The left boot’s lace snapped as I tied it. The axe was rusty and dull. It took a few tries to open the shed’s padlock, and I forgot to zip my parka. The wind driving the year’s first snowfall whipped into my chest, chilling me to the core. I steeled myself against it and set to work.
I walked the path to the bonfire, sled laden not with wood but with guilt. Too long, I’d let my tasks go uncompleted. Too long I’d left my duty undone.
The Lions aren’t going to the playoffs. They aren’t winning more games than they lose, or even winning as many games as they lose. They’re having a terrible season, and all the close calls and almosts and maybes and robberies adding up to a measly four wins out of 14 games.
The problems have been the same all season: a misfiring Matthew Stafford, special teams disasters, and a defense that can’t quite make up for all the offense’s mistakes. Calvin Johnson is going to break the single-season receiving yardage record, but the Madden Curse robbed him of his touchdowns—and the Lions of every other useful receiver.
Tonight, the Lions will take Ford Field for the second-to-last time this season. They face the 12-2 Atlanta Falcons, with nothing but pride at stake. Lions fans will fill Ford Field again, expecting to witness an excruciating loss for the fifth time this season.
And yet, the Lions will play, and the fans will watch and cheer and roar.
Trudging through the woods, the cold red light in the west fading, I pulled the sled toward the bonfire spot, fearful of what I’d find. To my surprise, I could make out a wan blue light dancing off the tops of the trees. As I got closer, I could hear voices.
The blue fire was nothing like the raging, towering inferno it had been. But it was bright and strong enough to keep the folks gathered there warm. There was no laughing, no singing, no loud carousing. The cider had long since run dry, the casks I’d last left weeks ago emptied and never replaced. But people were quietly resting, basking, keeping each other company.
Whether the Lions win or lose tonight, the blue flame is not threatened. Many, myself included, have had our faith tested this season, and the old bickering can be heard in murmurs around the edges of the fanbase. Many are questioning if the Lions are on the right path, but few have abandoned the flame completely.
Many have left the blue bonfire, but not for good. Not for long. Just for the winter.