Salt is a miraculous little substance. It helps regulate the water content in our body. It helps our nervous system conduct electricity. Its presence in food awakens flavors on our palettes; food without salt tastes lifeless. We need salt in order to live—without enough, we die. Salt is also a preservative, allowing perishable foods to be stored in times of plenty and eaten in times of need.
Now is a time of plenty for Detroit Lions fans. The Lions are on a six-game winning streak and are No. 1 in the NFL in scoring differential. Yet, they still haven’t played their best football. Matthew Stafford looks every bit a franchise quarterback, and historically weak units of the team (offensive line, secondary) have been amongst the best in the league this year.
After the longest offseason ever, throughout which Lions Kool-Aid was being quaffed at unheard-of rates, this spectacular start has Lions fans giddy. Every best-case scenario is coming true. The Lions are heavy favorites to go 3-0: the first time Vegas has liked the Lions to win in Minnesota since I was ten days old.
As fans, we are tempted to tap the brakes. To pull back on the reins. To take this early success with a grain of salt:
(With) a grain of salt, in modern English, is an idiom which means to view something with skepticism, or to not take it literally. It derives from the Latin phrase, (cum) grano salis.
Since in Italy "to have salt in your pumpkin" (avere sale in zucca - pumpkin is a humorous way to say "head") means to have intelligence and reasoning capabilities, "grain of salt" often means "a little bit of intelligence". So, "cum grano salis", in its Latin form, it is often used when it is needed to show that intelligence and personal judgment are needed, as in "I drink wine cum grano salis since I must drive" (with care, moderately).
We are scarred, brutalized by years of tantalizing mediocrity and years of hopeless futility. We want to hope. We want to believe. We want to know that it’s for real this time, but we don’t want to be burned again. “Well, let’s see them do X,” we say, as if the Lions cannot possibly play winning football until they pass a series of specific tests.
Honestly, though—which of those tests remain unpassed? The Lions have won their season opener. They’ve won at home and on the road. They’ve beaten two teams who boasted double-digit wins last year (though the Chiefs will almost certainly lose as many this year). They’ve closed out a game where they held a lead, and they’ve put on the biggest regular-season rout in franchise history. If they take care of business as favorites this Sunday, they’ll add a division road win to their smoking pile of defeated challenges. Including this preseason, the Lions have won their last ten games.
If we remain skeptical of the Lions’ success, we may suffer the same fate as many Tigers fans have. They steeled themselves all summer for the inevitable collapse, wasting their long-awaited AL Central championship season. They took little joy from the Tigers’ 2011 run to the title, because they spent all year pretending it was an illusion. They’ve railed against Jim Leyland so often for so long that they can hardly find it in themselves to be happy he was right.
Let’s not do that with this Lions campaign. Let’s take it cum grano salis, in the Italian sense. With avere sale in zucca, a little bit of intelligence, we can see and appreciate exactly how rare and special this Lions season will be. Let’s not only cheer and celebrate with all of our hearts. With just a pinch of perspective, we can see how good—how great—these Lions are, and will be.
If they continue to perform as they have, the Lions will be not be “pretty good.” The they will not be “a playoff contender.” They will not be “a team on the rise.” They will be one of the best in the NFL—and they will have the players driving that success locked up for years to come. The Lions’ offense will be a Top 5 scoring unit, and Stafford a Top 5 quarterback. Just how good the defense will be against competition like the Packers and Bears remains unknown, but to date they’re blowing away expectations.
With our eyes shut tight and our nose pinched closed, Lions fans have no hope of experiencing all the wonderful emotions this season has to offer.
Relax. Let your guard down. Take a deep breath in through your nose. Open your eyes, and see the meal that’s laid before you. Add just a grain of salt, and savor the flavors that come alive inside of you. Revel in your favorite team entering the Vikings’ lair as conquerors, ready to ransack and pillage and do as they will. Grow strong as the warmth of victory swells in your belly.
Then, salt it away.
Preserve these memories; keep some safe in the larder for leaner times. Remember every big play, cherish every win, knowing the Lions won’t stay undefeated forever. Someday, Lions fans will again have to to subsist on what they remember of the good times—so make sure every moment of these is present and preserved in your mind, having been taken with a grain of salt.