Neil and I are two sides of the same coin: I soar through my blue-sky optimism on patched and tattered wings, while he trudges through the marshes of the river Styx, protecting his blue-flame candle from the muck and the mire.
I’ve written before about the discordance between what I do and what he does. I never use profanity on my site; he never doesn’t on his. I preach a pious brand of faithful fandom; he lead Lions fans though violent and terrible spiritual Crusade, slaying infidels and vampire apes in equal measure.
Neil started at Armchair Linebacker on the cusp of the 2008 season. Indeed, the 0-16 year. In possibly the most prescient blog post of all time, he titled it “Welcome to Hell:”
Why hello there. Welcome to hell, also known as being a fan of the Detroit Lions. My name is Neil and I will be your tour guide during this frightening journey that we will take together, the Virgil to your Dante if you will. It will not be easy, and along the way, there will no doubt be dead bodies left in our wake and drunken ramblings and threats of suicide. I assure you that this is all a normal part of following the Detroit Lions.
I started The Lions in Winter at that season’s conclusion, at rock bottom, when the only direction to go was up:
I'm a fan. I was born a fan, and I will die a fan. The hooting and derision of the American sports culture has set my resolve. I'm sick of getting snickers on the football-y corners of the Internet. I'm sick of getting reaction takes when I wear Lions gear around town. I've thought about starting this blog for years, but this morning I knew that today was the day. I've pulled my hood tight, I've loaded up the sled with wood, and I've got fuel and spark to spare. I'm going to reclaim my Lions pride. I'm going to fan that little blue flame into the great big bonfire it ought to be, and nobody's going to be prouder than me when thousands are once again carrying torches to rally behind this team.
Neil cited burnout, and said he’d “told the story [he’d] set out to tell;” along with some epic tales of The Great Willie Young, he absolutely did. But when the Lions have taken fifty years of perennial laughingstockery and set it on fire, and the Lions’ head coach tops a national columnist’s Coach Power Rankings . . . things have changed.
Nobody could, or did, chronicle the Lions’ descent into Hell in all its naked shock and horror. Nobody else could, or did, chronicle the Lions’ journey through those dark and unspeakable days as well. Nobody else could, or did, call for the mass pillaging and enslavement of the state of Ohio if that’s what it took to claw back to respectability.
I understand why he’s stopping.
The Lions in Winter's purpose is to keep the spirit of Lions fandom alive. To tend the little blue flame, to provide warmth and light and succor to the damned and hardy souls who never stopped cheering—and awareness and enlightenment to those who’d long since abandoned hope.
Now, the blue bonfire roars so high that all the world can see it; it hardly feels like I need bother chop the wood, or keg and tap the cider. I’m no longer filled with righteous vigor dozens of times a day by an unending stream of stupid Internet rage.
Countless Lions fans (and, *gasp*, admirers) now have many, many places on the Internet where they can find intelligent analysis of Detroit Lions football. They have many reasons to be thrilled. They have many reasons to be satisfied, waiting only for the Lions to take the field again.
Doesn’t leave a whole lot to write about.
Don't worry: The Lions in Winter isn't going anywhere. The Lions’ job is far from finished, and so is mine. I’ve spent three and a half years proving my hope, my faith, my knowledge of the glorious Lions time to come is real. Now, my job is prove it is real . . .
. . . and maybe keep the flame from burning too high, extinguishing itself by losing control.
It’s no secret that my posting on here has slowed. We’ve entered the hard offseason, now, with nothing of real import occurring. Every year, I’ve beat my head against the wall trying to come up with something original to say about the daily tidbits of totally-inconsequential news. The fact is, I’ve never done that well and now it seems like wasted time.
I’m going to keep posting stuff of originality and quality, with little of the filler so much of the Sports Internet is flooded with. I’m going to keep covering the NFL at Bleacher Report, which by God if you haven’t gotten the message about how good B/R is right now just go ahead and read up. I’m tremendously proud of the work I’ve done there, and of the nearly half-a-million eyeballs my my writing’s pulled since I started last September.
The fact is, I need this place. I need this outlet. I need you folks. It’s the payoff for all those long years huddling my jacket over a tiny lick of blue fire on a pile of snow-damp twigs. The pride and joy of being awarded a game ball by the Lions’ head coach for directly helping my team win? I need to share those emotions with people who understand the contrast between Heaven and Hell. Who know how long we’ve suffered. Who know the meaning of being a Lions fan.
People like Neil.
When I got the news, I was in the middle of a ceremonial Twitter speech about the Vikings, how I hate their purple dirty cheating Viking faces, and how thrilled I am they’re going to build a new stadium in Minnesota so we can renew our hatred over and over for decades hence.
I sat down to write this, and it hit me: there’s only one proper way for Armchair Linebacker to die. Not to die, but to pass on from this world into the next. To be immolated in a blue-flame funeral pyre and reduced to sacred ash. To be placed on its longboat with treasured belongings, intoxicating drinks and live sacrifices, set afire, and set adrift to journey to Valhalla, the legendary hall of the immortal dead.
The archives of Armchair Linebacker will serve as an immortal reminder of the brilliant madness of Neil, Raven Mack, and the other depraved, brilliant fans who wrote under their banner. Even as Neil joins us for mugs of cider around the bonfire, even as Neil plies his trade at Guyism.com, the savage and monstrous genius he spread out across an encyclopedia’s worth of words will live on forever, swigging mead and feasting upon beast and fowl alike.
As Armchair Linebacker burns off to that glorious horizon and the undying lands beyond, raise your flagon and drink.
Armchair Linebacker is dead. All hail Armchair Linebacker.