Three Cups Deep: Preseason Week 3

>> 8.30.2010

This post started with a momentus gameday Tweet from @jschwartzlions:

"If you are going, STAND UP and cheer. If you hadn’t planned on going, get yourself some tix. We NEED you, Lions nation. Be loud, be proud."

When I read that, I kind of got chills.  I think it’s every fan’s delusion, every fan’s special comfort, to believe that somehow, some way, if they only cheer hard enough, they can will their team to victory.  If they wear their lucky jersey, if they watch it on TV, if they don’t watch it on TV, if they go to the stadium in face paint and cheer their guts out, somehow they can help their team win.  Here was the Lions’ head coach, in a message addressed to Lions fans everywhere, telling us to STAND UP and cheer.  To be loud, and be proud.  Incredibly, he said that the Lions need their fans behind them.

This concept has intrigued me since I chatted up Seahawks blogs and forums last year, and discovered that ‘Hawks fans really take their “12th Man” idea seriously.  They really do believe that the noise they generate has a tangible on-field effect for their team.  Yes, pure decibel levels of crowd noise can make it hard for opposing offenses to get their cadences out, but it’s more than that to them; they really believe that their cheering transfers spirit, mojo, power to their Seahawk players. 

Back in the 90s, the Lions had a fairly predictable dynamic: generally win at home, and generally lose on the road.  Some years it would be tipped towards “win,” and others towards “lose", but even in the leaner years, what wins there were seemed to always come at home.  At least part of that, I’d like to think, came from the Lions’ home-field advantage at the Silverdome: a weird inflatable surface, resting underneath a cavernous dome, and yes—a large, raucous crowd that let both benches have it with impunity.

Ford Field, in my experience, is a beautiful shell, but often it’s lifeless.  Sterile.  Empty.  The building itself has plenty of character, but it all seems hollow when the crowds don’t come—or worse, when the crowds come but sit silent, waiting for the inevitable release of failure. 

I’ve said before that there’s a certain safety in futility; to give in, to cash out, and be cynical . . . it’s easy.  It hurts, it sucks, but it’s also easy.  If you’re a constant naysayer, you don’t bear any risk!  If you’re right, you were right not to invest yourself, and if you’re wrong, then WHOO-HOO!  But to allow yourself to hope again?  That’s climbing onto a tightrope walker’s plaftorm.  To allow yourself to feel again, to cheer again, to drape yourself in the Honolulu Blue and brand yourself with the Leaping Lion?  That’s putting one foot out on that rope.  To come to the games expecting victory instead of defeat?  To stand up and exult when your team takes the field?  That’s taking the second foot off the platform, and walking little more than faith.

I don’t think the half-full stadium made Jahvid Best run like that.  Matthew Stafford has been as remarkable on the road as he was at home.  Clearly, the defense wasn’t bolstered by whatever Lions fans brought to the table on Saturday.  I don’t know if we fans really can affect what happens on the field, either directly or indirectly.  But our coach says they need us.  Our coach is directly appealing to us, the fans, to come and help them win.

I know that with all the misplaced faith, and all the wasted emotion, and all the unwearable jerseys hanging in our closets, that’s a big ask.  It’s like Jerry Maguire telling Rod Tidwell, “Help me . . . help you.”

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Jim Schwartz isn’t hanging by a thread; his job is more than secure.  But this season starts with a gauntlet of divisional road games and vicious home games, and if the Lions start 2010 going 1-5, they might as well pack it in and wait for 2011.  This young Lions team needs confidence, swagger, momentum, and for that they’ll need all the light and heat the blue bonfire can provide.  I have to say . . . I dig that about them.

Technorati Tags: nfl,detroit lions,cleveland browns,preseason,matthew stafford,jahvid best


Joe Willy,  August 30, 2010 at 7:23 PM  

Some may scoff at it I guess, but there's a reason why home field advantage means something. I have yet to go there but Ford Field seems to be a beautiful venue that is somehow aesthetically or acoustically poor at fostering a raucous atmosphere and high decible level. Some will say it's just the product hasn't given fans a reason to cheer. But I've heard they don't allow signs and we all know they don't have cheerleaders. I think these things can add up to create a poor experience that doesn't foster the insane bedlam you see in other NFL cities.

We all know long-time Lions fans (what other kind are there?) are traumatized by too many letdowns and bad breaks- I think this transfers onto the psyche of the team. I hope this year they break that spell but that defense is due to let us down late in games. I think Schwartz really gets that the fans depend on the team and the team has to depend on the fans to lift their game a notch. I already get the feeling that lots of guys on the team have a swagger and believe they can be special.

I think a boisterous crowd could make them a little bit better than they are. This is one reason I really want Delmas to get healthy since he helps bring a crowd into the game. KVB and co. will help too though. Can you imagine how loud the crowd would be if Suh did to Rodgers or Favre or Cutler what he did to Delhomme? There are reasons to be excited and I like Schwartz pushing the buttons of the fans and trying to rid them of the cynical doubt that robs them of enjoying the games.

