An Autumnal Midnight

>> 9.09.2010

It is night.  Tufts of clouds languidly drift between me and the infinite void of space, occluding the stars and the moon by turns.  Weeks ago, nighttime brought no relief from summer heat—but tonight, fall’s chilly bluster has whisked away August’s humid fog.  The thermometer dips below fifty degrees, and the air crackles with the clarity and energy that only winter’s chill can bring.  It calls me outside.

All summer long, I have tended to the Honolulu Blue flame.  I have stoked it and fueled it, shielded it and treasured it.  I have chopped and split and loaded and hauled the timber for the pile.  I have brewed and casked and tapped and poured the spiced cider.  I have sent out the word, far and wide, in every way I know how, to true Lions fans across the globe.  I have watched, with satisfaction and glee, fans answer my call; those still possessing the spirit to live and die with their team—our team—have gathered here in kinship and in hope.

We’ve shared our stories, we’ve shared our pain.  We’ve passed around tales of glory and woe as freely as we’ve passed around mugs of cider.  We’ve taken off our hats and gloves, we’ve lowered our guard, and we’ve warmed our hands and hearts around the blue bonfire together.

We’ve watched training camp and preseason; we’ve seen dramatic progress made.  We’ve watched Matthew Stafford pick apart opposing defenses with efficiency and flair, and we’ve watched Jahvid Best slash through opposing defenses with fury and √©lan.  We’ve seen the speed and power of the new defensive line, one that even opposing fans are ready to name as one of the best in the business.  We’ve seen the Lions’ starters dominate opposing starters, and we’ve seen the Lions’ backups close out fourth-quarter wins. 

But as the blue fire wicks, waxes, and roars to the delight of us amassed fans, the light and heat bring about another sort: those who left.  Those who called it quits.  Those whose hearts were scarred once too often by the losing years, and have refused to let themselves be hurt again.  They gather to point, to laugh, to mock.  They gather to taunt, to sneer, to deride.  They stand at the edges of our happy crowd, and they grumble and snipe.  They want to sow discontent, to extinguish our burgeoning joy, to piss on the little blue flame.

Inhale.

Exhale.

The impossibly fresh, cold air rushes through my head into my lungs, filling my entire body with electrifying energy.  It courses up and down my spine, zings along my nervous system to my tingling  extremities, and radiates out of every goosebump-straightened hair.  On every level—intellectually, emotionally, instinctually, physically—I am energized by these autumnal winds.  Yet, there’s a dark edge to this chill, a foreboding tint to these clouds; they are heralds of the season to come: The Winter.

For all that the Lions’ new leadership has done to rebuild the roster, for all the youthful talent drafted, for all the steely veterans brought in, huddling close to the blue fire may well get you burned.  The clouds that now drift across the moon like gauze will be followed by heavy, gray, snow-laden blankets that block out the sky.  The playful breeze that refreshes and invigorates me now will soon whip and bite and sting.  It was easy to be optimistic when the Lions were only playing themselves.  It was easy to take heart when the Lions were winning games that didn’t count.  Now, though, our mettle will be tested.

On Sunday, the Lions take the field in earnest for the first time this season.  They begin their 2010 campaign on the road; they have won only eight times since Matt Millen took over the franchise.  They face a team with a quarterback and offensive system that will severely test the Lions’ greatest weakness.  When these two teams played in this same venue last season, the Lions lost 24-48.  It is the most winnable game the Lions will play until the middle of October.

If the Lions lose, the unhappy ones will howl and curse and scream.  They will point and laugh and tell us they told us so.  They will hibernate for another year.  Ford Field will be empty and quiet and sad, as it was for the Bills game.  The games will be blacked out, and I will haul my small children to distant bars so we can watch our team play football.  Our bright expectations will dim.  The happy summer bonfire party may once again be a sparse and grim refuge, the flickering flame barely sheltering the truest diehards from the blizzard’s gales.

If the Lions win?  They return to Ford Field with momentum and confidence.  Those of us who are here will rejoice and stay; many of those who had left will return.  The crowd for the Eagles game should be healthy and loud.  Perhaps, with a strong enough showing, the Lions will convince their entire fanbase, near and far, young and old, active and dormant, true blue or Johnny-come-lately, that they’re ready to play football with the big kids again.  The masses, the inconstant masses, will flock to the flame.

They may be looking down and shuffling their feet, hoping nobody sees them.  They may be watching from afar, shivering in the bitter chill, but more afraid of getting burned again than freezing to death.  Or . . . they may be loud and obnoxious.  They may be proclaiming doom.  They may be standing in our midst, shouting that we’re wasting our time and our breath.  They may loudly predict a blowout loss before each and every game.  They may boo and hiss every mistake, and crow with knowing glee after every loss.  They may seek to dishearten us, to discourage us, to disperse us.  They may seek to extinguish the little blue flame we’ve worked so hard to protect.

What should we say to them?  “Welcome.”

Their sarcasm, their derision?  It’s their scar tissue.  It’s their armor.  It protects them from getting burned again.  If they loudly proclaim inevitable doom of the Lions, then they can’t lose! Whether the Lions win, or they are proven right, there is no way a boo bird can be labelled a loser, since they never truly cast their lot with the team.

But . . . they’re here.  They’re already coming.  The hope and promise and preseason performance of this young Lions team has kindled the flame to the point where the naysayers are already coming back.   Despite their protests to the contrary, they are Lions fans, too.  They want to cheer, they want to be true blue.  If they truly didn’t care, they wouldn’t be here at the fire, they’d just move on with their lives.

