As I got off an airplane Tuesday morning, a man leaned in and said, “Monday night was the first time I let my 9-year-old son stay up and watch a Detroit Lions game.”
I cracked that he should treat his children better. He laughed. Some folks around us laughed. And then we sighed. We all sighed.
It felt like the whole state was sighing Tuesday, didn’t it? When we weren’t pounding on tables or screaming at replays?
It’s not like we’ve never experienced a loss before. Are you kidding? Lions fans experience loss? Are a wine maker’s fingers purple?
But Monday night was different. Monday night, two weeks after taking arguably the AFC’s best team, Kansas City, to the final minutes, the Lions took arguably the NFC’s best team, Green Bay, to the final minutes — and lost again, with the outcome determined by a blown call.
“It was a long plane ride home,” Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford admitted in our radio interview Tuesday. “(But) … here’s the deal. It’s over now. We lost the game. We didn’t make enough plays, truthfully, that’s the gist of it.
“Yeah, there were calls that went against us. But there were probably some calls that went against them, too.”
Not really. Not when it mattered. Not with the game in the balance. No, that’s Detroit’s specialty. The Packers did just enough to steal that win by a single point, and even their head coach, Matt LaFleur, in the victorious locker room, yelled, “Hey fellas, I don’t know how the hell we pulled that off.”
Lions Luck. That’s how. Not “Same Old Lions,” because these are not the same old Lions, they’re way more talented now.
And not “The Curse of Bobby Layne,” because that’s as outdated as Nehru jackets.
“Lions Luck.” It has its own definition. If buzzard’s luck means “can’t kill nothing and nothing will die,” then Lions Luck means, “can’t put the other guys away early, can’t stop something from putting us away late.”
Tagged, then tagged again
On Monday, that “something” included three bad calls by the officials — all in the fourth quarter! — two on third-down penalties that weren’t penalties, and one on a no-call on a very clear penalty, pass interference on Green Bay for mugging Detroit’s Marvin Jones.
If any of those whistles go the Lions’ way — as they should have — they might not lose the game.
But they didn’t. Trey Flowers, who had never before been called for “hands to the face,” got tagged for it twice — at the worst times, third downs, allowing Aaron Rodgers and the Packers to continue scoring drives.
Not only did Flowers object, but I thought ESPN commentator Booger McFarland was going to pop a blood vessel.
“Where?” he kept yelling, apoplectic. “Where? … Wha’?”
We know, Booger. The answer is “nowhere.”
Naturally, the NFL admitted Tuesday that the second call on Flowers was wrong. Gee. Thanks. Helps a lot. Do you even put postage on that apology?
At least the rest of the country is catching on. Did you see the headlines Tuesday morning? Or listen to the national sports shows? They were all screaming that the Lions got jobbed. They were even saying nice things about our franchise, like Detroit is a good team, and, it’s a shame they had to lose that way.
Of course, we used to talk like that, too, oh, maybe 40 years ago, when losing this way was still fairly novel. “Too bad, we’re a good team,” we’d say, keeping a stiff upper lip. “It’s a darn shame we had to lose that way.”
These days we just holler, “OH NOT A-FREAKING-GAIN!$#$@!!”
And knock over a table.
A three-day hangover
“I can’t spend too much time thinking about it,” Stafford said. “I’ve basically moved on to Minnesota (this Sunday’s opponent). … Whatever happened, happened. I’m over it. It’s a tough loss, obviously a chance to win it at certain points in the game. We didn’t make enough plays to win it.”
Can’t argue with him there. The Lions did get flagged for 12 men on the field during a Green Bay field goal try, giving the Pack a first down which led to a touchdown. That’s four points right there, and four points would have won this game.
Then there’s the dropped pass in the end zone by T.J. Hockenson. The Lions settled for a field goal instead. Four more points there.
A rushing attack with the flair of a rhinoceros could have yielded some points with just a teaspoon’s imagination.
And Stafford was sacked on a couple third downs, which is always a little bit of everyone’s fault on offense.
Also, it’s pretty inexcusable that the Lions’ defensive backs, who pride themselves on being a strength of this team, couldn’t stop a receiver named Allen Lazard, who came off the practice squad this year. Allen Lazard? He sounds like a French existentialist.
But there we go faulting the home team, when it’s much more fun to scream at the refs. And the refs deserve a piece of this debacle.
The problem is, the refs go on to some other game next week. And Lions fans are still here, hoping the weight of two close losses doesn’t chew into the fiber of this year’s team the way previous bad losses have devoured previous Lions squads.
I asked Stafford if the team took any solace in hanging with the two elite teams, the Chiefs and the Packers, right to the bitter finish.
“I don’t think that’s surprising to anyone in our locker room,” he said. “It might be to people outside. But the last two games we played against the ‘really good teams’ in this league and we’ve been right there. The disappointing thing is we haven’t finished them. That’s no fun.”
No fun at all. It’s like a three-day hangover. Like failing chemistry and having to take chemistry again — in summer school.
It’s Lions Luck, and we can only hope it wears off before Sunday’s game against Minnesota, or Detroit will remain in last place in the toughest division in football. That’s why the players have stopped complaining about it now. Put away their screaming. Swallowed their anger.
I asked Stafford if there was a lot of grousing on the plane ride home from Green Bay.
“It was pretty quiet. … To be honest, I was laying down in the back trying to get some sleep.”
I’ll bet he didn’t get any more than that 9-year-old boy. Welcome to the club, kid. Lions Luck. It’ll keep you up all night.
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.