One day, during his first training camp, Jim Schwartz addressed the media. That’s typical for training camp, but on this occasional he had something special to say:
"It's hard to be angry at me, so I generally don't get that that. I don't know the best way to put it ... they're guardedly optimistic. I think when you put yourself out there, the way you do when you're a fan, when you expose your soul to rooting for your team and you get hurt time and time again, sometimes you have a tendency to hold back and not put yourself out as much. and not become as, you know, I don’t know a good way to put it, but not become as . . . fanatical a fan. Is that redundant? “Fanatical a fan”? But the one thing is, they keep stepping up. They’re true football fans in this city; they’re excited about it. Everywhere I go, I get positive, positive feelings from the fans here.”
I think when you put yourself out there, the way you do when you're a fan, when you expose your soul to rooting for your team and you get hurt time and time again, sometimes you have a tendency to hold back and not put yourself out as much.
. . . and yet, here, in the sweltering June heat, is Jim Schwartz, head coach of the Lions. With the bone-chilling cold of this past winter an impossibly distant memory, he's talking earnestly about how hard it is for fans to “expose their soul” to a team, only to get hurt again and again. Could there be a better fit? Is there a team that needs a man like him more? Is there a group of fans more desperate for someone to understand the depth of their devotion, and the depth of their suffering? Is there a coach more perfectly suited to stoke the blue flames, and melt the ice around Lions' fans hearts? Has there ever been a coach brilliant and bold enough to rock the Frank Zappa moustache/soul patch combination?
Well, the Zappa look didn’t last long—but the sentiment remains. Schwartz has shown a comprehensive understanding of the relationship Lions fans have with their team—that is a rare quality. It’s especially useful with this team, of all teams; we’ve suffered through decades of mediocrity and worse. We’ve been put down, ignored, stomped on, and put through the wringer. We’ve endured season after season after season of uncompetitive, uninteresting, hopeless, hapless football—often, with no end in sight. Our team has been a national punchline for years—and publicly branding yourself a Lions fan was a one-way ticket to Loserville.
But Schwartz, he gets it . . . and unlike just about any other coach, Schwartz gives the fans credit for understanding the game:
“My experience with fans is that this excitement wasn’t developed the last four weeks of the season,” said Schwartz.
“We had really excited fans in training camp this year and I think one of the frustrations with the way that we started was that they recognized how close we were and how good we could be.”
Exactly—that was what was so frustrating about the first half of this season; we could see the talent, we could see the progress, we could practically taste victory! It was right there at our fingertips, filling our nostrils and our ears--yet, time after time, we came away hungry. The four-game win streak wasn’t a surprise invitation to a dinner party, it was unbinding our hands from our chair so we could finally eat.
. . . maybe it was only at the kids' table. But next season? I think we’re sitting with the grownups.
Also, I shouldn’t write when I’m this hungry.