My name is Michael…and I’m a Detroit Lions fan.
I was born in Michigan, but my family moved to suburban Philadelphia when I was 3. Driven by sibling rivalry, I avoided fandom for my brother’s beloved Philadelphia Eagles and chose the Lions as my football team.
For nearly five decades, I paid a terrible price for that decision.
Fans of the Cleveland Browns, Minnesota Vikings and Buffalo Bills will tell you that they are the longest-suffering football fans. But they don’t know half of it.
The last time the Lions won a playoff game, George Bush was president. I’m not talking about George W. Bush, I’m talking about his father. On January 5, 1992, the Lions defeated the Dallas Cowboys in an NFC playoff game. It was a fitting victory because only 11 days earlier another evil empire had been defeated: the Soviet Union.
When you’re a Lions fan, you take your wins wherever you can get them.
Since then, life as a Lions fan has been one misery and one heartache after another. There was the 1993 playoff game against the Green Bay Packers, when Detroit lost a late lead by leaving Shannon Sharpe so wide open in the end zone there was no Lion within 15 yards. from him. What about the following year’s playoff game, also against the Packers in frozen Lambeau Field, when our world running back Barry Sanders rushed for -1 yards? Since 1992, we’ve suffered nine straight playoff losses: the worst playoff losing streak in NFL history.
There are plenty of “Same Old Lions” moments, but Lions fans can recite most of them from memory. There was Calvin Johnson’s “finish the process” game; the slap ball game against the Seahawks; Hail Mary by Aaron Rodgers; the “second round” against the Falcons; that time, Justin Tucker of the Ravens had the longest field goal in NFL history to beat us in 2021; and of course the “refs picked up the flag” playoff game against the Cowboys in 2015 that threw me into a deep emotional abyss (and it still does when I remember it).
In 2008, the Lions were the first NFL team to go 0-16 (other teams had winless seasons but didn’t play 16 games). We had two of the best positional players in the history of the game, Sanders and Johnson. Neither has won a playoff game. Matthew Stafford, our Hall of Fame quarterback, eventually left the Lions and immediately won the Super Bowl with his new team, the LA Rams (no Lions fan is upset with Stafford, who for us was a great player who deserved to win a title). We’ve lived through both the Matt Millen era and the Matt Patricia era, which historically probably most closely resemble the Dark Ages or a walk in the Sahara without water.
We Lions fans are largely resigned to our fate. Our singular expectation is that when something can go wrong, it inevitably will. The optimism is for the other teams.
That’s what makes the dawn of the 2023 season, which kicks off tonight with the Lions taking on Super Bowl champions Kansas City Chiefs, so unusual.
We have hope. We have a very good team this year. We could go to the playoffs.
Yeah, I said it.
I can identify the last time I had real hope as a Lions fan: the morning of December 30, 1995. The Lions were playing the Eagles in the NFC wild card game. They had finished the season on a seven-game winning streak and would have hosted a playoff game had Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Yancey Thigpen not dropped a pass in the end zone to hand the Packers the NFC title. Central. Our all-pro offensive tackle Lomas Brown guaranteed a win.
After leveling the score 7-7, the nightmare began. The Lions allowed 44 straight points, including a Hail Mary assist late in the first half, to end in a 58-37 loss. The fact that this crushing defeat came at the hands of the Eagles – my brother’s favorite team – only added to the misery.
But fast forward 27 years. Heading into the final game of the 2022 NFL season, the Lions were on a roll. We had won seven of our last nine games and headed to Lambeau to face the Packers again. Earlier in the day we were knocked out of the playoffs, but Green Bay was still alive. A win would send home the team every Lions fan is taught to hate from an early age.
Without hope and without conviction, what’s the point of being a fan?
Our defense, Achilles’ heel all season, stalked Rodgers throughout the game, the highlight being the interception on the Packers’ final drive that sealed the game.
Beating the Packers in Green Bay and humiliating Rodgers was our Super Bowl. Finally, we could be proud of our Lions fandom. I fully appreciate how pathetic that sounds, but when you’re a Lions fan, you get your victories wherever you can get them.
That late-season run made the Lions the sexy choice to dethrone the Packers atop the NFC North this season and return to the playoffs for the first time since 2016. It didn’t hurt that the Lions crushed free agency and the draft. , or that we have one of the most creative offensive coordinators in the game today in Ben Johnson. We sport one of the best offensive lines in the game, a dual-threat running offense, a sleight-of-hand beast in last year’s No. 1 pick Aidan Hutchinson, and one of the best promising receivers of Amon-Ra. Saint Brun.
Expectations are high, but so is the confidence of Lions fans that this team is this big. not the same old Lions who broke our hearts year after year. Anything less than a division title and a home playoff will be a disappointment.
Just putting these words on paper is playing with fire. As any sports fan will tell you, curses don’t exist… except when it comes to major sporting events.
But how do you cast a bad spell on a team that has lived for decades under a dark cloud of disappointment and despair? On the contrary, asserting with confidence that the Lions will finally win a playoff game this year is the ultimate reverse spell. If assuming the worst has always led to terrible results, then perhaps the antidote is to hope for the best and say so publicly.
But hope – irrational, misguided and delusional – is the lifeblood of any sports fan. Winning championships is hard. Sometimes it happens once in a generation. For the Denver Nuggets (who finally won a title this year), it took five decades of futility to get to the top of the mountain.
And even dynasties inevitably have their fallow periods, as any Detroit Red Wings fan will tell you. As sports fans, we emotionally over-invest (arguably unhealthy) in sports franchises where only one team can become champions, and the others end the season looking for answers. It’s not rational or even wise, and far more often it ends in heartbreak.
Yet we return season after season, believing against all logic and experience that this will finally be the right year. No matter how bad things go, the pull of fandom is too strong. After all, without hope and without conviction, what’s the point of being a fan? Even if you expect the worst, there’s always that little part of your brain that says “maybe this could happen”. The only difference for me between now and previous seasons is that I’m willing to say it out loud:
I’m a Lions fan and I have hope.*
*If they finish 5-12 this year, you’ll know who to blame.