Tinderbox: Opening Weekend!

>> 9.10.2010

lions_party

happy birthday to me!  woooooo party

As a very special birthday present to me, the Vikings lost to the Saints last night—which means that technically, the Lions are out of the NFC North cellar for the first time since December 27th, 2007.  Even better, that puts them in a three-way tie for first!  If the Lions beat the Bears, and the Packers lose to the Eagles, that means . . . oh, my God.  I can’t even say it out loud.  Or write it.

As if yesterday’s ode to hope and fandom and all that wasn’t enough, I have to draw your attention to a Lions season preview article written by Cian O’Day, of the online sports magazine Norman Einstein’s.  Besides being fantastically written, the article captures perfectly the frustration of the past two decades, and the promise of the upcoming season.  Also, he interviews Michael David Smith, sportswriter for Fanhouse, SI.com, and a million other places.  In it, MDS outs himself as a Lions fan, which I loved.  So.  Yes.  Click.  Subscribe.

I loved that Gosder Cherilus promised that the Lions would end the road losing streak—he didn’t guarantee that it would be this weekend, precisely, but I love the attitude nonetheless.  Cherilus is one of the few Lions for whom a really good or really poor performance could completely change the outcome of the game; I dearly hope he walks the walk.

Finally, keep an eye out for me in the Mlive.com Gameday live blog!  I may not be there all four quarters, but I will be there, helping Michael Schottey fill in for Phil Zaroo, he he prepares to tie the knot (congratulations again, Phil!).  And, of course, don’t forget to check out my joy and/or depression on Sunday night’s Fireside Chat podcast!


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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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Print Gig: Real Detroit Weekly’s Lions Preview

>> 9.08.2010

Real Detroit Weekly's Lions Preview issue--Matthew Stafford on the cover, Ty from The Lions in Winter inside. Last week, Real Detroit Weekly invited me to join a roundup of bloggers, writers, and radio folks for a column in their Lions preview issue.*  I happily obliged, and I suggest you check it out.  I’ve already received a little pushback on Twitter for my record prediction, but that’s all part of the fun.
A side note: to my knowledge, this is the first time any of my Lions writing has appeared in print; I’m profoundly geeked about it.  Unfortunately, I live in Lansing, and won’t be in Detroit this week . . . anyone want to snag a copy for me?

*PRO TIP: Marry a shutterbug who can whomp up a creditable headshot on no notice.



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The Lions Congregation: Preseason Week 4

>> 9.07.2010

congregation

Mea culpa!  I didn’t get this link up on Sunday, but The Lions Congregation met and mooted, engaged in discourse over the weekly questions:

  • What was with the media circus surrounding Suh’s play on Delhomme? Would he really face suspension?
  • Dan F: I have only passingly watched/followed the Lions the last few years thanks to Matt Millen. They still only won two games last year, and Mayhew was Millen’s guy. Other than lucking into Ndamukong Suh how are things really different than when they were adding “weapons for Joey”?

Do not tarry!  Get thee to the Roar of the Lions for the philosophy of the men of the Lions cloth.


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Three Cups Deep: The Eye of the Hurricane

>> 9.06.2010

13 September 2009:  Cincinnati Bengals' tight end Daniel Coats (86) against the Denver Broncos' Alphonso Smith (33) in their NFL football game at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio. With the weekend’s whirlwind of roster moves giving way to a holiday calm, we have  a moment to reflect on where the Lions are at, and where they’re going—as they forge into the vicious winds of Solider Field.  Sports Illustrated’s Damon Hack broke down the Lions, and their chances for success in 2010, on last night’s Fireside Chat podcast.

In my post-interview segment, I had a brain fart and started talking about the Lions’ newest defensive back, Alphonso Smith, as if he was selected in the 2010 draft instead of the 2009.  As soon as I realized my mistake, I wondered where my wires got crossed . . . it didn’t take me long to remember.

Last season, Steve of Detroit Lions Weblog and I collaborated in a blogger mock draft, and who was our second-round selection?  None other than Alphonso Smith.  Here’s what I said at the time:

Smith possesses all the tools of a prime time NFL cover corner: blazing speed, great short-area burst, confidence, and a nose for the ball. To make a long story short, Smith looks like Dre' Bly all over again, minus (offically speaking) one inch of height. 5'-9" is really small, especially since that's an "official" height. We'll see what happens when he weighs in at the combine, but for now the height gives me pause.  [Steve] and I were wearing our Martin Mayhew/Shack Harris caps (golly, who was who?), trying to draft as we think the Lions will.

One of the justifications for my controversial selection of Josh Freeman in the first round, was that I thought Smith might still be here for us at this pick--and he is. Smith is also a dangerous return man, so even if he doesn't start, or begins his career as a nickel back, he'll be have a chance to make an immediate impact in another desperate need area. Moreover, Smith possesses the attitude--if not the frame--to be excellent in run support. Despite his size, he's very strong and physical . . . I think he needs to go to the vet, because his pythons are sick (apologies to Colin Cowherd).

Of course, I said all that stuff in defense of taking him over the eventual Defensive Rookie of the Year, Clay Matthews, so, y'know, take that with a grain of salt.

If Smith truly is a younger Bly, he’ll compete for time immediately—but his one-year tenure in Denver suggests he’s not anything of the kind.  Then again, the Falcons gave up on Chris Houston after just two years, and he’s working out great so far; perhaps the Lions are just more willing to give cornerbacks the time they need to develop.  Yeah.  Let’s go with that.

A couple of housecleaning notes: first, a recent flurry of excellent comments has gone unreplied to (DrewsLions, Matt, et al.).  I’m working on it.  That, and a recent MGoBlog post has inspired me to go back into my inbox and take care of some flummoxing old emails of my own.  Also, I’m updating the Detroit Lions Jersey Menagerie.  All of that, a Watchtower, and more, coming this week.

The far eyewall approaches; the turbulent winds of Solider Field howl.  Our men in Honolulu Blue will brave them on the way to victory—are you ready to follow them?  I am.  Let’s do this thing.



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Fireside Chat reminder: Damon Hack Interview

>> 9.05.2010

firesidechatlogo

With Saturday’s announcement of the not-so-final fifty three, and the subsequent wheeling and dealing, the roster is very nearly set for the 2010 season.  That means it’s an excellent time to break down what’s to come for the Lions this season.  To get an expert’s help, I spoke to Sports Illustrated senior writer Damon Hack.  Mr. Hack attended the Lions’ training camp, amongst others—and broke down the entire division for Sports Illustrated’s NFC North Preview.  In the print edition of the preview, Damon recounted an awesome story about Nate Burleson, his son, and Nate’s attitude toward being a Lion:

“When people ask me with a negative connotation about going to Detroit—the city, the economy, the team—I say what about New Orleans? After [Hurricane] Katrina nobody wanted to be there, the locals or the players getting drafted or traded there. All of a sudden New Orleans is a place to go. The Saints revived the city. I honestly believe if we continue to work hard and bring the right guys in, we can turn around the organization and help revive [this] city.”

If you want to hear more, click over to the Fireside Chat Ustream page at around 11:00 EST—or subscribe via iTunes, and never miss an episode!  If you want to read more, I can definitely recommend purchasing the Sports Illustrated NFL Preview Issue.



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