To: The Detroit Lions (all of you)
From: Your Fans
We thought it was important to reach out to you before your seasons begins, just so you know collectively how we feel and where we stand. Fans from every corner of the world unite every September with a renewed hope that things will change. Each year we say, “this is this the year." The year that our favorite team will exercise its demons and erase a half-century of general disappointment.
This September is no different for us, although it appears to be for the NFL masses who seem to think your team is on the up-and-up in a big way.
After months of hype, speculation, health questions, predictions and additional bandwagon space construction, judgment day has finally come. You kick things off in Tampa Bay on Sunday in what can undoubtedly be described as the most anticipated season in Detroit in almost 20 years.
You have relinquished your throne as the laughing stock of the NFL. No longer are you the subject of opening monologue plodder for Leno and Letterman. The NFL’s production of the Three Stooges starring Millen, Marinelli and Kitna as Larry, Moe and Curly has long since gone dark.
Instead, you are the highlight of the discussion involving potentially new playoff teams for gurus like Peter King and Ron Jaworski. King even said you were his surprise pick to reach the Super Bowl during a segment on MSNBC. While the rest of America wants to check his medicine cabinet for hallucinogens, we Lions fans can’t help but gravitate toward King's line of thinking.
Some might say this nationwide optimism surrounding your team dates back to the 4-0 finish last season.
Those victories were made possible because in a league in which games routinely come down to the final moments, Lions players finally learned how to close. You beat the eventual Super Bowl Champion Packers as well as the Bucs, Dolphins and Vikings each by seven points or less, a feat once thought impossible in Southeastern Michigan.
Despite going 6-10 overall last year, seven of your losses came by only one possession. The other three loses were not indicative of their final scores. In double digit defeats to the Patriots and Cowboys, you actually held the lead in the second half of each game. In a 14 point loss to the Vikings, Shaun Hill threw two fourth quarter interceptions inside the Minnesota 10 yard line!
Point being, in a sport famously knows as a "game of inches," your team was probably less than a full ruler away from being 10-6 or better.
You have managed to build what looks to be, on paper anyway, one of most explosive offenses in the league. Playmakers like Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson, Brandon Pettigrew and Javid Best actually provide talent at skill positions unseen in Detroit since Herman Moore, Brett Perriman and Barry Sanders patrolled Pontiac.
You have assembled possibly the most ferocious defensive line in football, led by decapitator-extraordinaire Ndamukong Suh, the relentless Kyle Vanden Bosch and the most underrated defensive end in the NFL, Cliff Avril.
While your celebrated 2011 draft class has already seen Mikel Leshoure go down for the year, Nick Fairley and Titus Young are expected to make a major impact as the season moves along.
Most importantly of all is Matthew Stafford. The golden boy with a rocket arm and that sort of humble-brag swagger seems finally ready to take the reins with a clean bill of health and post a monster statistical season. With the weapons at his disposal, Stafford could rival the production of guys like Drew Brees and Philip Rivers.
But I think any Lions fan will tell you, this isn't about statistics or new school Football Outsiders sabermetrics. This isn't about how the Lions look on paper or about how many tackles Steven Tulloch had for another team. This isn't about showing signs of life at the end of last year when the season outcome was already determined or putting a beat down on Tom Brady this preseason.
No gentlemen, it’s not about any of those things. It’s about giving your city and faithful fans what we have been desperately craving since Bobby Lane cursed you more than 50 years ago: an NFL Championship.
I know it seems crazy. I know it seems like a lot to ask. I know you play in the same division as the defending Super Bowl Champs who just scored 600 points against the New Orleans Saints on Thursday.
But frankly, we don’t really care.
In a league littered with parody, the Lions have been consistently abysmal since Barry Sanders retired. We have not watched a Lions playoff game since before Y2K and we have never experienced the thrill of seeing our team play in a Super Bowl.
That is brutal enough for some of us younger fans, who were not even alive the last time the Tigers won a World Series. But what about your more seasoned fans? The ones who have given this Lions team their blood, sweat and tears for every one of those 54 championship-less seasons. The ones who have had years taken off their lives thanks to decades of head-scratching and hair-pulling. When will they be rewarded for their suffering?
Aaron Rogers won a Super Bowl last season in his third year as a starter with a dozen of his teammates on Injured Reserve. Ben Roethlisberger won his first ring in his third NFL season. Sure Rogers had Clay Matthews and Big Ben had Troy Polamalu. So what? Stafford has Suh.
If not now, when? Do you think we should wait a few more years to collect more talent and get Stafford and Suh more experience? By then guys like Vanden Bosch, Jeff Backus and Nate Burleson will be too old, Calvin Johnson might be gone and there will be a whole new batch of reasons to “wait until next year."
Lions fans are impervious to excuses and numb to failure at this point. While 90 percent of the players and coaches on your current Detroit roster did not experience going 0-16 in 2008, all of us fans did.
You all may remember there was a healthy amount of optimism going into that season as well, before rookie Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons pistol-whipped you in the first quarter of the first game. You know the rest.
We want to believe the hype. We want to see Ford Field hang banners and house champions like Joe Lewis and the Palace of Auburn Hills. We want a reason to rally around the Lions in December and January like we are rallying around the Tigers here in September.
So it’s up to you. It starts this Sunday in Tampa Bay. Your lifelong, die-hard Lions fans are behind you. The city of Detroit is behind you. The entire state of Michigan is behind you. There is no doubt after 50 years, we are all ready. The only question is: are you?
P.S. We talked about it and have decided that just making the playoffs would not be the end of the world…