I am a Detroit Lions Fan; I Support Ndamukong Suh

>> 11.29.2011

ndamukong_suh_packers_suspension

The Lions in Winter is more than a Detroit Lions blog. It’s about more than game previews and reviews, or analysis and breakdowns, or numbers or charts or wins or losses or even my feelings about all of the above. Though much of what you read here falls into one of the above categories, part of TLiW’s mission is to write about Detroit Lions fans: the state of Lions fandom, what it means to be a Lions fan, and what it means to be a fan of anything.

Over at Cheesehead TV, the preeminent Packers blog, writer CD Angeli (formerly of Tundra Vision) wrote a post called “Packers’, Lions’ Destinies Diverge.” As the self-appointed chronicler of Lions fandom, I feel duty-bound to respond.

Angeli effectively brings to bear his memories of the Forest Gregg Era. Gregg took over the Packers in 1984, when Green Bay was coming off 12 straight years without a winning season. Gregg immediately led the Pack to their second and third consecutive 8-8 seasons, but couldn’t break the .500 barrier. In 1986 and 1987 the Pack went 4-12 and 5-9-1, respectively, ending Gregg’s run as Packers head coach.

As Angeli writes, there wasn’t much to root for during those losing seasons except the Packers’ penchant for vicious hits:

As the Packers posted just thirteen wins over the final three years of Gregg’s tenure, Charles Martin delivered the “Body Slam Heard Round Mostly Wisconsin”. Yes, with no chance to beat the Bears on the scoreboard late in 1986, Martin grabbed Punky QB Jim McMahon a full two seconds after the ball was away and threw him into the Solider Field artificial turf, separating his shoulder. It was the beginning of a new approach for the “hard-nosed Packers and their hard-nosed coach”. If you can’t beat them, beat them up.

And, I am humbled to say that, like many Packer fans at the time, I didn’t completely decry the incident. In fact, I kind of celebrated it. I mean, the Bears were cocky, right? And McMahon was a jerk, right? He kind of deserved it. You saw Martin’s face as he was ejected, and there wasn’t a look of outrage or contriteness on his face. He looked almost bemused. And so did many Packer fans, as we found ourselves face-to-face with Bear fans that week in our cubicle, our classes, or our local tavern and let them know we scored a point against them.

Angeli goes on to describe what he calls a “loser’s mentality,” getting in a cheap shot or complaining about the refs because it’s all you can do when overwhelmed by a superior opponent. He correctly notes that the Lions are a much more talented team than the mid-80s Packers, and the Lions don’t need to be dirty to gain an advantage. They can, and should, test their mettle against great teams like today’s Packers while playing clean, fair football.

Ultimately, Angeli lays blame for Detroit’s loser mentality on Lions head coach Jim Schwartz:

Abraham Lincoln once said, “Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” I am thankful that Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson preside over a team that is thoughtful enough to protect both.

And, as the shadow of the Lions’ reputation gets longer and longer, you only need to follow it to the source…and that is the character of Jim Schwartz.

A bit of perspective: in 2008, the Lions capped off a seven-season stretch of going 31-81 by losing every single game they played.

Those 2008 Lions had the worst defense ever assembled. They surrendered over 2,700 rushing yards at an average of 5.1 yards per carry, and over 3,700 passing yards at an average of 8.29 YpA. Opposing quarterbacks had a 25:4 TD/INT ratio, and a passer rating of 110.1. As wretched as the defense was, the offense wasn't much better. The 2008 Lions not only went 0-16, they didn’t even belong on the same field as their competition.

Since then, Jim Schwartz’s Lions are 15-28. Incredibly, that’s a better winning percentage than any of his three most recent predecessors, despite the talent cupboard being completely bare when he took over. The Lions’ statistical Great Leap Forward from 2009 to 2010 was remarkable, and after 2011 there will be a similar jump. When Schwartz was hired, the Lions were the worst team in professional sports, and in Schwartz’s third season they are legitimate playoff contenders in the strongest division in football.

Jim Schwartz is the best thing to happen to the Lions since Barry Sanders—not since Barry left, mind you, but since he arrived.

Angeli’s use of Lincoln’s shadow metaphor is particularly apt; before Thanksgiving  most of Ndamukong Suh’s “dirty” reputation was built upon a shadow. Suh “ripped Andy Dalton’s helmet off,” though it actually popped off in the midst of a legal sack because Dalton didn’t fasten it. Suh “horse collared” Marion Barber, though Suh legally grabbed Barber’s hair only. Suh “forearm shivered” Jay Cutler, though Suh just pushed one flat hand into Cutler’s back.