Matt,  August 30, 2010 at 10:19 PM  

I think whatever lack of fan involvement that exists at Ford Field is the DIRECT result of the product that's been on the field. I have posted many times on this blog about what a great football town Detroit COULD be, if only we had something to root for. I've been to many games throughout my life at both the Silverdome and Ford Field and, I truly believe, the difference in atmosphere boils down to the team on the field. In the Silverdome, even when the team stank, at least the crowd sat at the edge of their seats eagerly anticipating the inevitable long one Barry would break. At Ford Field, to put it bluntly, the Lions have done nothing but suck. Sure, when they won, it was usually at home, but that's small comfort when there's not even a handful of wins all season.

I was at Ford Field for the home opener last season against the Vikings. I found the atmosphere walking in electric. Fans had on their jerseys and warpaint and were eagerly awaiting the home debute of the new logo and the new quarterback. In the first half, when the game was still close, the crowd erupted at big plays and touchdowns (ok, one touchdown). The Lions were actually ahead at halftime and the concourse was buzzing with energy. Then the second half started and Minnesota kicked a game-tying field goal. . .and Adrian Peterson ran in a long touchdown. . .and Longwell kicked another field goal. . .and Favre threw another TD. By the time Jason Hanson tacked on a meaningless field goal in the fourth quarter of a 27-13 loss, all the energy was gone. I was sitting in the cheap seats 'cause that's what I can afford. A woman sat two rows in front of me decked out in full shoulder pads, a black-and-blue Ernie Sims jersey, and an attitude that bordered on the insane. She was still there when the clocked hit 0:00, but I hadn't heard anything out of her in an hour or two. My point is that THAT'S a true fan. She scrimped and saved the same $42 I had to sit in the nose bleeds and came ready for rrr-war. She left beaten and silent. I think that's exemplary of Lions fans the last 10, 15, 20, hell, 50 years. We're faithful, we show up to root hard, but when you're beat, you're beat. And when you're beat over and over and over again, often in humiliating fashion, well, you'd have to be a bit insane to dig out the shoulder pads once again and charge back in for another butt-kicking. That's the point I think the Lions faithful are at now. Yes, we still show up hoping and cheering for the best, but we've been kicked in the teeth too many times to keep cheering like fools for a full 60 minutes or 16 games. We've been conditioned to wait for the other shoe to inevitably drop.

Matt,  August 30, 2010 at 10:20 PM  

Now some purists may accuse me of being a fair-weather fan and say "You've gotta' scream your guts out for your team no matter what." I say, just like in every other facet of life, a sports team has to EARN respect/devotion/whatever. Those Seattle fans have two HUGE things going for them: 1) they went to the Super Bowl not too long ago and 2) what else do they have to root for (they don't have the Red Wings. . .or even the Tigers or Pistons)? The Lions have me for life, but I'm not going crazy over them and I can't blame my next door neighbor for not really giving a rip. He's got better things to do with his time. Where's the virtue in investing yourself in a loser? I've rationalized my own investment by thinking "When. . .WHEN the Lions are great, I'll be able to say I was there all along" and that does make me feel warm and fuzzy inside. At the same time, when. . .WHEN the Lions are great again, I'll happily welcome my next door neighbor into the fold and we'll cheer our brains out together. I'll feel good to have been there all along, but I'll bet he'll feel just as good having "only" ridden the bandwagon. And THAT'S what I, as a lifelong Lions fan, want from my team. . .fire up the freakin' bandwagon already. Give those fair-weather fans a product on the field that's worth cheering for. I'll happily welcome them along for the ride and Ford Field will shudder at the sheer volume that the people of Detroit, of Michigan, can produce. . .but you gotta' give 'em a reason to cheer.

Matt,  August 30, 2010 at 10:42 PM  

Two final comments, first to Schwartz's tweet. It's nice that he's asking for fan support (and I use a nice word like "nice" on purpose). It was nice that he had the players come back out after last season's win against Washington and celebrate with the fans. But if you really want the fans to come out(back) in droves and support a perennial loser, you've gotta' earn it on the field.

Second, the Suh play. This is exemplary of the Lions in, well, pretty much my entire lifetime. We've got our opponent stuck on 3rd and 8, our young, unbelievably talented (unbelievably rich) new defensive lineman busts through the line and darn near literally tears the quarterback's head off. The crowd goes wild. . .then the yellow hanky comes out. 15 yards, 1st and goal, and two plays later Cleveland, CLEVELAND, is up 17 to 7. Sure, it was a meaningless preseason game and, sure, we came back to win. And, I have to admit, I liked seeing the ferocious play from our latest savior. But those are the kind of plays the Lions have been making for years. One step forward, three steps back. Those are the plays LOSING teams make and WINNING teams avoid. Those are the plays that Jim Schwartz was hired to eliminate. I'm not trying to put the entire fate of the Lions on one preseason play, I'm just using it to make a point. Those kind of plays have to go and plays like Best's run (and catch) and Suh's pressure on 3rd and 11 the previous series have to take their place. Then we'll cheer, no invitation needed.

Anonymous,  September 1, 2010 at 5:03 PM  

fyi its rod tidwell thanx

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