Would-be Kings, Under the Mountain

>> 12.16.2013

On the third morning Caradhras rose before them, a mighty peak, tipped with snow like silver, but with sheer naked sides, dull red as if stained with blood.

 There was a black look in the sky, and the sun was wan. The wind had gone now round to the north-east. Gandalf snuffed the air and looked back.

 `Winter deepens behind us,' he said quietly to Aragorn. 'The heights away north are whiter than they were; snow is lying far down their shoulders. Tonight we shall be on our way high up towards the Redhorn Gate. We may well be seen by watchers on that narrow path, and waylaid by some evil; but the weather may prove a more deadly enemy than any. What do you think of your course now, Aragorn?'

In the 2001 movie The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, the Fellowship attempt to pass beyond Caradhras and are foiled when Saruman, the corrupted wizard, conjures a brutal snowstorm.

In the book it is the mountain itself that turns back the Nine with heavy snow and falling rocks, possibly possessed by a shadowy evil of "the Enemy," Sauron. With the sun-lit way closed to them, the Fellowship are forced to proceed under the mountain—through the dark, deep, deadly mines of Moria.

In last Sunday's all-consuming blizzard, the Lions were turned back by the inclement weather, the Philadelphia Eagles, and their own mistakes. Another afternoon of head-slapping fumbles, blooper-reel mistakes and missed opportunities was punctuated by a complete and total defensive collapse.

It's tempting to write off the loss as a freak occurrence of nature, and yet both teams had to play in that snow.

The Eagles fumbled just once that day; the Lions seven times. Matthew Stafford physically could not throw deep enough to find an often-open Calvin Johnson; Nick Foles had no trouble throwing to (even overthrowing) DeSean Jackson.

These are freak occurrences, except they happen every week. They lead to unfortunate losses that have nothing to do with fortune. The Lions have thrown away possession after possession, drive after drive, opportunity after opportunity, game after game—and now the easy road is closed to them.

I've invoked the imagery of Gandalf facing the Balrog once before on this blog, and now it seems applicable again: There is evil in this football world against which Stafford and these young Lions have not yet been tested, and they are going to have to defeat it, toe-to-toe, from here on out.

In the dark of night, the Lions will face the Baltimore Ravens on Monday Night Football.

It's fitting that they'll play a team named after an ill omen. It's fitting that they'll be playing until midnight, or nearly so. They will have to take the deepest, darkest road of all to and through the playoffs: From tonight at midnight, through two more must-win games, then three playoff rounds—each more difficult than the last, likely against three foes against whom the Lions will be massive underdogs.

In order to scale to the top of the NFL mountain and claim the Lombardi trophy for their own, the Lions will have to play six consecutive games all but flawlessly. Given how they've played to date, that's asking the impossible.

Yet, that's what is asked of them. That is the task that lays before them. Anything less is failure, and failure of the quest at this point would likely mean the dissolution of the Fellowship—or at least, the coaching staff that has led the Lions to this point.

All of this blog, all of my personal and professional journey from fan tormented by unending disappointment to member of the Pro Football Writers of America, all of my time as keeper of the little blue flame of Lions fandom, all of it has come with this coach, this quarterback, this band of Lions united by a common quest: The top of the mountain, the Super Bowl championship, and the precious Ring that comes with it.

It's hard to say how much the success of this quest means to me, to you, and to all Lions fans everywhere, and now it stands on the edge of a knife. Waver but a little, and it will fall.

What is the true character of this coach, this quarterback, this team? They have the talent to fulfill their destiny, but have they the will? Have they the tenacity?

We find out tonight.

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