Perception, though, sometimes becomes reality. In the PR-minded NFL, any negative publicity is reacted against with a knee-jerk gavel and mob-justice sentence. Suh has been branded a “dirty player,” and the Lions a “dirty team,” so officials are cautioned to watch them more closely.  Minor Lions infractions draw flags, and major Lions infractions become talking points for talk radio. The Packers are “winners” who play “the right way,” so their minor infractions are overlooked and their major infractions are lauded as hard-nosed play—Charles Woodson, j’accuse.

By Angeli’s definition, Evan Dietrich-Smith has a loser’s mentality. Faced with a far superior opponent—Suh—Dietrich-Smith did what he had to do to stay competitive: he cheated. He clutched, he grabbed, he flailed, he did everything he could to keep Suh from killing Aaron Rodgers. On the down before the incident, Dietrich-Smith and center Scott Wells resorted to attempting to tackle Suh, both wrapping both arms around Suh’s chest and hanging on for dear life.

I’m not supposed to complain about this. That’s the loser’s mentality, right? The Packers blatantly cheated to hold off Ndamukong Suh, sure, but that stuff happens all the time in football, right? If Suh’s really so great, he should just overcome it, right? Unfortunately, yes: no matter how dirty the other guy plays, no matter how many obvious penalties go uncalled, no matter how many flags are getting thrown at the Lions’ offensive line for much lesser fouls, Ndamukong Suh is—and I  am—expected to keep a stiff upper lip.

This is the funny thing about being a fan—a true fan, a diehard fan, a supporter in the world’s parlance. You wrap yourself up in your team, allow their identity to become part of yours. You feel a kinship with the team and players. When you brand yourself a fan, your team’s successes and failures reflect back on you—both inwardly, in your emotions, and outwardly, in how other people treat you.

When what your team does clashes irrevocably with who you are as a person, it's an awful feeling. It’s the feeling I got sitting in the stands, watching Suh nuke the Lions’ chances of pulling off the biggest Lions win since 1991. It’s the feeling I got when I got home and had to explain the incident to my kids. It’s what makes people call in to sports talk radio and shout “THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE!” They’re saying, “I can’t accept being a fan of this team anymore, if this team is stands for [fill in the blank].”

After the incident, I lashed out on Twitter, and got dozens of Packer fans filling my feed with comments along the lines of “ha ha, losers weepers.” It was like a flood of 140-character versions of C.D. Angeli’s piece. What could I do? What could I say? I was impotent in my frustration and rage. I am not a dirty person. My favorite players shouldn’t be dirty players. My favorite team shouldn’t be a dirty team. It’s unacceptable.

If I go on a rampage like Suh, I’ll face a backlash of scorn and ridicule like he did. If I say nothing, I have to hear a bunch of crap from Packers fans who are no more righteous in their offended sensibilities than Evan Deitrich-Smith is in his.

Ultimately, this is fandom's great illusion. I am not Ndamukong Suh, and C.D. Angeli is not Evan Dietrich-Smith.  I am not a loser because the Lions lost, and he is not a winner because the Packers won. I have no more business being indignant about the terrible officiating than he has lecturing Lions fans about “character.”

What Ndamukong Suh did WAS unacceptable. It has no place in the game. He deserved the penalty, deserved to be ejected, deserves a big fat fine, and deserved to be suspended for two games without pay. I completely denounce his attack on Dietrich-Smith, and pray he never does anything like it ever again.

But . . . I am a Lions fan. It’s part of my identity. If I can brand myself with the colors of 0-16, I can brand myself with the colors of Ndamukong Suh, for good or bad—and believe me, even with this incident, Suh has done much, much, much more good in his life than bad. I am hurt, ashamed, and disappointed—but I choose to continue to accept Suh and these Lions as my team. Their destiny on the field is my destiny as a fan, and I will support them to it, come what may.

What else am I supposed to do—root for the Packers?

19 comments:

George Greiner November 29, 2011 at 4:47 PM  

I agree with much of what is said in this article but I don't think he deserved the suspension. I think the only reason he was suspended was the pressure the lynch mob media put on the NFL to suspend him. If he is suspended then all post play punching, kicks to the groin etc need to have suspensions attached to them but in all reality the media hates Suh and thinks he is evil so he is pretty much screwed. Too bad a great player is going to be not so great because the NFL is going to force him to just be another guy playing at the level they find acceptable.

