Throughout the Lions’ three-season post-Millen run, they’ve snapped almost every negative streak, quenched almost every dry spell, and slain almost every dragon. Winning a game, winning a road game, winning a divisional game, winning a divisional road game, putting together home, road, and division winning streaks, having a winning season, going to the playoffs . . . short of postseason glory, they’ve accomplished everything the teams of the past decade couldn’t. Well, almost.
Up in Wisconsin, there’s a great writhing demon made of green and gold. A winged, fire-breathing losing streak whose 20 years make it the longest in NFL history. A physical and psychological force so strong the last Lions team to pierce it was the mightiest squad in my lifetime—the 12-4 NFC Central championship team—and even then they only squeaked out a 21-17 win.
There are all kinds of ridiculous stat nuggets to be unearthed about this streak. Matthew Stafford hadn’t yet turned three years old. Jason Hanson had just finished his junior year at Washington State. Brett Favre was at the end of his long-forgotten Atlantan purgatory. The Lions’ starting right tackle in that game, Eric Sanders, was born in 1958. The Lions’ defensive coordinator then, Woody Widenhofer, was also the DC for the Super Bowl-winning 1979 Pittsburgh Steelers. It was the season reproduced in Tecmo Super Bowl.
There’s one other brick in this wall: the Lions needed to beat the Packers in Lambeau Field to avoid 0-16, and couldn’t. Back in 2008, in the game Gosder Cherilus declared “Our Super Bowl,” Aaron Rodgers handily outdueled Dan Orlovksy while Packers running backs Deshawn Wynn and Ryan Grant piled up 106 yards—each. Lions cornerback Travis Fisher was forced to renege on his promise to walk home if they lost.
Of all the crazy stats about this terrible losing streak, this is the one that hits me hardest: the Lions have the chance to go from 0-16 to 11-5 in exactly three years. They have the chance to take the field at the site of their ultimate defeat, go toe-to-toe with the only dragon they’ve yet to slay, and walk off the field in triumph. Could there be more perfect, complete redemption?
Many Lions fans have cheered the news that the Packers are planning on resting many of their top starters. If the Lions push all their chips to the center of the table, they should have no problem raking the pot. Ah, but there’s the rub: is a victory truly a victory when the other side lays down? Michael Strahan would say so . . .
See? This is an old Packers trick: by giving the enemy a victory, they’re actually denying them one. If the Lions leave Lambeau with a gifted victory, some will say it doesn’t count. Some will think it doesn’t really break the streak. The green-and-gold dragon will still haunt this rivalry. Its specter will still be invoked next year, and the year after that if the Lions don’t repeat the feat in 2012.
Incredibly, as of this writing 2012 is “this” year. Something happened to 2011; it disappeared in a flash of lockout and victory. Somehow, another calendar year and season is water under the bridge. Somehow, this year full of uncertainty and anxiousness and potential and expectations became a year full of success and achievement and PLAYOFFS.
I’ve been saying, repeatedly, that I’ve felt like the Lions clinching a playoff berth is a moment of surreal elation, of detached awe. I still can’t really process it; this sort-of game against a Packers “B” side isn’t going to help ground my free-floating emotions, either.
Losing technically means nothing at all, but will be a bitter disappointment. Winning will technically mean the world for the Lions—but will it taste as sweet as if the Packers had gone all-out? Will it still satisfy? Will it still feel like the ice-cold blood of the Titletown monster has been spilt upon the frozen tundra?
Here’s hoping we get the chance to find out.