If you're anything like me, Thursday afternoon's loss to the Green Bay Packers represented more than just another "L" in the books.
It has come to be something of an identity crisis.
To this point in the season, despite all the talk of the Detroit Lions being "dirty" or "classless," there really wasn't anything that was absolutely indefensible.
Until now. Until Ndamukong Suh, on national television, stomped on Evan Dietrich-Smith after slamming his head into the ground a few times.
There's no doubt that Suh will be suspended, and after seeing the replay that nearly made me choke on my turkey (while I was wearing the man's jersey, no less), I can't complain about it. In fact, I welcome it. Because this can't continue.
Honestly, lots of Lions fans kind of liked the Jake Delhomme tackle/throw/body slam when it happened in the 2010 preseason. Suh represented the kind of nastiness that had been missing from the Lions' defense (but had personified great defenses like those of the Bears, Steelers and Ravens of the past and present).
If Suh was going to bring that kind of intimidation to the Lions, who were we to deny it? We called it "hard-nosed play" and "toughness," and we accused anyone who took the other stance of being either jealous or overly sensitive.
This is, after all, the NFL. This is a game in which gargantuan men hurl themselves at one another for 60 minutes until one caves in. Why would we condemn a man who embraced the game's violent nature and happened to be better at it than just about anyone else?
Thursday, we got our answer. We got lots of answers, actually, and none of them were good. Suh has played every game of his career right on the line, but Thursday, he stomped right over that line and didn't look back.
And that wasn't tough or hard-nosed play. That wasn't an issue of Suh just being too big and too strong. There was no room for misinterpretation, regardless of the absurd explanation Suh gave after the game.
He's not Albert Haynesworth, mind you. Suh's act was more ill-advised tantrum than premeditated attempt to cause serious, lasting harm. It was still a cheap shot by a dirty player. Had it been anyone on a different team, I would dislike whatever team he played for until the day he retired.
Admitting that doesn't make me a turncoat on the Lions. It makes me a human being who loves the game of football and doesn't particularly appreciate a guy who assumes the rules don't apply to him.
A popular argument for Suh is that his take-no-prisoners style would have fit in well 40 years ago, when the league thrived on players like Dick Butkus who would openly admit (and execute) their bad intentions for their opponents.
That may be true, and for some, those were the golden years of the NFL. But times change. For all the flak they get about rule changes, the NFL has changed in the direction of player safety, and I for one think it's a good thing. In fact, I would challenge you to look into the post-career life of NFL great Earl Campbell, who at age 56 suffers from chronic back pain which often puts him in a wheelchair.
So no, the NFL is not becoming flag football, it is trying to help its retirees have lives that don't involve constant pain and suffering every day from age 35. And so no, I will not say that Suh's actions are OK and that the NFL is just going soft.
So for people like me who condemn Suh's reprehensible act and don't want those 10 seconds to personify the Lions as a team, where does that leave us?
I still like Suh as a person and as a football player. Or I want to, anyway. But in no way am I going to condone what he did.
I recognize that with all the talk about the Lions this season, be it about Suh, or "Handshake-Gate," or "Tebowing" Tebow, or whatever else has happened, that Thursday's game drove the whole discussion over the edge. And not just for Suh. The entire Lions team is wearing the black hat now.
And we, the fans, are the ones really catching the brunt of it. Are we prepared to be "that team?" We've waited decades for the team to have an ounce of success, and just as it starts to come around, we have to deal with this?
Who do we get mad at? Do we call for changes in personnel or changes in personality? Can Suh and the Lions rehab their image? If they rein it in enough to win ball games, are we still supposed to care if the Lions are truly the league's "Bad Boys?" Are the Lions obligated to win and be liked around the league?
These are the kinds of questions that have run rampant through my head since Thursday, and so far, I have no answers. Obviously, the kind of nonsense that happened Thursday cannot be allowed to continue, and now it casts a dark shadow over every "iffy" thing that has happened up to this point in the season.
Image-wise, the Lions are done for the season—and probably for seasons to come. Even if Suh keeps his nose clean for the next two years, that will remain the case.
These aren't the sort of instances people forget about after a couple of weeks. Suh will be lucky if those 10 seconds don't follow him for the rest of his career.
And yet he's still a good football player. He's still a hard worker. He's still a class act and incredibly intelligent outside the white lines. And perhaps most importantly, he's still young. A suspension at this point in his career might give the man some perspective at a time when, frankly, he needs it.
Because I want to continue to be a fan of Ndamukong Suh. I want to cheer for the man who brought defense and toughness back to the Detroit Lions.
But I don't want to be on the side of a man who plays the game I love with no respect for rules, or worse yet, his fellow players.
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