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.”
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.