Recently, my Northwestern Wildcats came under attack: A member of the cheerleading team participated in an article for ESPN The Magazine that outlined six ways to cheer for a “losing team.”
Everyone on campus seemed to have at least heard about the story, and many wanted the offending cheerleader kicked off the squad.
I simply felt she was in no position to complain. Although NU may have had problems in the past, any Wildcat mediocrity cannot compare to the futility of my hometown team: the Detroit Lions.
In light of my extensive experience cheering for my lethargic Lions, I’ve compiled a guide for fans that suffer the way I suffer. Entitled “Five Ways to Cheer for a Team That ACTUALLY Loses,” it should help any sports nut who thinks he or she has waged the uphill battle rooting for a subpar squad for too long.
1. Anticipation is the enemy
It’s ironic how easy it is for fans to recollect the shortcomings of their franchise in the offseason, only to forget them when their team finishes up training camp. Excitement was at an all-time high in 2008 after the Lions went a perfect 4-0 in the preseason. They followed that up with the worst regular-season record in NFL history.
Verdict: Let’s aim a little lower with our expectations. Dreaming about a five-win season may seem a little pathetic, but when our team lets us down, it’s going to hurt less than if we had expected a playoff berth.
2. When losing becomes an art form...
You know your team is more than unlucky when they keep finding innovative ways to lose: In the past Detroit has scored the would-be game-tying touchdown with no time on the clock, only to shank the extra point and lose 14-13.
The all-time low that Lions fans love to commiserate about is the overtime decision of Marty Mornhinweg—the man won the toss and took the wind instead of the ball, and Bears kicker Paul Edinger nailed a deep field goal into said wind to steal a win for Chicago.
Verdict: You have to give them credit for their creativity...well, at least the games are exciting most of the time.
3. ... it's all about small victories
When actual victories are nonexistent, it’s important to cheer for anything we can. For example, the Lions were having trouble remembering the snap count last week and racked up a few false starts. So, after two false start penalties in a row, the crowd responded with a roar (okay, sarcastic thank you) when the Lions were able to actually run a play without a penalty.
Verdict: Celebrate whatever play you can. Chances are it’ll be the only one for a while.
4. Scapegoats go a long way toward happiness
In Detroit’s darkest times, the one thing that seemed to unite every Lions fan was the idea that Matt Millen was the reason we were awful. Whether or not this was true is irrelevant. Once people decided it was his fault, the “Fire Millen” campaign was unstoppable.
Verdict: As most of Millen’s draft picks are no longer in the league, perhaps the word “scapegoat” is too kind. Nevertheless, it does make you feel better to have anyone to blame, regardless of whether or not it’s actually their fault (I know this is how you’re feeling with Jim Zorn, Redskins fans).
5. A true believer will never surrender
My uncle has gotten more enjoyment rooting against the Lions over the last few years than he did the previous 30 cheering for them. The reason? He bets against Detroit (a dollar, with the same friend every week) and tends to earn a nice return on his money. Even with the bet, however, he was slapping hands with the rest of us when Louis Delmas returned an interception 100 yards for the score.
Verdict: I know you’re jaded, fans of perennial losers—I am too. But deep down, no matter how hard we try, true fans can’t let go of the team pride and love we were raised with. So no matter how foolish it may seem, when your team finishes up another depressing campaign, repeat the motto of the eternal sports optimist: “There’s always next year!”