I’ve been wondering what I was going to write here as the season gets set to start, and I’ve gotta be honest with you, there was a real – a very real – possibility that I wasn’t going to write anything. I’ve already gibbered on about my disdain for the Lions this year, but I’ve also reached sort of a crisis point when it comes to my relationship with the NFL in general. This is nothing particularly new. I have always grumbled under my breath about the Leviathan that is the NFL, its Necronomicon rulebook and the Lizard Men and evil wizards who run the whole damn thing. And I hope that I’ve made clear how much I absolutely despise all the talk radio stupidity that has always hung around at the fringes of the NFL culture. My problem, I think, is that the talk radio hooha has stopped hanging around the fringes and become the culture. Tebow, Tebow, blah blah blah and yeah, that is a prime example, but it’s just one example, and the problem is that even the people who complain about Tebow or the Saga of Sexy Rexy and Handsome Mark in New York seem like they secretly can’t get enough of it.
It’s all just a wall of hideous, dumb noise, farting dogs in a beer commercial turned up as loud as it can go to try to be heard amongst the incessant hooting of the screamathons on ESPN and Twitter and the NFL Network and Fox Sports One and Fox and NBC and… well, everywhere. And that’s the problem. It has penetrated the larger culture so completely that there is nowhere to go to escape it and as a result you end up feeling like some dipshit in A Clockwork Orange, strapped into your seat with your eyelids peeled open until you find yourself hee-hawing about Peyton Manning and listening to Herm Edwards’ opinions on things as if they mean anything more than those of the homeless crack addict who keeps shitting on your doorstep.
So, it’s hard for me to even pay attention to this shit anymore. I hate the NFL. Just absolutely fucking hate it. I can’t state it any more plainly than that. And I hate its fans. So there. This probably means that I hate you too, but what the hell, this is a blog about the Lions, self-loathing and vicious cannibalism are just a part of the deal.
And yet, here I am, writing about the Lions because in the end I can’t not. I’m both an egomaniac and a hopeless addict and even though my arms are filled with open sores, my hair has all fallen out and I get no pleasure from this anymore, here I am, shooting up one more time because something inside me is making me do it. If you don’t want to witness my sad destruction, then I don’t blame you. Feel free to move on. This is not going to be pretty.
You see, the thing is, is that no matter how much I’ve always sort of hated the NFL, and no matter how bad the Lions have almost always been, I have still managed to tell myself “Hey, maybe…” That phrase has sort of come to define the fanbase as a whole. “Hey, maybe…” It’s the only thing that has kept us going through the years, the only thing that has managed to fend off the utter blackness of the abyss, the terrible talons of the Failure Demons, the icy black death grip of The Fear. “Hey, maybe…”
I started writing about the Lions on the precipice of 0-16, and both before that season and during I felt like some sort of hell-born version of Patrick Henry, all riding through the streets on a horse made of fire and dread, screaming “The Demons are coming! The Demons are coming!” while everyone else was busy trying to talk themselves into the playoffs. It turns out I was right, terribly, terribly right, but it wasn’t as horrible as it could have been, both because I had already steeled myself for it and because it meant that finally the Lions would be forced to fucking do something about it. It meant that Matt Millen would finally be exiled to the Phantom Zone (or ABC, same thing I guess), Rod Marinelli’s goofy bullshit could finally be exposed as the ridiculous pap that it was, and that a sort of ritual burning and cleansing would have to take place for the first time in half a century. In short, it felt like a junkie finally forced to confront his own sniveling cowardice and failure. 2008 was our intervention.
It’s hard to get clean. It’s hard to rise above your demons, go to rehab and kick that fucking devil once and for all. But the Lions did – or at least they tried, and with that came a sense of optimism, of “Hey, maybe…” in perhaps its strongest iteration since I’ve been a fan. This wasn’t about trying to be a functioning junkie, which is sort of what the Barry Sanders years felt like, this was about finally getting clean and cleansing ourselves of all that bad shit, that bad energy that had followed us around for so goddamn long. It was the moment we as fans had all been yearning for, either consciously or subconsciously. It was the moment and the subconscious yearning that rested at the heart of “Hey, maybe…”
And so that’s what 2009 and the first half of 2010 were for us. They were rehab, slow, painful, but filled with Hope and signs of promise. Once it all finally came together, once we felt strong enough to stand on our own without that fucking disease rotting our hearts and our souls, “Hey, maybe…” would cease to be a promise and become a reality. And so it seemed to, as the Lions finally turned a corner at the end of 2010. They just looked different. They were stronger, more confident, making their way without their shitty Failure addiction tainting everything. And suddenly Hope seemed like a real thing, not some far off wish and “Hey, maybe…” became “Fuck yeah, let’s do this.”
2011 started off even stronger, with the Lions looking like dominating ass kickers. The high point came in that Monday Night full on beatdown of the Bears in Ford Field. Our boys had finally kicked, and now they were young and strong and healthy for the first time in our lives, and while that dread specter of Failure still hung ambiguously somewhere around us, it seemed like it was getting further and further away, a cloud of black smoke that had finally thinned and was now promising to be blown into a harmless sort of haze by a blazing sun of Hope.
But then some signs started to appear. Familiar signs. Our boys were waking up late, bleary eyed. They seemed itchy, twitchy, in that all too familiar way that made our hearts sink. But we ignored it because we so desperately wanted to believe, so desperately needed to believe. After all, they were still winning – for the most part anyway. They were functioning, holding down a good job, passing as respectable citizens. Even when their boss started calling us and saying “Yo, I caught your boy talking with some shady dudes behind the dumpster our back,” we laughed it off as the ravings of a paranoid asshole. And then when he kept calling, telling us that our boy had weird bruises on his arms and he seemed spaced out and even pulled a knife on a customer, we got mad, our own denial causing us to cuss him out and tell him that he was just persecuting our boy for past sins.
