Again. Again, the Lions’ defense—which had held the opponent in check all game long—had turned to wet tissue in the fourth quarter. Again, the Lions had one drive to win or lose the game. Again, I knew, the Lions would get a couple of first downs and then either commit the big turnover, or the stupid penalty. If the universe was feeling especially cruel, I knew, the Lions would get within decently-easy field goal range--then miss the field goal. Having lived my entire life a Lions fan, I knew the question wasn’t how the Lions could win, but how they would lose.
It wasn't helping my sense of foreboding that the scoreboard showed exactly what I'd predicted in my ill-formed not-Watchtower: 17-20 Lions. Drew Stanton took over at the 32, and immediately threw an incomplete pass. 2nd-and-10, and memories of the Eagles game flooded my head: the would-be tying “drive” merely four straight incompletions. But then, Drew went to work. Alternately hitting Bryant Johnson and Calvin Johnson—and, my Lord, what a catch Calvin Johnson made—Drew got the Lions into field goal range.
The first time my heart stopped was when Drew took at shot at the end zone, going again to Bryant Johnson, whose defender had slipped downfield. With the pass sailing clean into the end zone, Bryant couldn’t quite get his wheels underneath him, either, and a sure touchdown bounced harmlessly off the turf. Why? WHY?
Drew kept his head on, though, and completed a pass to Scheffler that brought the Lions to the Buccaneers’ ten-yard-line with just eight seconds left. Now, it was real. Now, the Lions faced a true choice: should they take a shot at the end zone—and lose by interception, or clock? Or, should they try a 28-yard field goal that, despite its close range, was guaranteed to be shanked, blocked, bad-snap’d, or some other awful thing that’s never even happened before? I thought to myself, I’d rather the Lions lose on a Drew Stanton interception while going for the win, than by Mysterious Dave Rayner Miss while going for the tie. Fortunately, Schwartz keeps big brass ones downstairs, and they went for the jugular.
The fade pass that Drew Stanton threw was perfect. Perfect. He put it exactly where it needed to be, and Calvin went up and over the cornerback for it, as he’d done many times before. Myron Lewis, the Bucs’ cornerback, simply made a great play. If he didn’t play that absolutely perfectly, the game would have ended right there. Another game-winning Lions touchdown bounced harmlessly off the turf. I crumpled.
So Dave Rayner and the Lions set up to kick on the sloppy, nasty grass, and I bit my nails and paced nervously and chain smoked and everything old cartoon characters do when everything is on the line. I flop-sweated, I whimpered quietly, my knees knocked (even though I was sitting on the edge of my seat). Then the snap, the kick . . . good. The Lions would delay their heartbreaking loss—and my heartbreak—for a little while longer.
But then, something funny happened: the Lions won the toss. That’s not how this script goes. That’s not what’s supposed to happen. Come on Universe, I thought, don’t play me like this. Don’t get me believing it could happen. Don’t make this hurt more than it already will! But the script had flipped: it was the Jets game in reverse. The Lions could not be denied: Maurice Morris and Jahvid Best gashed the Bucs for yards and yards. Drew hit Calvin Johnson again, and Mo Morris shaved another ten yards off. Rayner lined up, and my last nerves unravelled.
The snap, the kick, the hold . . . GOOD! GOOD! GOOD! JIM SCHWARTZ FIST PUMP! MEGATRON SMILE A BILLBOARD WIDE! THE STREAK IS OVER! THE STREAK IS OVER! THE STREAK IS OVER! Our family jumped for joy, hugging and hooting and hollering and high-fiving all over the living room. For once, for once, this game ended the right way.
Later that night, as I was getting ready for our kids' Christmas pageant, I noticed something in the mirror: there, at the edge of my goatee, was my very first gray hair.
I love this stupid team so much.