“Where ya goin’?” he asked. I was at the top of the staircase leading down to sections 104 and 105, my just-having-used-the-potty son in my arms, fighting against the four-wide stream of Lions fans heading for the exits. “C’mon,” the Jets fan sneered while clapping, sarcastically. “You were all loud a minute ago, where ya goin’? It’s like this? You abandon your team now? After all that? C’mon! Where ya goin’?”
The Jets had just completed a 52-yard pass to Santonio Holmes, and the Jets were setting up camp in field goal range. This Ford Field crowd, who’d sold the place out, who’d rocked and rolled all afternoon, who’d made all kinds of noise all afternoon, had just had their hearts ripped out. I wanted to say something, wanted to shut him up, wanted to make it not true . . . but I had nothing. It was clearly over now. After being the better team all game long, after being so close to such an amazing achievement, after having my boy’s first Lions game be the greatest victory in a decade, it was all gone, and soon the Jets would kick a field goal and it would all fizzle into nothingness. It was infuriating and heartbreaking and I wanted to alternately punch this guy in the mouth and then maybe cry.
Someone tried to crack back. “Yeah . . . you look like a New York fan. You look like a New York fan.” I don’t know what that means, and my guess is neither did this guy, either—further, he was shuffling past me to the exit while Jet Fan was standing on top of a seat, holding court. If those words were meant to shut Jet Fan up, they didn’t work.
In that dark, sickening moment, I was crushed. I was disgusted at the Lions fans heading for the exit, I was heartbroken that everything that that day might have been turned to sand in my hands, and I was exhausted, drained, completely spent emotionally and physically. I had absolutely nothing left.
Before the game, it was nothing but sunshine. Lions fans, Lions gear, and a crisp, gorgeous day boded well for my boy’s first Lions game. Street musicians, music coming out of the nearby bars and restaurants, people buying and selling tickets, jerseys of all colors, sizes, shapes, and names on proud display. Some of these were just too good to be true:
We took our seats. The scale, the noise, the pageantry . . . all of it looked newer, bigger, fresher to me, as if I was seeing it through his eyes. Even the coin toss was epic and legendary, as far as he was concerned.
I’m not going to recount the entire game. It’s been done—and done and done and done. I covered most of my in-game thoughts last night during the Fireside Chat. But here’s what I’m taking away from this game: pride. Pride in the fans that showed up and roared for sixty-plus minutes. Pride in the team that faced off against the toughest, most physical, most swaggerest team in the NFL, and “bloodied” them. “Knocked them down.” Forced them to admit that they “weren’t the same old Lions.” Even had their leader whining about how the Lions are the “dirtiest team in the league.” As I said last night, for today, I’ll take that.
The outcome may have been crushing. The score, the mistakes, the injuries, they may take the wind out of our sails, as fans. It might even take the wind out of the Lions’ sails. But yesterday the Lions took on the best, and hit them in the mouth. They made them taste their own medicine—made them taste their own blood in the back of their throat. Both teams walked away knowing the Lions outplayed the Jets.
I know there are no moral victories, and almost only counts in horseshoes, and if you ain’t first, you’re last, and all that crap. But yesterday the Lions played like men, played like a tough, talented team that knows they’re tough and talented. The transformation from 2008 to now is nothing less than astonishing, and if you’re too blind to see that, that’s a you problem. As much as it hurts, as amazing as it could have been but wasn’t, it’s still a landmark moment in this franchise’s development and—let’s admit it—it was a hell of a football game.
I’m proud of my boy—who fought through his disappointment to tell visiting Jets fans “good game”—and I’m proud of this team. I’m proud to wear my gear and be a fan. I’m proud that a game that would have been a 35-7 shellacking a season and a half ago was yesterday, to borrow Rex Ryan’s analogy, a twelve-round prizefight.
I'm proud--and you should be, too.