Well, it was fun while it lasted.
For the past year and a half, Lions fans caught themselves using words like “expectations” and “hope.” Shoot – we even glanced at the Super Bowl location (New Orleans in February 2013) to determine if the trip was doable.
Instead of old, boring 1:00 PM Sunday game times we had to actually look up the schedule to see what time the Lions played. Hello Sunday Night Football. Nice to meet you, Monday Night Football.
I picked up a copy of Madden ’13 and a Lion was on the cover (Calvin Johnson – and he didn’t even suffer the dreaded Madden curse). I opened my mailbox over the summer to find Lions on the cover of the Sports Illustrated football preview. For long time Lions fan, it was almost like some bizarro world we were living in.
Things are now returning back to normal. It is acceptable again to use your “How bad the Lions are” jokes at holiday parties and family gatherings. Detroit area columnists are dusting off old articles, changing a few names and reasons for failure and passing them off as fresh columns. National writers seem to have lost interest in the Lions other than the occasional article about Ndamukong Suh’s player-kicking exploits.
As a Lions community we are back in our comfort zone. No one really knew how to act regarding the team’s recent success. Some predicted total domination of the NFL and multiple Super Bowl championships (I would take just one). Others were (correctly, it turns out) predicting that 2011’s success was a mirage and that the lovable Lions would fall back on hard times.
I was somewhere in the middle – I certainly thought the Lions could continue to emerge as playoff contenders but knew that with young, core pieces it wouldn’t be easy. The Lions also have aging, core pieces meaning that they would need to rebuild on the fly without losing their momentum – not an easy task (just ask the Pistons).
It is incredibly easy now to fall into the “2011 as mirage” camp and tell everyone that you told them so. Usually the reason for this has something to do with the history of the Lions organization and the Ford family owning the team. I would argue that even the most pessimistic Lions fan glanced at this season as something potentially different.
Lion’s fans were hit hard by a 1-3 start to the season. This was different than other 1-3 Lions starts because of expectations. We expected to contend this year and a 1-3 start indicated that it would be an uphill battle. After the Lions pulled even at 4-4, the word “playoffs” started creeping back in to the vocabulary. Now – as losers of six straight games – the words “top five draft pick” are used most often. That is our comfort zone.
This Saturday night against the Falcons, the Lions will play in their fifth nationally televised game of the season. The schedule was a product of last year’s success – a vehicle to showcase to the nation some of the young talent the Lions have. The way 2012 played out, the Lions won’t see much prime time in 2013.
The ESPN crew – led by former (and perhaps future) NFL coach Jon Gruden – will breeze into town to televise a somewhat meaningless game (the Falcons could clinch NFC home field advantage with a win) between two teams that made the playoffs last year. Calvin Johnson will try to inch closer to Jerry Rice’s seasonal receiving yardage record (he needs 182 yards in the final two games).
Then, just as fast as the circus came to town, it will vanish. The national television game announcers. The magazine covers. The video game covers. All of the hype surrounding the Lions this season will vanish. It will be the new (old) normal.
The careful work will begin to make sure that 2012 was the mirage as opposed to 2011. There is a lot of work ahead. The bandwagon won’t be nearly as full – which isn’t a bad thing. The Lions will always be my team because they represent my community. I didn’t bail when they were 0-16 and I’m not bailing now.
But a season like 2012 certainly makes you question your allegiance.
I have been a die hard Lions fan since 1991. I played football in high school and began a college playing career at Wayne State before hanging up the cleats. I will try to provide a perspective on my favorite NFL team for the Patch.