For as long as I can remember, I've been a fan of the Detroit Lions. I know, I know, it's been rough.
But over the years, I've come to realize that the struggles of this team have fractured the Lions fan base in a very unique way, leaving behind three distinct groups: the optimists, the pessimists and the realists.
Since the retirement of Barry Sanders, the optimists have continued to pull for the team through the relentless drubbings.
They postponed Thanksgiving dinner to watch the end of a 45-3 blowout. They've watched the coaching carousel spin round and round, and every time it stopped, they were sure that, "This guy is the guy." These are the fans that wore Joey Harrington jerseys to school and boasted that Harrington to Rogers would be an unstoppable combo.
On the other hand, there's the pessimist.
No matter how big the lead, they never expect the Lions to pull out the win. Every mistake is, "the beginning of the end." According to them, no coach is good enough to lead this "bunch of losers." Often times, these fans don't make it to the end of the game and could care less who Detroit has drafted; after all, it's not like it'll matter.
And finally, there are the realists.
Most realists are former optimists that simply couldn't handle the pain any longer. They have dulled their expectations in hopes of reducing their disappointment every Sunday afternoon. I envy this group, because although I project a realist attitude, I am a true optimist at heart.
I was the kid that received the Harrington jersey for Christmas. I was the one running into the living room on Thanksgiving to see a comeback bid fall short (often times far short). I've struggled through all the heartbreak and simply can't wait around forever. Fortunately, it appears I won't have to.
Over the last three seasons, the Lions front office has put together a solid unit by not reaching to fill positions of need. Instead, they have focused on acquiring the best players available through the draft and free agency.
On the defensive side of the ball, players like Nick Fairley, Ndamukong Suh, Louis Delmas, Justin Durant, Stephen Tulloch and Kyle Vanden Bosch have all helped to create a daunting "Silver Curtain."
The offense has seen an equally drastic overhaul with the introduction of Brandon Pettigrew, Titus Young, Mikel Leshoure, Jahvid Best and Matthew Stafford.
But this is coming from an admitted optimist.
How do I know that things are truly turning around in Detroit?
Simple. The lines between the types of fans are beginning to blur.
With a defensive front seven that could be the best in the conference, and an explosive offense ready to roll, the season hinges on the AC joint of the young gunslinger, Matthew Stafford. But as unusual as it is to see a competitive team in Allen Park, more so is the presence of hope in the streets of Detroit.
How many wins will the Lions have in 2011?
Suddenly, the Lions have become a sexy pick as a playoff dark horse. ESPN analysts are looking for shock value by mentioning Detroit in the postseason hunt, but Michiganders have been watching this team come together ever since Martin Mayhew and Jim Schwartz entered the fray.
My whole life, I've worn Lions gear to school and to work, regardless of how the team performed.
I watched every game during the 0-16 season.
I can honestly say I have never been ashamed to be a Lions fan, but this is the first offseason I've been proud to sport the Honolulu Blue.
Optimists, pessimists and realists agree, there's never been a better time to be a Detroit Lions fan.