I don’t think I have ever wrote about sports in this blog, which is a bit surprising considering how big of a fan I am. Football, baseball, basketball, hockey, soccer… I do my best to keep up with all of them. If I were to choose my favorite sport and my favorite team, however, it would without a doubt be football and the Detroit Lions.
This should come as no surprise. I was born and raised in Michigan, and spent the first 22 years of my life there before moving to greener pastures. I grew up watching Detroit sports and have stuck by their teams through the thick and the thin. Being a Lions fan in particular has not exactly been easy.
During the 1990s, I was a casual fan of the team. I had accepted their mediocrity and would passively watch their games. Their motif seemed to be to put together a slightly above average season, sneak into the playoffs and then promptly get their asses kicked. It became something of a yearly tradition, and by 1999, the team’s greatest player, Barry Sanders, had enough of it and shockingly retired. His reasoning? He simply could not handle any more of the Lions losing culture.
The team stumbled into the playoffs during that 1999 season despite a mere 8-8 record, and once again lost in the first round. The next year they managed a winning season at 9-7 but didn’t make the playoffs. Then the Dark Ages began.
Matt Millen took over the reins as the Lions Team President and CEO in 2001, and ironically, this is when I took the plunge into being a hardcore fan. What transpired next was eight years of sheer torture and pain as a fan of the once proud franchise. The Lions compiled an astoundingly bad 31-97 record during Millen’s tenure, culminating in an embarrassing 0-16 season that finally convinced owner William Clay Ford, Sr. to terminate his contract.
The Lions found ways to lose games and embarrass themselves in every way possible. Who could forget head coach Marty Mornhinweg’s decision to “take the wind” after winning an overtime coin toss? How about the time coaching assistant Joe Cullen made headlines for passing through a Wendy’s drive-thru while naked? What about Millen’s countless wasted draft picks? The list goes on and on. The Lions and their fans were the laughingstock of the NFL.
Enter Martin Mayhew, Tom Lewand and Jim Schwartz. In 2009, this trio took over a franchise that had hit rock bottom. Slowly but surely, they worked together to develop a plan to bring the Lions back to relevance. During the ’09 season, the team finished 2-14, a marginal improvement over the 0-16 season a year before. In 2010, the team started 2-10 before suddenly going on a tear and finishing 6-10. This year, the Lions are 10-6 and are in the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
Let me repeat that: The Detroit Lions are in the playoffs.
The decade of misery is over. Tomorrow night the Lions will be playing a wild card game against the red-hot New Orleans Saints. The odds are stacked against them: they are 11-point underdogs, and they lost 31-17 in their previous encounter this season. No one expects them to win, but there is reason for hope. This is an explosive football team that can drop 30+ points on anyone, and they are as healthy as they have been all year. This is going to be a battle.
Regardless of the outcome, this is one of the first times in my life that I can proudly state that I am a Detroit Lions fan.