But deep in our heart, I think we knew. We knew that he was a fucking junkie and that rehab didn’t take like we hoped it would. But still, he hadn’t crashed and maybe – just maybe – this time would be different. “Hey, maybe…”
And then we found him naked, sitting in a pool of his own urine, a needle dangling from his arm, as 2012 began in an all too familiar way. We slapped him around, tossed him in the shower and screamed at him that we weren’t gonna put up with this shit anymore. And he tried. We all tried. We all kept on hoping and believing that this was just a sad relapse, that these sorts of things are inevitable, that we all knew that there would be bumps in the road, setbacks to be overcome, and new and better days to be fought for. Just stop using, we said, quit using Failure, remember the lessons, remember what you learned from 2008, remember the rehab. Remember. Please. For the love of God, remember.
But the Lions didn’t remember. And maybe they didn’t even care. All we know is that as 2012 went on, it became clear that our boy was just a fucking junkie. He lost his job again, his arms scabbed over and we even caught him blowing a Harbaugh in an alley. We wept and we cried and we slammed our fists against the wall until they bled, but… Jesus Christ, not again. We can’t do this again.
Except most Lions fans have sort of drifted into that land of denial again, that codependent enabling poisonous bullshit where they just pretend like maybe it will all just go away and that nobody really has a problem. And so they give Jim Schwartz a thumbs up for being a good coach, a good sponsor, a good rehab counselor, the man who taught our boy the life lessons he needed to kick for good. And they’re still telling everyone that they think ol’ Jimmy will rescue our boy, that he’ll keep him clean even though we’ve seen him constantly rubbing his nose whenever he comes over, his eyes darting around surreptitiously. Hell, we’ve even seen him handing little baggies to our boy, but we’ve turned a blind eye even as they’ve slipped away into his room together for hours at a time, stumbling out only when they need more junk. We’ve called up Mr. Mayhew, the rehab facility’s founder and asked him what to do even though we know that he’s a former addict too. He just tells us to be cool and trust in the program even though we’ve heard rumors that he’s now running whores out of the back office and keeps a gun in his desk because he supposedly has a hit out on him for an incident with a dealer involving a missing briefcase and a dead mule.
And so we just keep sitting here, hopelessly watching our junkie team slip slide away into oblivion again, only this time there’s no hope of rehab, no hope that he’ll get clean and find his way eventually, because deep down, he’s a fucking junkie. It’s in his nature and, well, that’s that. It’s a horrible realization, maddening and soul crushing and so in a sense I don’t blame people for giving in to denial, for pretending that everything is going to be alright because, uh, magic I guess. It’s what they’ve gotta do to keep on keepin’ on.
But me, I can’t do it. I can’t pretend. It’s both my gift and my curse. All I see is a fucking junkie, and a part of me – a big part of me – thinks we’d be better off if I just put a pillow over his face and ended it all right here. But I can’t because he’s my boy and I love him. And so I just sort of sit here in total horror and watch as he sinks into complete and utter destruction again, and all that’s left for me is to sit here and indulge myself in embarrassing fantasies in which he somehow sees the light, in which about six thousand different things all miraculously happen at once, in which he decides to get clean, his sponsor Jimmy cuts out all his bullshit and helps him out and in which Mayhew finally tells the whores to get lost and somehow sorts things out with the Failure dealer who’s got a hit out on him. It’s all I have left, just dull, stupid fantasies. And in this reality, “Hey, maybe…” isn’t something to hang onto, it’s a cruel, vicious joke, a punchline mocking me and all of us. I sit here, and I think about it. I think about “Hey, maybe…” and I just sort of sneer and hate everyone who says it like it means anything. And yet, in fleeting moments, in those quiet times when I’m just left alone with myself, the naked Fear and my own native, idiot Hope, I find myself wondering, if only for a fraction of a second, “Hey, maybe…” and meaning it.
All of that is a morose and godawful preamble to this, the first game of the season, in which the Lions face the Vikings. They could win and if they do, people living in denial will ratchet up their shrill airhorn voices and start gibbering like idiots about the Super Bowl and god only knows what else. And they could lose, and if they do, blah blah blah, it’s all so much noise and I hate it all. There is really no honest way to predict how this thing goes. It’s possible that our boy pulls his shit together enough to appear somewhat functional, maybe sneak a 10 win season in there and inspire some sort of vague hope that he can sort of shuffle along, living with the disease well enough that he can fool most people and we can pretend that everything is okay. It’s also possible that he bottoms out again and ends up shitting himself in the middle of the supermarket while buying cold medicine to make meth in the basement. Really, he could be a 10 win functioning junkie, or he could be a 3 win supermarket meth pants shitter.
In the end, I suppose I’ll split the difference and say that he ends up a 6-10 junkie who occasionally gives us fleeting yet false hope that he’ll get his shit together again one day, but who spends most of his time shooting up with Jimmy in his room and stealing the good silverware to help Mayhew pay off his debts and dodge the hitmen. I won’t predict what will happen against the Vikings because I honestly can’t. All I can do is drag myself in front of the TV, my insides frozen with a sort of numbed horror and watch, all while a little voice inside of me tries to push through that frozen wasteland and whisper “Hey, maybe…”