With apologies to the Tigers, the Pistons, and even the Red Wings, who made “Hockeytown” our unofficial nickname …
Detroit is a football city.
A pro football city.
And if the Lions ever won it all, the celebration would blow all World Series, Stanley Cup and NBA title parades out of the water.
I say this confidently. I say this definitively. I say this for at least 33 reasons, because I have been writing about our beloved/beleaguered football team for 33 seasons.
And from the first game of 1985 right up to the opener today at Ford Field, the Lions have been pitiful, pathetic, poignant, painful, proficient, promising, even once in a while powerful, but through it all, they have always been … popular.
I don’t mean popular as in “liked” or “admired” or “enjoyed by the masses,” which are some dictionary definitions. I mean “popular” as in “of or relating to the general public.”
Because just as we Detroiters have felt bypassed, discarded, unlucky and snakebit, the Lions, as if in perfect harmony, have embodied every one of those characteristics.
What other team missed a field goal to lose a playoff game on New Year’s Eve, fumbled to blow a critical game on Christmas Eve, and had a coach blow a coin toss to lose the Sunday before Thanksgiving?
The Lions can ruin ANY holiday.
And we still watch. And we still scream. And we still talk endlessly Sunday night and Monday morning and Monday afternoon about what should have been, what needs to be, what will never happen.
They will never win with that quarterback …
They will never win while the Fords own them …
They will never win until Bobby Layne’s curse is lifted …
To be honest, I think we enjoy these kinds of conversations. If that doesn’t make us a football town, what does?
Still here, still hopeful, still anxious to watch
Be honest. What other team once had its head coach holler, after an exasperating, penalty-laden defeat:
“You think I coach that stuff?”
Bobby Ross was soon gone. But he was right. Who could? Coach this stuff? Stephen King couldn’t think up plots so scary.
Aaron Rodgers throwing a 61-yard Hail Mary to beat Detroit in a Thursday night game? Brett Favre throwing a 40-yarder in the last minute to knock the Lions from the playoffs? A backup named Matt Flynn throwing six touchdowns — six? — to end Detroit’s season on New Years’ Day? And all of that was by the same team? The Packers?
Who could make this up?
The Tigers may have guys in the Hall of Fame. The Red Wings may have an army in the Hall of Fame. But only the Lions can claim two Hall of Famers, one present, one future, who retired from football rather than continue playing here.
I am pretty sure no other franchise can say that.
And while cynics might say that’s what makes the Lions miserable, we in Detroit say that’s what makes them interesting. OK. So we don’t say that word. We don’t say that sentence. But we think it. We feel it. If they’re a highway wreck, they’re the highway wreck we stop for. If they’re a bad reality show, they’re the show that gets the highest ratings.
Their attendance at Ford Field is remarkably consistent, when you consider the unpredictability of the team. And the fact that it’s been 60 years since the last championship. Face it. Win, we get excited. Lose, we get agitated. But we are never bored. We are perversely fascinated by the Lions roller-coaster existence. We may kick the TV, put a fist through a wall, bang our head on the floor — but we keep watching.
Which is why I suggest that Detroit is, first and foremost, a football town. Hey. In 2008, we went 4-0 in exhibition, and 0-16 for the regular season.
And we’re still watching.
Detroit is truest, harshest football town
Which brings us to this season. It seems unusually …sedate. After all, the Lions went to the playoffs last year. They lost. But they went. That’s a rare thing here. You’d think it might translate to more excitement.
But I’m not sensing it yet. The preseason was average, a couple of decent performances and a total collapse against the Patriots in the first half of Game 3, a performance that may signify more than exhibition games should. The third game of the preseason is the last real tuneup for your best players. The defending champions were in town. The crowd was into it.
And the Lions went down 24-0 in the first quarter.
So that happens. And Taylor Decker, the left tackle, is out. And the defensive line is thin. And the Lions have a rough early schedule, opening against the Cardinals, Giants and Falcons.
Maybe we’re pacing ourselves. Maybe we’re getting tired of getting tired. Maybe we’re in a “prove it” mode.
But know this: if the Lions win a couple early on, once again, the city will bubble like a cauldron. Half will be saying, “It could be our year!” The other half will be Lucy with the football, smirking as Charlie Brown comes running in to kick it.
That’s Lions world. There is no indifference. But hope springs eternal. We love our football. Despite Jim Schwartz and the misbegotten red flag, Darryl Rogers counting pigeons on the Silverdome roof, Wayne Fontes and his “Big Buck” declarations, Marty Mornhinweg and well, take your pick. Despite Matt Millen, Martin Mayhew, Russ Thomas and all those front offices that should have been hidden in the back. Despite draft picks like Andre Ware and Charles Rogers and Gosder Cherilus, despite a howling noise they play at the stadium that honestly, sometimes, sounds like a toilet flushing, we are still here, still hopeful, still anxious, still riveted.
We have endured more than nearly any franchise (sorry, Cleveland, but our failures have been more colorful).
So Detroit is a football town. The truest, harshest football town. I therefore nominate it as Football Town USA. It’s the least the game can do for us.
Plus, near as I can tell, you don’t have to win a playoff game to earn that title. Which is a good thing. Who knows when that’s going to happen again?
Contact Mitch Albom: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events atmitchalbom.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Follow him on Twitter@mitchalbom. To read his recent columns, go tofreep.com/sports/mitch-albom.