Showing posts with label armchair linebacker. Show all posts
Showing posts with label armchair linebacker. Show all posts

A Viking Funeral for Armchair Linebacker

>> 5.11.2012


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.

Armchair Linebacker is dead. This evening, on Twitter, Neil from Armchair Linebacker announced that there will be no more Armchair Linebacker.

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, 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.


Barry Sanders: An Angel in Hell

>> 10.25.2010

The second Barry Week entry comes from Neil at Armchair Linebacker.  As many of you know, I’m a huge fan of his Lions writing; I often say we’re opposite sides of the same coin.  He’s also a gifted comedy writer and satirist—I am not—so check out Neil’s work at, too.  But first . . . read this.

On January 5, 1991, I sat in the stands at the Pontiac Silverdome and I watched Barry Sanders get gang tackled by the Dallas Cowboys in a playoff game. Only a half second later I watched Barry Sanders sprinting towards the endzone while fans screamed in joy and disbelief and the Cowboys all lay on the turf, beaten and demoralized by something not of this earth. I was eleven years old and I will never forget that moment for as long as I live.

Barry Sanders came to us like some sort of exotic angel, and for a fanbase which has spent most of its existence in the company of demons, trying desperately to avoid the terrible flames of hell, it was almost impossible to comprehend that a figure of such beautiful light could walk among us. But walk among us he did. He walked, he danced, and he ran – oh, how he ran – among us, and while he did, we were reminded that there is a better place, that angels are real, and we believed – if only for a while - that maybe, just maybe, we could be saved.

And really, that’s the legacy of Barry Sanders. His stats are magnificent. His runs were ridiculous and otherworldly. Football historians and fans will argue for years and years and years about where he fits in historically, and most of them will conclude that he is one of the top three or four running backs of all time. But, to us, he was something more than all that. He was something more than just a football player. He was our champion, he was our angel, he was our savior, he was our hope.

We are a doomed fanbase, haunted by failure, damned to hell for something none of us understand. We don’t get to experience happiness. We don’t understand joy. Our only hope is that the flames don’t hurt too badly when they take us yet again, game after game, week after week, year after year, decade after decade. And yet, when Barry Sanders came to us, like some agent of heaven, an angel too pure to be hurt by the fires of hell, we found ourselves believing that we could escape if we just followed him.

Barry danced in the fire, but he never got burned. He darted away from the flames, moved like he was dancing some sort of cosmic dance, a dance to save our souls. And when he danced, our souls moved with him, and when we were all swaying together to the beautiful rhythm that only he could hear, the flames seemed to die down and even the devil himself hid from him.

And then it was just Barry, dancing alone, a beautiful angel, twirling and stutter stepping, dancing, dancing, dancing, and it was as if our sins could be washed away, our pain forgotten, our souls redeemed as long as he danced, and as long as he kept those flames and the devil behind them safely at bay.

It’s almost impossible for other people to understand that. They see Barry Sanders and they see a great player. They admire his talent, they smile when they remember some of his more memorable runs, and they mention him in the same breath as Emmitt Smith, Jim Brown, Gale Sayers and all the other great backs who will live forever in Canton. But what they can never understand is that, to us, Barry was more than just a football player. Barry was the angel who dueled with the devil and won. Barry was the angel who danced and danced and danced so that the flames wouldn’t burn us anymore. Barry was the angel who made a bunch of damned souls believe in heaven.

To us, the numbers are just a pale reflection of the man. His stats, his legacy, his place in the historical pantheon of great backs – none of these really matter. They are all just ways for everybody else to make sense of Barry’s career. To us, there is just the man and our memories, memories not just of the same runs that everyone else remembers, but memories of how they made us feel as Lions fans, memories of the way they made us shriek in excitement, memories of the way they made us feel joy, memories of the way they made us believe.

In the end, Barry Sanders was not perfect. He couldn’t dance forever and we all knew it. We just hoped that he would dance long enough so that we could all escape. We almost did. But we never quite got free of our own personal hell. And the thing about hell is that it can defeat even the best of us. It can strip us of our hopes and dreams and our memories of even the idea of heaven. And that’s what happened to Barry. He danced for so long, fought for us for so many years amidst the flames and the darkness that he grew tired and he began to forget that there was something better, that there was a heaven out there and that heaven was his true home. And this scared him and so he walked away before the flames could consume him, left before his essential goodness, before the thing that made him great was stripped from him just as our own hopes and dreams had been stripped from us.

