Last Thursday, the Detroit Lions did something they hadn't done in the previous nine years of their annual Thanksgiving Day showdown -- they won. With the 40-10 shellacking of the hated Green Bay Packers (and with the help of a Chicago Bears' loss to the lowly Minnesota Vikings), they also entered uncharted territory and took sole possession of first place in the NFC North this late in a season for the first time this millennium. No big deal, right? It's only been 14 years.
Let's just say that if being a fan of the Detroit Lions was easy, everybody would be one.
For as long as I can remember, I've lived and breathed Honolulu Blue (Yes that is the official team color. No, I don't understand why). My father, having been born and raised in Michigan, instilled in me a deep love for the team. Growing up in Houston, Texas, though, I didn't really get to enjoy them as much as I would have wanted. However, any time they were on national TV, I was glued to the set, watching with my dad. No matter how much the team struggled in the 90's, I could always hang my hat on the fact that they employed arguably the greatest running back of all time, Barry Sanders. With Sanders, anything was possible- not only could he make 11 defenders miss on one run, but he could also seemingly singlehandedly keep the lowly Lions in playoff contention every year. He gave me hope every year that there was something better out there than a 9-7 record and a first round playoff exit.
And then the day came, the darkest day of my life as a fan of the Detroit Lions. While most people remember exactly where they were for their first kiss, or the exact moment their first child was born, I remember exactly where I was when Barry Sanders announced his retirement from the sport of football on July 27, 1999. For the first time in my life I would go through the five stages of grief, and, in the end, I just had to accept it: "I am a Detroit Lions fan; they will never, ever win. Ever."
Sure enough, my fears were soon confirmed. The 2000 Detroit Lions can be described using the two worst words in the Detroit Lions dictionary: Matt. Millen. Matt Millen gets a lot of hate for what he did as CEO and general manager of the Lions, and let me be the one billionth person to say he absolutely deserves every bit of it.
Matt Millen ran the Detroit Lions like a 9-year-old kid playing Madden on his PlayStation. "Sure, our offensive and defensive lines might stink, but if I draft this wide receiver NOBODY will be able to stop us!!!" (Insert maniacal laughter). In his 5-year-too-long tenure as general manager, he used six out of his eight first round picks on a quarterback, running back, and four wide receivers. To his credit, I won't count the last wide receiver, Calvin Johnson, as a strike against his otherwise horrible resume. I'll be the first to admit that I believed in every single pick that was made by Matt Millen; I knew the team could turn it around and become a winning franchise. I've since learned that I'm simply a glutton for punishment. At the end of it all, the 2008 Detroit Lions became the first team in NFL history to lose 16 games in a regular season.
Once again, though, there was reason for hope and optimism. The Lions used the first pick in the 2009 draft on quarterback Matthew Stafford. Because I believe in fate, I loved the pick. Stafford played at the same Texas high school as all-time Lions great quarterback Bobby Layne, a man who had led the Lions to 4 NFL Championships in the 1950s. Legend has it that upon learning of his trade to the Pittsburgh Steelers following the 1958 season, Layne cursed the Lions with 50 years of futility. Whether you believe in curses or not, today he looks like a mix between Nostradamus and Miss Cleo. Nevertheless, with the drafting of Stafford, I was certain that the curse was over. It was finally going to be our time.
Following the 2011 season, for the first time since the 1999 season, the Detroit Lions did it. They made the playoffs and headed to New Orleans for a showdown with the New Orleans Saints. They had no shot. They were 14-point underdogs. I don't know why I thought they would win, but I did. Consequently, that belief caused me to cry myself to sleep upon the conclusion of the game. It was a heartbreaking moment. But the good news was, next season was right around the corner.
Just like with any defeat in life, the only thing I could do was get back up. I am resigned to the fact that there are going to be low points in this tumultuous relationship, but that doesn't mean I can just give up hope. And now we're in first place. FIRST PLACE. (Sorry. It doesn't happen very often). If the Detroit Lions can win their division, anything is possible. It's important that we all have something to believe in, and just like every other year, I believe in my Detroit Lions. I'm even thinking about booking a ticket to New York City for Super Bowl Weekend. I have to believe my favorite team will be booking theirs, too.