done a very good job of walling off his area and Riola doing his job of getting to the second level during run plays.

Just how good is Best going to be in offense? Is he going to be our best running back since Barry Sanders, or he going to be more of the role player similar to Reggie Bush. Here is hoping he is the game changer that the other team has to commit to stopping.

Our special teams has to be just that. Is it going to be generic, or can we see some special plays from it. I am more concern about field position than how well our kickers are doing as of today.

The last thing I will be looking for is the cohesiveness of our units. I have less concern for our offense, for the most part because we have the same coaches and players in place for last year. Thats a first since when, the Bobby Ross era? Its the defense that concerns me. The defensive staff has been almost as unstable as the offensive staff over the years. There is only 2 full time starters on defense from last season team barring injury, and that is Delmas, and Peterson. Levy, Avril, and Hunter were all part time starters, and not one full time starter will be starting on our defensive line this year, unless Sammie Lee Hill beats out either Suh or Williams. One could look at our defensive unit being as being a first year unit again with all the defensive player and starter changes from last year.

This should be a very interesting team, and hopefully competitive. The entertainment is going to be there. As with every year, I will be into all the games. I am always looking for wins, but more into the improvements in this years team.

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