It was a terrible moment, and we all wailed and we all begged him to stay just one more year, to dance for us just a little longer, to give us just one more chance to get free of our own terrible prison. But he couldn’t. And when he walked away, the flames returned and the devil stormed back into our lives and it was even worse than it was before. The devil was angry and he was going to have his terrible vengeance. But the light that was Barry Sanders never quite died. It always lived in our hearts and although it was now tinged by pain, touched by sadness, it sustained us. Its memory kept us moving forward, kept us believing in a better world, a better fate, in a heaven we could all one day call home.

And that’s Barry Sanders’ legacy. That’s what he’ll always mean to Lions fans. On that Sunday in January, 1991, when Barry Sanders broke away from the pack and ran towards the end zone, he was running towards our salvation and for a moment, a moment so fragile that it would shatter only a week later, it seemed that all we had to do was follow Barry and we would be free.

It was never quite the same after that. It was always an unwinnable fight against fate. And I think on some level we all knew that. But in that moment, Barry Sanders ran, and no one, not the Dallas Cowboys, not the fires of hell, and not even the devil himself, could stop him, and in that one moment we were free and we knew that heaven was real, and all we had to do to get there was scream and cheer with great joy as we watched Barry Sanders run, run, run. In our hearts, he could run forever, and as long as he did, anything and everything was possible and hell was just a word.


Tinderbox: Watchtower today!

>> 10.15.2010

I’m working feverishly on the Watchtower post; I’m being tripped up because both Giants coordinators have run, or been taught under, several distinct schemes.  I’m trying to figure out what’s relevant data and what isn’t.  In the meantime, here are some excellent links to tide you over:

  • Dave Birkett of the Free Press wrote a great piece on C.C. Brown's understanding of Eli Manning's game. I'd forgotten that C. C. played with the Giants last year, and has seen an awful lot of reps against Eli.
  • Tim Twentyman wrote a nice story for the Detroit News about Jeff Backus, and his 150-game starting streak.  Backus has overcome a lot of physical adversity, yes, but this season has also wrestled with some serious personal stress.  Definitely worth a read.
  • Big Al of The Wayne  Fontes Experience did a cool Q&A with UltimateNYG, Bloguin’s Giants blog.  They have not forgotten that C. C. Brown played for their favorite team last year.  Also, they have similar feelings to my own about their OC, Kevin Gilbride.
  • If you haven't been following the Adventures of the Great Willie Young, Armchair Linebacker's chronicling of Lions DE Willie Young's epic feats throughout human history, the latest installment reveals Willie’s adventures in the heart of 8th-century China.  Fair warning: Willie (according to the legendary tale of his epic legend) was involved in some seriously not-family-friendly stuff, so if that kind of thing isn’t your thing, don’t bother.
  • EDIT TO ADD: Oh, one more thing. I don't have a Homecoming post up yet—but this is Homecoming Weekend for Michigan State.  So, if you’re in to MSU football, check out my new MSU football blog, A Beautiful Day for Football.  Wolverines, fret not: I’ll keep TLiW Spartan-free.


    Suh Has Signed—and The Blue Fire Roars

    >> 8.04.2010

    Super Bowl XLIV Media Day Late last night, word finally broke on Twitter—sorry, hundreds at the same time, no idea who was first—that the Lions and Ndamukong Suh had agreed to the terms of his first Lions contract (see what I did there?).  During last Sunday’s Fireside Chat, I’d noted, with growing distaste, how quickly Lions fans were beginning to turn on Suh.  Never before had the Lions’ fanbase been so united in their desire for a given player to be the Lions’ first draft pick—and yet, a few days’ worth of not being in camp had people jumping on Twitter and cussing out Ndamukong, and his sister Ngum.

    It all got way out of hand.  Neil over at Armchair Linebacker penned a thoughtful piece called “Settle Down,” which I thought did a a nice job of cogently, if profanely, outlining all the reasons why the reactionary attitude was totally out of line:

    Then again, the most likely explanation is that Ndamukong Suh is a dude in his early twenties who is going to spend the next decade of his life (if he's lucky) getting the utter shit kicked out of him, being beaten and broken, his body ripped apart and ravaged so that by the time he's 40 he'll barely be able to walk and won't be able to read any of the street signs thanks to all of the concussions. He'll then spend the next thirty or so years of his life (again, if he's lucky) dealing with the hellacious trauma of his chosen career, with mounting medical bills and aches and pains that most of us can't even fathom. Be honest, if someone told you that you were going to be finished at 35 and then were going to spend the rest of your life taking a half hour getting out of bed in the morning because the pain was just too damn much and trying to remember your kids' names and wondering if you would need a wheelchair before your fiftieth birthday, you'd probably press for as much money as you could too. And that's all assuming you'd even be good enough to play for a decade and not for three or four years. These dudes need to get paid and need to get paid quickly.

