You should have seen it.
After 644 losing days, 21 losing months, 18 losing Sundays, one losing Thursday, four starting quarterbacks, one fired coach, one tar-and-feathered team president and a million bad jokes about Detroit futility – after all that, the gun sounded on this last weekend of September, and our long, local nightmare was finally over.
The Lions won a game.
You should have seen it. You probably didn’t, since years of losing have withered the crowds and pushed the Lions to TV Blackout Land – banished like a queen’s jealous sister – but trust me, I was a witness: On Sunday afternoon, before their smallest crowd since Ford Field opened, Detroit, the losingest team in pro football, outlasted Washington, 19-14, surviving a last-second sandlot play that almost sent the whole building – including the owners – off the ledge.
"I don’t have a voice left," croaked Bill Ford Jr., who was seen with his father whooping it up like guys in the bleacher seats. "I was screaming as hard as I possibly could."
Screaming? The former CEO of Ford Motor Co.? The grandson of Henry Ford himself, nephew of Henry Ford II, who coined the phrase "never complain, never explain"? Screaming?
A moment to savor
Well, of course, he was screaming. Two calendar years of losing will do that to you. Being the butt of endless jokes will do that to you. And Ford wasn’t the only one. On the field the players went crazy, raced into the locker room, celebrated, then minutes later came back out, after coach Jim Schwartz suggested that maybe ripping this monkey from their backs should be a communal experience.
And, suddenly, Ford Field was Lourdes. Wounds were washed clean. Souls were healed. Fans and players, some near tears, thanked each other for enduring. It was as if some mystical prison doors had been sprung, and everyone was getting to go home. At long last, after a game, Detroit players did something they’d forgotten about doing since Dec. 23, 2007.
"It’s awesome," said offensive tackle Jeff Backus, who has been here for every minute of the second-longest losing streak in NFL history. "It’s a very positive, relieving experience."
A heck of a game
Relief. That’s really the word, isn’t it? New faces like Schwartz and quarterback Matthew Stafford seemed a little bemused that a city could go ape because its football team improved to 1-2. But this was the day the bleeding stopped, the avalanches ended, the floodwaters ebbed, the – oh, forget all that. They won a damn game.
"We’d like to get to a point where a regular-season win isn’t celebrated that much," Schwartz said. "I mean, it had the feel of a postseason win."
Hey, it may be as close as we get.
Besides, it was a fun, if streaky, game. It was a 99-yard drive for a Detroit touchdown. It was 101 yards of hard rushing by Kevin Smith. It was a beautifully snagged interception by Ko Simpson. It was the defense stopping Washington on fourth-and-goal. It was Stafford scrambling on a third-and-long, escaping Albert Haynesworth (he should get a medal for that alone), then chugging downfield with a nice juke move to pick up 21 yards. "I’m decently athletic," Stafford joked.
And, finally, it was watching the last few seconds, fists clenched, lumps in throats, as the Redskins ran a desperation hook-and-ladder play, a completed pass, a lateral, another lateral, the Lions chasing the ball like kids in a keepaway contest. On the sideline, Stafford couldn’t look. He stared at the turf. Or he tried.
"Then it gets quiet and I can’t wait anymore so I looked up and saw (Ladell Betts) get tackled. I saw it go 0:00 and I was like, ‘Phew.’ "
Phew. There’s your quote. It’s been a long ride, this losing streak, a long, bumpy, ugly, amusing, pathetic, endearing, but ready-to-be-over ride. It ended 644 days after it began. Maybe all it does is make the Lions another lousy team. But it didn’t feel that way Sunday. It felt cleansing, celebratory. It felt like things were possible. And around here that’s a rare and precious word.
You should have seen it. And while only 40,896 fans were in attendance, decades from now, about a million will claim they were. You know what we call that? Jumping on a Lions bandwagon – instead of jumping off. What a strange sensation.
For tickets to Mitch Albom’s charity book launch for "Have a Little Faith" on Wednesday at the Fox Theatre, call 800-745-3000 or go to ticketmaster.com. Contact MITCH ALBOM: 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org.