Detroit's Feline Flu

Phil HopersbergerCorrespondent IMay 10, 2009

NEW YORK - APRIL 25:  Detroit Lions #1 draft pick Matthew Stafford poses for photographers with his family after his selection in the 2009 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall on April 25, 2009 in New York City  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

"Stupid Lions!"

Out of the blue, and several times throughout the post four o'clock Sundays in my Detroit home, without any particular stimulus, Fred would spout the Sunday motto to no one.  Like a mumbling vagrant on Woodward Avenue, you'd hear my older brother from the basement, up stairs in his room, in the kitchen, or walking through the living room.

"Stupid Lions!"

It was an omen.  One I should have heeded as a kid in the sixties, but alas...I chewed the cornbread (a now classic Lion-esque expression that football fans in Michigan know all too well for hopelessly believing in our team every fall) and I became a carrier of the virus known as Feline Flu.

How could my loving family permit this travesty to be foisted on such innocence?

Perhaps it was collecting their football cards and that contagious smelling gum?  Or seeing them play LIVE at Tiger Stadium with airborne pathogens on my hot dog?  Or bigger than life heroes like Alex Karras, Mike Lucci, Lem Barney, Charlie Sanders, and Greg Landry showing up in person at grocery stores shaking our unsuspecting little paws?  Maybe running out at half-time (with another tenuous Lion lead) to play tackle football with my buddies, and missing the rest of the Lions' loss as we (finally) won on our front lawns, that spread the dreaded germ like so many miniature Typhoid Marys?

I dunno, but I do know that the Feline Flu infected thousands in our state year after year, and as crazy as it sounds, the next generation was infected on purpose by well meaning fathers and older brothers since 1934.  "Close game," they'd mutter.  "Next time," they'd promise.  "That Nitschke is a helluva player" or "Butkus hit Munson like a freight train!" spewed the germ infested propagandists I called family.

"Stupid Lions!"

Last year, for the first time ever, after more than 40 years, I stopped watching them after their fourth loss.  I knew they would go 0-16, and they did.  No more did I listen to the radio post game interviews and call in shows.  I really felt cured!  What a relief!  And a monumental time saver for getting all those Honey Do items knocked off the weekend list.  Our home sparkled!  I had had enough and was finally free!

Then the new coaches got hired.  "Intriguing and capable," I sniffled.

They earned the number one pick in the draft?  Couldn't hurt to watch and see who they chose for the next four selections to go with Stafford.  I followed the latter rounds too.  "Interesting selection," I heard come out of my tickling throat.  "Harmless to just watch."

Some clever free agent moves!  Uh oh...I began to care again.  "Larry Foote left the Steelers for the Lions?"  My throat felt sore and scratchy.

And so here I remission no more with a full-blown hack to go with my raw throat.  Beginning to smell that hot cornbread and melted butter wafting through the Michigan spring air too.  Maybe this year will be different?  I mean, the Bobby Layne curse is over now, right?

"But they look improved," I reason, convincingly.  "Delmas can hit.  Pettigrew can block for Smith and release with sure hands on a blitz through our paper line.  Stafford has a howitzer.  Signed Peterson AND Foote!  Follett is a world wrecker and Levy knocked Beanie backwards.  Paterno loved Williams!"

Right?  Am I right?  *A--CHOO!*

"Stupid Lions!"

My Uncle Elmer fought in the Battle of the Bulge and when we were up north deer hunting, some event like forgetting my gloves or not sighting in my gun before November 15th, would always trigger his life phrase.  "Experience is a good teacher and only a fool won't learn."

I often thought of that sparkle of military wisdom on Sunday afternoons last year, as I rode around my yard cutting my Michigan grass, trying not to ponder why they deferred on the coin toss or ran three up the gut plays before the blocked punt.  Third and seven and you throw a four-yard pass?  Come on!  The kick would have won it if they only got that first down.  How can you make millions and jump offside...AGAIN!

It's May and hope springs eternal, but I wonder what the Michigan faithful will be saying this November.  Will the epidemic grow?  Or will my Uncle Elmer's battle hardened words finally cure us all?  Somehow, I think the Freds of the world will stumble out to cut their grass at 4:30 AGAIN and surprise their smiling neighbors with the Feline Flu hack and mumbling...I know I'm feeling little achy myself.

"Stupid Lions!"