    This is absolutely right: most quality players only get to sign two—or if they’re lucky, a few—of these big, guarantee-laden contracts.  Many never even get past one.  I wonder what Charles Rogers would do now to pocket one more million of that upfront money?

    A big Lions fan on Twitter, @AKDW90, asked me “What difference would it be if he gets $40M or $50M?” and I answered “About ten million dollars.”  Frankly, ten million dollars is a lot of dollars, no matter how many dollars you already have.  Moreover, consider this: Ndamukong worked like crazy for five years at Nebraska, through two coaches, and trained like a madman to thoroughly dominate the NFL combine.  Why did he do that?  To be the best he could be—and to get drafted as highly as possible.  He earned his #2 overall draft slot through years and years of his own hard work; why should he throw any of that away and sign for less than he can get?  So he can make a handful of August practices?

    Just as I was mentally composing my own "Settle Down" piece, Neil wrote a sequel.  It’s a little more firm in its critique.  As I like to keep it family here on this blog, there’s very little of it I can quote to you—yet, this one sentence might be the most salient:

    Look, you know things have gotten out of hand when I am the one trying to be the voice of reason and preaching civility.

    Commenter TimT—who I have the utmost respect for—objected to all of this Gonzo fan-on-fan aggression, but I found it cathartic and satisfying.  There’s no room around the the blue bonfire for people who will get on Twitter and viciously flame Ndamukong Suh’s little sister because the big man was four days slow on signing his contract.  Please, people, perspective.  This guy’s going to be the anchor of the Lions’ defense for years to come; is this what you want him to think of Lions fans?

    Speaking of the blue bonfire, if there was an antidote to the nastiness of the Lions fans on Twitter, it was the awesomeness of the fans of the rest of the NFL on Twitter.  Raider homer @rnstrong immediately fired off a Tweet for the ages:

    SUUUUHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!! I instantly became a Lions fan the moment they drafted him

    You see?  It’s already beginning, people.  Ndamukong Suh is going to be everything I thought Aaron Curry would be: a once-in-a-generation combination of size, speed, ability, and intelligence.  A humble, honest, hardworking young man blessed with a philanthropic spirit.  The savior of the worst defense the NFL has ever seen, and avatar of renaissance for both the Lions, and the City of Detroit.  Today, as Ndamukong Suh practices with his teammates for the first time, the blue bonfire burns as brightly as it has in years.  As the Honolulu Blue flames reach for the August sky, people from all over are rushing to to see the source.  Join us.

    We’ve got plenty of cider on ice.


    Giving Thanks

    >> 11.30.2009

    I hope you all had as wonderful of a holiday weekend as I did.  Spending lots of do-nothing time with friends and family is a great way to relax, recharge, and reinvigorate yourself.  I also went to my official 10-year high school reunion--nothing screams “high school” like having two reunions—and I’m still kind of grooving off of the whole reconnection vibe.

    In that spirit, I'm going to virtually reconnect with a lot of the folks who've been there for me throughout the eleven months I've been writing. In absolutely no particular order . . .

