I spent most of the game swearing and wondering why God had forsaken me. It seemed like Fate was playing one of its awful tricks on us, allowing us to taste the future without actually getting to live inside of it. It’s a unique sort of torture, cruel and unrelenting, because you know that an inch here, an inch there, and the cold, gray bleak world you live in would explode into a Technicolor world of rainbows and sunshine and midgets dancing and dead witches and talking lions and retarded scarecrows and holy shit, L. Frank Baum was high as fuck, wasn’t he?
But we never get to live in that world as Lions fans. Instead, we’re stuck on the shitty ol’ Kansas farm with our worthless mutt and our Bible thumping old Aunt and Uncle who only have sex if the moon is in its proper phase and we are constantly harassed by some old bitch who cackles at us and constantly reminds us that we are failures and that our future is tied to the choking misery of the dirt and dust of the family farm and oh Lord, just give us those fuckin’ ruby red slippers already.
The defense was wonderful. Right from the start, the defensive line absolutely obliterated Donovan McNabb and I remember thinking how great it was to be able to watch the game and, for once, to actually feel like the other team was hopelessly fucked up and that all we had to do was keep it together and everything would be smiles and good times. Then Matthew Stafford looked like a dude who, well, like a dude who hadn’t played in almost two months and it seemed like whatever superpowers had been granted our defense had come at the expense of the offense and the whole damn thing started to feel like one of Fate’s cruel tricks. Ha ha ha! Gotcha! Yeah, thanks, Fate, you insufferable prick.
I spent the majority of the first half feeling like a schizophrenic bipolar mess. Whenever the Redskins had the ball, and our defensive line was unleashing the dogs of war, I could feel the sunshine and I could taste all the sweet, sweet candy and I could see St. Peter guiding me towards those beautiful gates. But whenever the Lions had the ball, and our offense was being eaten by the hounds from hell, I could feel the pull of the Failure Demon, I smelled acrid smoke and all I could taste was a big ol’ mouthful of shit. I swore at my television, I threw my hands up in despair and I screamed “Why???” like Nancy Kerrigan after she got bludgeoned by a fat guy with a pipe. And the entire time my brain kept telling me “Relax, my dude, we’re so close.” (Yes, my brain calls me “My dude” and I converse with him regularly. Does this surprise any of you? At all?)
But that was the whole point. We were so close and I knew it and that’s what it made it so terrible. That’s what made it hurt so much. We were there. Only, no, no we weren’t. Everything that was wrong before was now somehow right and the few things that had been right were terribly wrong and I just wanted to scream because it just felt so damn unfair and Oh Lord The Fear and . . . breathe, damn it. Breathe.
Hope is just a word. You can say you believe in it, you can tell everyone that you have embraced it, but it’s not something that you believe in. It’s not something that you embrace. You either have it or you don’t, and you don’t have it until you have it. I know that sounds like some ridiculous Yogi Berraesque “Hey, everyone laugh at me because I’m legally retarded” saying, but it’s true. The Fear will own you until Hope rips out Fear’s heart and shits in its empty chest cavity.
And so as the second half wore on, The Fear kept creeping up behind me, peeking its head over my shoulder and laughing like some deranged ghoul and all I could do was rock back and forth like a mental patient and try to pretend that it wasn’t there. But it was, and I couldn’t fight it off. It was horrible. The Lions suddenly couldn’t cover kicks, Matthew Stafford was still too inconsistent and oh God, I have seen this story too many times before and the bombs are falling and hey, isn’t that Rod Marinelli’s ghost? And oh shit, it’s screeching about pad level and . . . breathe, damn it. Breathe.
