Let’s say you and your ex broke up. It was amicable. You both knew it wasn’t working.
Then you heard your ex had a new partner. You’re glad. Hey, if it wasn’t going to happen with you, why shouldn’t the other person find happiness?
Then you learned your ex’s new partner had a ton of money, an amazing new house, and lots of rich, famous friends. And then your ex started hanging with those friends, and got rich and famous and wildly successful. And everyone noted what an amazing new existence your ex was finally getting to enjoy, and how it’s about time, after all those years suffering with you.
How thrilled would you be then? Honestly?
Well, there’s a little of that going in today’s Rams-Bucs playoff game. Sure, we know who LA folks are rooting for. And we know who the Tampa people want to win.
But what about Detroit Lions fans?
What about long-suffering Detroiters, who haven’t seen a playoff victory since Dan Quayle was vice president? They’re watching two quarterbacks today who, as the Cars once lamented about their best friend’s girl, “used to be mine.”
Tom Brady was once just a regular guy in our own backyard. Heck, almost nobody outside our backyard knew who he was! The Lions could have drafted him out of Michigan five times back in 2000 and didn’t. Instead, he went to New England in the sixth round and became the greatest quarterback of all time. Seven Super Bowl wins. Going for an eighth.
Meanwhile, in those same 22 years, the Lions have earned a grand total of three postseason games.
And lost them all.
Like an escape from prison
Of course, the quarterback in all three of those games was Matthew Stafford. He’s the real ex. Brady was always a fantasy, the kid next door that you took for granted. But Stafford was real. He was ours. We were hitched.
And then, after 12 seasons, he left, in a trade that he basically engineered. We got three good draft picks in return, put on a brave face, said nice things, shook hands as friends and wished him well.
But did we wish him THIS well?
Stafford and the Rams went 12-5 this season. They won their division, the NFC West. They had a home playoff game last week and won that. And today they play the defending Super Bowl winners for the right to go to the NFC championship. The ex is doing way better than he ever did here.
So who are you rooting for?
There are two schools of thought. One is the high road. You say “Hey, Stafford was always a good guy here. Tried his best. Played hurt. Gave back to the community. It’s not his fault he got stuck with one of the most bumbling, fumbling franchises in pro sports history. Let the man have his glory.”
This is my personal choice. It’s what I call “’The Shawshank Redemption’ Approach.” Remember when Tim Robbins finally breaks out of prison at the end of that movie? Morgan Freeman is happy for him, even though he’s still stuck behind bars. He says this memorable quote:
“I have to remind myself that some birds aren’t meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too big. And when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up does rejoice. But, still, the place you live in is still that much more drab and empty (now) that they’re gone.”
Is that perfect, or what?
Let ’em rot!
Then there’s the second approach. The one where bitterness takes hold, emptiness dominates, and the words “I just can’t take it anymore!” rattle around in your brain.
This is the fan who says “Why should I root for Stafford? If he’s that good, how come he couldn’t get the Lions out of the dumps? NOW he does well? Really? Why do I want to watch him win big games and celebrate on TV when we’re still stuck with a team that won three games all year?
“And besides, the better Stafford’s new team does, the worst the draft picks we traded for become!”
I’d call this “The ‘Succession’ Syndrome.” You know that HBO show about a rich family dynasty in which pretty much every member only wants themselves to succeed and all the others to fail?
There’s a moment in that show when Tom, the long-suffering husband of the conniving Shiv, says this out loud:
“I just wonder if the sad I’d be without you is less than the sad I get from being with you.”
Hmm. A Lions fan in a nutshell.
So pick your lane. You’re either the good guy, Shawshank, cheering on your exes, happy for their happiness and comforting yourself with the famous words of Ruby and the Romantics, “Our Day Will Come.”
Or you’re Succession, the bitter, angry, jilted party who hopes both Stafford and Brady get picked off six times today, because deep down, you just want your exes to hurt like you do.
Either way, one thing is for sure. No matter how you root, the Lions aren’t going anywhere. Some relationships never change.
Contact Mitch Albom: email@example.com. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at MitchAlbom.com. Download “The Sports Reporters” podcast each Monday and Thursday on-demand through Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and more. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.