    • Steve from Detroit Lions Weblog was an early inspiration. When I was considering starting TLIW, I knew absolutely nothing about the Lions blogosphere.  I spent a couple of weeks looking around to see what blogs were out there already, what was being written, and what was being read.  I was taken by Steve's ability to simply write about the Lions, holding nothing back in either emotion or vocabulary.  Reading him express himself completely, and then let those words stand alone, convinced me that what I wanted to do could be done.
    • Reverend Spielman over at the Church of Schwartz has put together what just might be the best regular feature of the Lions blogosphere: the Lions Congregation.  This roundtable of Lions bloggers, discussing three new Reverend-composed questions, has sussed out the gamut of reasonable opinions on almost every Lions topic.  Frankly, it’s a must-read for anyone who likes intelligent Lions analysis.  Beyond the Congregation, the Rev and his partner, Deacon Blades Boyd, do some very sharp analysis of their own.  They also hail from the Great White North, and therefore connect a lot of international readers with the greater Lions community.
    • Phil Zaroo over at Mlive has been an incredible boon to me, and the rest of the Lions blogosphere.  Phil reads just about every Lions blog there is, and regularly links the best of all of them (and me) in his Highlight Reel blog, which has provided me with the lion’s share (ha ha) of my exposure and traffic.  However, Phil's much more than a linking machine.  He writes with his own voice, both frequently and well.
    • Kevin Seifert at is technically an “NFC North” blogger.  However, he not only has the regional knowledge of being a Vikings beat for years, has the sources and resources of the Worldwide Leader at his fingertips, he takes the time to do a genuinely awesome job with his Lions analysis.  He also did me the amazing favor of writing about, and linking to, a TLIW post.
    • David M of NFL Draft Blogger has all the college pigskin knowledge I lack, and he puts that to good work doing all the draft prep that I, at best, put off until February.  He’s also a Lions fan, and both reads and comments here from time to time.  Frequently, we pick each other’s brain over IM, and the result is better stuff for all you folks.
    • Sean Yuille at the Pride of Detroit does an amazing job breaking down all the latest news, reports, and rumors about the Lions.  He actually got a hold of the complete style sheet for the new Lions fonts, logo, and uniform weeks before anyone else had it.  In my early days, I tried to keep pace with him on that stuff--it only took a couple of weeks before I realized I was just parroting him and knocked it off.  More than that, though, I admire the way Sean has built a massive community; plenty of people write their own mini-blogs and one-shot posts under the umbrella of PoD.
    • I would be beyond remiss if I didn't also mention DrewsLions, a regular poster at PoD, and an excellent commenter here.  Drew writes from the heart, much as I do, and we’ve frequently admired each other’s work.  This next bit has nothing to do with his writing or the Lions, but Drew has recently been through a profound personal struggle; I can only hope that if I were in the same situation, I’d have half of the resilience and strength of spirit he’s shown.
    • No rundown of awesome dudes in the Lions blogosphere could be without Greg Eno, and his partner in knee-jerking, Big Al of the Wayne Fontes Experience.  Their weekly Blog Talk Radio show/podcast, “The Knee Jerks”, is a whole lot of good talk, good interviews, and just plain good stuff on all the Detroit pro teams.  Both Greg and Big Al are well-spoken on air, comfortable with each other, and clearly have a good time while they’re doing it.  Greg’s a professional writer who’s started and maintained several outstanding blogs—notably, Out of Bounds, and enotes (non-sports).  Big Al is a very smart, very funny guy who is unafraid to drop Star Trek, Life is Hell, Invader Zim, or The Three Stooges screenshots into his work—sometimes, all in the same post!  His weekly Facepalm Awards are not to be missed; here’s a prime example.  Big Al’s gotten a lot bigger lately with his incredibly invasive, but incredibly successful back surgery--here’s to that!
    • Big Al's stuff has been so smart, so funny, so consistently, that he's been asked to contributed to's It’s Just Sports.  Patrick Hayes and company over there consistently deliver the daily news about Michigan (and national) sports with a sly grin and a barbed stinger.  They also did me the honor of a feature article and interview a little while ago, and I’m incredibly thankful for that.
    • Speaking of smart and funny, Neil over at Armchair Linebacker is in a class all by himself.  Any regular TLIW readers have both seen me highlight his work, and seen him comment here, many times.  What Neil does is something I’m consistently astounded by: with wit, style, and sparkling prose he captures the profound depression and unstoppable optimism that comes with being a Lions fan.  We’ve often noted that our work seems like 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-flamed candle from the muck and the mire.
    • Lastly, and very far from leastly, is DF79's Roar of the Lions.  He started the way I did: with nothing but will a Blogspot account.  However, he recently joined forces with Fanball to present the same great material in some very shiny new digs.  He’s knowledgeable and analytical—yet, he writes with personality and passion, much as I do.  As a fellow young father of multiple kids, he and I both experienced the great joys of mixing family and fandom.  DF79 and I share a love of coffee, and we’ve even been lucky enough to share Lions talk over lattes at our mutual favorite establishment.  He and his have also experienced a recent loss; I hope this time of reconnection helps his family recover.

    I really could keep going for days; there are many folks (be they Lions-, sports-, or non-sports) that have inspired me from afar, checked out my writing, linked to my writing, collaborated with me, or otherwise deserve mention; there’s too many to list them all.  I just wanted to take this time to make sure that everyone reading knows how much this site’s been lifted up by all my fellow Lions bloggers—most of whom have been plowing this frozen ground for far longer than I have.  Infinite thanks to them, and to you.

    Be well, everyone, and may peace be with you and yours throughout this holiday season.



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