Cjpops76,  November 29, 2011 at 4:59 PM  

I'm as big a Lions fan as anyone else. However, what Suh did was not a football play. He is no different from MSU's Gholston who should've been disciplined MUCH more than he was (par for the course with Dantonio, but, that's a different conversation).

Whatever was done to Suh before the "stomp" does not excuse his actions. Supporting the team is one thing (and I do), but, there is no good way to defend Suh's actions.

He's out of control. Not dirty. Out of control. If he was dirty, he would be trying to get away with things without the refs noticing. His actions are out in the open - he doesn't try to hide a thing.

Anonymous,  November 29, 2011 at 5:33 PM  

Playing on the edge at 100 percent has gotten Suh in trouble. He has to learn to play at 80 percent so he can protect himself and guard against penalties, and reserve any 100 percent effort for critical game on the line plays. This is the only way he will be able to prolong his career.

C.D. Angeli November 29, 2011 at 6:28 PM  

Nice piece, Ty. I don't know if I've ever been a tag before.

Now, step back from the edge a bit. You have every right to be there, but take a breath and realize that the Lions are still within reach of a playoff berth, something you guys haven't sniffed in ten years.

I'm glad you like Schwartz, but he's got a ways to go. Frankly, I like Suh. I think in a positive environment of accountability, he's going to be one of the best in the league.

But he's overlooking blatant attitude issues. If you think Stafford telling all the fair-weather fans to [explicative] off in a practice huddle is unprofessional, ask what consequence he got. My guess? None.

I'm glad Schwartz has got this team winning, but after two seasons, Forrest Gregg's winning percentage ranked only behind Lambeau and Lombardi in Packer history. Chew on that for a second.

The mismanagement of Millen has cursed you guys for years. Now that your franchise is trying to right itself, the influx of talent after years of terrible play SHOULD make the winning percentage go up, almost regardless of who is in the coaches chair.

Personally, I want the Lions to be good. I think their fans are long-suffering and nothing would please me more than to see the Lions/Packer rivalry actually grow into something on the level of what the Packer/Viking rivalry was about ten years ago.

But you're not going to get it if you don't have respect...respect of other teams or self-respect. And that's the slippery slope Schwartz is going to have to reverse course on pretty quick.

Jimmy Schwartz,  November 29, 2011 at 6:29 PM  

Great article, only been reading your stuff for a little over a year but can't remember something as well written as this.

I think the worst part about what happened isn't that Suh was finally "revealed" to be a dirty player, but that I knew how much it would be discussed on TV, and knowing how much it is going to take in order for him to turn his reputation around. It's easy for people to look at the fines, and this incident, and say he's been doing this all along, but seriously, any true lions fan who follows the team and reads everything that comes out of practices, camp, etc. knows that Suh is not a dirty guy. He's guarded, to the point of maybe being a dick, but hes not out there trying to hurt people. He knows this, and that's why he reacted so poorly after the game, this isn't who he is.

Unfortunately, its going to be a while until the rest of the NFL fans forgive him. I work out of chicago and it makes me physically ill every time some half wit bears fan who doesn't know a thing about football comes over to me just to tell me how dirty a player Suh is. All we can hope for is that he comes back better than ever and helps lead us to a playoff birth. Because ultimately, the only way he's really going to get everyone out side of detroit to forgive him is to play his ass off and win.

Anonymous,  November 29, 2011 at 7:20 PM  

Justin Rogers at M-Live wrote that Suh is only the third player suspended for more than a game for an on-the-field incident. If this is true, then it's a crime with what's happening to the Lions and the league in general. Is what Suh did one of the 3 worst things done on the field in the history of the NFL?! How about one of the 5 worst? Ten maybe?

This is a joke, and I do think the media frenzy and who it was and when it happened exploded this whole incident to obscene proportions. Time for the national media members to go back to writing about Brett Favre and local media members should be asking about the Lions' secondary unit's health and what is wrong with Scott Linehan's passing offense.

Empherical Evidence,  November 29, 2011 at 8:35 PM  

Very well done. Stomping has no place in football, but Suh is far from dirty. Lions fans are far from losers, and Packer fans are jealous.