So, as you hear these folks on the call-in shows, and meet them at the coffee pot, and see them on the street, be patient.  Be gracious.  Extend a hand, a hearty hello, a slap on the back, or a mug of hot cider.  Share your hope with them, your enthusiasm with them.  Give them the tinder to rekindle the blue flame of Lions fandom in their hearts.  Even if they react with scorn on the outside, know that inside they want to believe, they want to cheer, they want to hold their head up high and wear their Lions colors with pride.  They want to see the Lions win just as badly as you do—and Sunday, we might all get our wish.

It is colder, now, and silent.  The wind is dying down.  The thrilling tingle of a fresh fall breeze is giving way to a shivering chill.  Once again, before the weekend, I pull a hot draught of cider and rub my hands together by the big blue bonfire.  Friends, come and join me.



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16 comments:

Anonymous,  September 9, 2010 at 12:27 PM  

I'm All in Next to what ever size of fire it may be this season.... hoping that this one is roaring .... this is where all of the predictions end and the real games begin. Go LiONS!

Anonymous,  September 9, 2010 at 1:34 PM  

I feel ur passion, man. I'm in the same boat. Honolulu blue and silver till I die.

Ty September 9, 2010 at 2:23 PM  

Anon 1--

Glad to hear it. Go Lions.

Peace
Ty

Dave,  September 9, 2010 at 3:43 PM  

Mixing the kool aid and got the cornbread in the oven!

ahtrap September 9, 2010 at 4:49 PM  

Nice post, Ty.

But man, it's going to be tough to let all those who walked away, who quit on the team, no matter how ridiculous it got under Millen, to just let them back in and have their place next to the fire as if they were still on the bandwagon all along. Those of us who've chained ourselves to the bandwagon for life, regardless of whether it has any wheels will certainly take all the pleasure in the world should the Lions scale the ultimate football summits. It feels a little unfair that those who stopped pulling, and only climb back on board when the going gets good again get to cozy up to the fire, same as if they'd never abandoned ship.

Ron September 9, 2010 at 7:12 PM  

Hey man! This is great! You've stirred me up just by your eloquent speech. You should be a writer by trade! Personally, I believe( now don't get out the tar and feathers!) the Lions will play a good game Sunday, but alas, Lovie will have the Bears so pumped to think they might lose to the "lowly" Lions, they eke out a 1-2 point win in the last minute. However(now, you can put away the T and F!) this loss will fire up the Lions like never before, so much, they could very easily upset the Eagles! I think they will be trying to prove something for the rest of the year and they could very easily win up to 7 or even 8 games! The Bears; they will think because they beat the Lions that they are ready for the season but they will fall flat on their face and may win as few as 4-5 games! They are that bad! But, they will NOT lose the first game to us, sorry. I hope this gives perspective and you realize where I'm coming from. There is something to be said for playing with heart and determination(Lions), but also a desperate feeling that the season is lost in one game(Bears).

Anonymous,  September 9, 2010 at 7:57 PM  

From a "die hard"Lions fan in Burington, VT I really enjoyed reading your post. My wife is from Royal Oak,. MI, and I inherited the Lions 20 years ago. Keeping the faith has been difficult, but I think they may be a few bandwagon jumpers heading our way this season!

TimT September 9, 2010 at 8:56 PM  

Thanks for exposing the psychology of the pessimist. That's shedding light that's LONG overdue.

I have zero issues welcoming back fans. I'll talk football with anyone. I'm so looking forward to the transition from talking someone off the ledge to talking x's and o's again.

I'm still picking tomatoes, it's not cider time. ;)

Ty September 10, 2010 at 9:02 AM  

Anon 2--

For better or for worse, Lions fan for life. Indeed.

Peace
Ty

Ty September 10, 2010 at 12:44 PM  

Dave--

I'll always have a big helping of cornbread. More fun to eat than to turn up your nose.

Peace
Ty

Ty September 10, 2010 at 1:09 PM  

Ahtrap--

I'm glad you said that! I know, it's hard. When I finished the fifth paragraph I actually had to step away from the keyboard because I knew I'd write something nasty. I had my wife read it over, and she suggested a next sentence: "F*** those people."

We had a huge laugh, but it really is a problem--resentment of other fans. At this point I don't think it's going to be productive to sort ourselves into "true fans" and "not true fans," that's what we spent all of 2002-2006 doing. Let's just get together and enjoy the ride, eh?

Peace
Ty

Anonymous,  September 10, 2010 at 4:33 PM  

Hey Ty, Great read per usual!

I disagree with this though...

"Despite their protests to the contrary, they are Lions fans, too. They want to cheer, they want to be true blue. If they truly didn’t care, they wouldn’t be here at the fire, they’d just move on with their lives."

I think they would bitch that we didn't win 13 games if we went 12-4, or that losing in the Playoff's was not good enough.

Some people just like to complain all the time. I feel sorry for them.

Best regards,
Kennaaye

Ty September 10, 2010 at 4:35 PM  

Ron--

Thank you very much. I really appreciate that--I poured my heart into this one.

As far as motivation goes, I think both teams will be extremely motivated to win this Sunday. Honestly, it may come down to who makes fewer mistakes. I could see this being a shootout, or a really brutal turnoverfest, or a ground war, or . . . it's pretty wide open.

Peace
Ty

Anonymous,  September 10, 2010 at 10:51 PM  

Excellent writing!! Enjoyed every bit of it. You could give Mitch Albom a run for his money. I've been so close to the flame for so long it doesn't even burn that much anymore. I've been pittied by friends and family for my dedication to this team but I have never wavered. I feel my patience will begin to pay off now. The flame is growing stronger. Who cares if the others ever come back? They really don't deserve to.

Anonymous,  September 11, 2010 at 4:58 AM  

Thank you for your words. You stirred the fires within. I am, and always will be. Die hard until I die. Go Lions

Anonymous,  September 11, 2010 at 11:53 AM  

I am right there by the big blue bonfire...always have been, always will be!!!

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