Our defensive linemen were heroic, thundering against the inexorable tide of fate because Fate, like Hope, is just a word and those were men without fear and if they were going to die, they were going to die on their terms and no one else’s, not History’s, not Fate’s and certainly not the Redskins’. And I rallied to that, I chose to believe, and I summoned up everything inside of myself and I watched with a pure heart and I cheered as Matthew Stafford threw a touchdown pass to give us the lead and the gray shadows of this world seemed to acquire a bit of blue, a touch of red, a hint of yellow, and I could feel the wall between the world we have lived in for fifty years and that Technicolor world of tomorrow start to disintegrate and I held my breath and I said “Please, please, please,” and then the Redskins returned a kick for a touchdown, everything went black and The Fear jumped up and laughed in my face.
The Fear sat beside me and he held my hand as the Lions failed to pick up a first down and he told me that it would be alright and that he would take care of me and hey, hell isn’t so bad, you know? And I nodded, dumb, whipped again and the only thing that remained of that Technicolor world was a vague memory, rapidly dying. Donovan McNabb lined up to take the snap and I looked in Fear’s face and I was struggling, struggling, struggling to hang onto those hazy memories of that Technicolor world and I mumbled “Come on, interception, right here” and The Fear laughed at me and he shook his head in mocking pity and then Alphonso Smith wrestled the ball out of the receiver’s hands and stepped through my screen and told Fear to go fuck itself.
But The Fear is a terrible beast, and he still hid in the corner and slowly crept his way out until the Lions faced a fourth and one and I remember thinking “This is it. This is the game.” And The Fear slinked over and he hissed “You know what happens now, don’t you?” Yes. Matthew Stafford throws a touchdown pass and you, Fear, can go to hell.
And so it was. And then Hope rushed into the room, and he looked a lot like St. Calvin and he punched a hole in The Fear’s chest and as The Fear sank to the floor, Hope squatted over him and indeed, he shit in that asshole’s chest. Hope and I hi-fived and then I laughed at The Fear’s lifeless corpse and I looked up and the world was full of color and . . . oh . . . oh God . . . the future, it is so beautiful, and it is now.
And then Rex Grossman died and Ndamukong Suh danced into the endzone and as he did, an agent of The Fear, wearing a Redskins uniform, reached out and tried to tackle him, and the Lord of the House of Spears turned around and told him to back the fuck off, flicked him away like an annoying gnat, and The Fear faded away into oblivion and whatever barrier existed between us and the future was gone.
I have rambled deliriously here, and I am aware that it has all been incredibly ridiculous and probably incomprehensible, but I don’t really care. Every time I have watched the Lions get into a fight, I have watched them get knocked out. Sometimes, it has been in the first round and I have bitched and moaned and felt like we would never win another fight again. Sometimes, it’s been in round twelve and I have patted our boys on the back and told everyone to believe in Hope, that one of these days we would win one of these awful brawls. And then today happened and the Lions found themselves in yet another fight. The bell rang on the twelfth round and instead of slumping their shoulders, trudging out and getting KO’d, our boys stood up, looked straight ahead and said “I am not afraid.” And then they threw a mighty punch and the other guy fell down and the fight was over and we had won. And suddenly, Hope wasn’t just a word but a living thing.
I can’t complete this adequately. I just can’t. I barely know what I’m even writing, but maybe that’s the point. I am overloaded, filled with a cascade of emotions that don’t know how to be reasonable, that are utterly illogical and only express themselves in euphoric hoots and grunts. With about five minutes left in that game, I still lived in the old world, and The Fear had me, even if I didn’t know it. And I was prepared to bitch and moan and complain about how I don’t believe in moral victories. And then the game was over and I was smiling and laughing like a damn fool and Matthew Stafford had somehow thrown 4 touchdown passes, St. Calvin had caught 3 of them and Ndamukong Suh became legend. The struggles of the past no longer seemed to matter, and everything up until that moment when Alphonso Smith wrestled the ball away seemed to live in another world, a dead gray world that I don’t have to live in anymore because the world I live in is alive and in Technicolor. My heart is made of Thunder and Joy and the Detroit Lions are here, and I am Hope and The Fear is dead.