Empherical Evidence,  November 30, 2011 at 4:39 AM  

You missed the point of the article. He wasn't defending Suh on that play, he was defending Lions fans, Suh the person, and the Lions. Here is a quote:

'What Ndamukong Suh did WAS unacceptable. '


Read the rest, it's amazing. Ty left the sword at home and brought that which is mightier to this fight. He is right, no fans are losers just because their team doesn't win. The thought and amount of work that went into this article are beyond the scope of the normal writer, and should be commended.

john tatreau sr November 30, 2011 at 8:23 AM  

GO SUH,AND GO BLUE WRECKIN'CREW~

Flamekeeper_Ty,  November 30, 2011 at 9:12 AM  

George, I do think he would have been suspended either way, but had this been an early Sunday game rather than a showcase game with a captive national audience, the media haranguing would have been much less severe. It was the only thing in the NFL to talk about for two or three days, and that's always a recipe for overreaction.

Flamekeeper_Ty,  November 30, 2011 at 9:13 AM  

Thanks, Empherical! I wouldn't say Packer fans are "jealous"-- after all, they're coming off a Super Bowl title, are 11-0, and are about to win another one . . .

. . . but yeah, we're not losers and neither are the Lions.

Flamekeeper_Ty,  November 30, 2011 at 9:15 AM  

I agree, Cjpops76. Nothing justifies what he did. He's got to get control of his actions and reactions.

That having been said, I still think he's a great person and an amazing player, and his future here is still a very bright one.

Flamekeeper_Ty,  November 30, 2011 at 9:15 AM  

Wow. Thank you, Empherical. That means an awful lot to me.

LionsFanROC,  November 30, 2011 at 11:06 AM  

I think George makes somewhat of a good point above in that the Vikings Brain Robison kicked a player in the groin after the play and was given absolutely no suspension. What is different about these actions? I would even argue a kick to the groin is WORSE than a stop on the forearm (and most men would likely agree).

In reality there are actually quite a few differences: The national media's perception of Suh and the Lions as being "dirty", the fact that Suh was such a high profile draft pick and had a sensational pro-bowl worthy season and because Suh, maybe even more so than Stafford or CJ, is the embodiment of this franchise.

Just like Ty said, I don't approve of what Suh did. How could you as a Lions fan or even a fan of football for that matter? But anyone in the media (Michael Wilbon, Skip Bayless to name a few) who has dealt extensively with the kid (and I stress kid) likes him as a person.

Fans on message boards, who were already up in arms because he's a good player who had likely inflicted some pain/damage on their teams players and the teams chances of winning, make him out to be some kind of absurd combination of Frankenstein mixed with the Grinch and a dash of the Boogeyman. He's not, he's just a very big, very intimidating, very strong KID who made a mistake.

Cjpops76,  November 30, 2011 at 12:26 PM  

Actually, you missed the point of my comment. I was agreeing with Ty. Additionally, I made the point that I don't believe Suh is dirty, just out of control.

Re-read my comment. It's amazing. ;)

Cjpops76,  November 30, 2011 at 12:37 PM  

I'm with you on the bright future, provided he gets himself under control. He is clearly a big time talent.

As for Suh as a person, I don't know anything about him in that regard. My relationship is with his play on the field. At this point, I'm not sure if he's helping more than he is hurting the team, so, I hope he gets that straightened out.

Thanks for the blog - always fun to read. :)

SomeChoi,  November 30, 2011 at 3:27 PM  

Yes, his act was intentional. But, I wonder when I'll see the action referred to as a "jab" - which is a more accurate description. Anonymous OG wasn't even hurt. If Suh had malicious intent, does anyone think Whats-His-Name's arm would still be functional today?

Funktron2x,  November 30, 2011 at 9:45 PM  

Absolutely fantastic article, Ty. In this day and age of instant communication, endless replays of something that didn't actually happen in slow motion and actually involved people moving at speeds regular folks simply can't comprehend, you're a voice of reason and reality.

Poncho6198,  December 2, 2011 at 9:20 AM  

Excellent writing, Ty. What Suh did in the process of extricating himself from the situation he was in, while regrettable and deserving of a flag, did not deserve a suspension. What he did was within the context of a situation and not some unprovoked act of aggression. The mass hysteria that followed just shows how well the campaign to paint him as dirty is working. The NFL does not want a player like him in their league any more, he is too dangerous for the QBs.

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