Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Paul The Lionhearted
I haven't written any posts about pro-football at all this season. At first I thought I was just being lazy, since all-original posts like this obviously take the most time. But as the season progressed, I realized it was because I was searching. Searching for an identity, searching for the truth, searching for a purpose.
Contrary to what non-fans would think, there is plenty of manly emotion in football. We've seen it in the recent press conferences of Tony Dungy, Mike Shanahan and especially in the post-game win on-field interview with Philly's Brian Dawkins. While we don't have our careers hanging in the balance on the NFL (unless we've literally bet the house), a lot of us have invested a great deal of time and belief in the game- and our team. It's a game, sure, but it's more than just that.
I grew up in suburban Detroit, MI. Both my grandfather and my father before me spent most of their lives as Detroit Lions fans. I was, quite literally, born into being a Lions fan. I could go on and on about the Sundays spent on the couch with my father and brother yelling at the television or waving our hands in disgust at the more often than not hapless Lions. It was my late grandfather Marvin Rosenberg, however, who said something to me probably 25 years ago that really took me a long time to grasp: "As long as Ford owns that team, they ain't never gonna be no good". While the phrase stuck with me and haunted me for years, it took a while to sink in. How could it be that a team's owner has that much to do with whether the players play well and whether the team is competitive?
As a child, you think that your team can win, plain and simple. Those guys on the field in the Lions' logo helmets were my heroes, and I'd be damned if I didn't support them. I believed in the Honolulu blue and silver for 35 years or so. Even 10 years after moving to New York, my allegiance didn't waiver. I'd be constantly made fun of by Giants or Jets fans, but I didn't care- I was a Detroit Lions fan. Period.
I'm not sure exactly what put me over the edge. There isn't one specific thing that I can point to (other than the obvious losing seasons year after year, the lamest draft picks over the last several seasons, the maddening decision by the front office to keep Matt Millen as the team's GM for 8 seasons), I think I just got sick of rooting for an organization that frankly were losers.
Millen's tenure as GM led to the worst eight-year record in the NFL (31-97) since World War II. The Lions have never been in a Super Bowl. In fact, the Lions have made it into the playoffs only nine times in the 50-plus years since winning the 1957 championship. Back in November of 1963, William Clay Ford, Sr. bought the team which began the 43-year period that continues today, during which the Lions have won just one playoff game. Turns out that Grandpa Marvin was right.
Now, I've been very clear in the past on where I stand on what team's people should be allowed to root for. For the sake of clarity, allow me to repeat from my October 2007 post entitled The Cowgirls:
In my opinion, you root for the team from where either a) you grew up, b) where you currently live (for at least a couple of years), c) if there is no team where you are from or where you currently live, you can pick one near by, or d) if the team where you currently live packed-up and bounced to some "expansion" city or otherwise, you can continue to root for that team (shouts out to the Los Angeles Raiders, Anaheim Rams, St. Louis Cardinals, and the Baltimore Colts). Sure, you can prefer one team win over another. You can even cheer for that team playing against a team that you despise. But to passionately root for a team that doesn't fit into any of the categories above, to the point that you wear their gear, sing their praises, and have "sports arguments" about that team is complete BULLSHIT. You know who you are. Stop it.
I moved to New York City full-time in June of 1996. That's almost 13 years ago. Since then, I've watched a lot of New York Jets and New York Giants games- mostly due to the fact that I didn't (and still don't) have DirectTV and the NFL Sunday Ticket, and the Jets and Giants games are always shown locally. I don't know exactly why, but I've always leaned more towards the Giants. I know there are some unwritten rules about where you live in the NY area which dictate who you should be a fan of (for the record, I've lived in New Jersey, Queens and New York City), but I mostly just went with my gut. It took a while, but around 5 or 6 years ago the Giants became my "second team".
In first position, up until this season, I always remained true to The Lions. Bad habits are hard to break, but I always just figured that it's what I was, and that's that. During the course of last season, while the Lions crashed and burned (they started the season 6-2 and ended the season at 7-9), I paid really close attention to the rising Giants. I'd say the point at which I really turned the corner was on November 18, 2007 when the Lions lost to the Giants 10-16. I was still rooting for the Lions at that point, but when they lost to my second team, I wasn't that mad. In fact, I vividly remember telling the friends I had that were over at my house to watch the game that I thought that when the Giants play at their best, they can beat anyone. And beat anyone they did.
So, I continued the rest of the '07 season caring less about Detroit and more about Big Blue. Sure, you can say I jumped on the proverbial bandwagon. And maybe I did. But when you have drank mud for so long and you get the opportunity to taste some champagne, it's easy to want more. That taste of winning, of being a winner, and having real hope is really something to behold.
Before the 2008 NFL season began, I sent an e-mail to a group of friends from The D that were also born Lions fans and had since dispersed around the country. The e-mail was as follows:
Subject: RE: ROAR 2008
Date: Wed, 23 Jul 2008 14:57:05 -0400
Save this e-mail: THE LIONS WILL HAVE THE WORST RECORD IN THE NFL IN THE '08 SEASON.
They spent the off-season creating a new slogan "BELIEVE IN NOW". I believe that now we seriously don't have a defense. At all. The only semi-decent linebacker we have is Ernie Sims and he's hurt forever. It will be a catastrophe the likes of which we are accustomed to, but maybe worse. Their draft picks were the laughing stock of the league. We still have no offensive line.
At the point I sent that e-mail, I was still trying on the idea of being a second team convert. Could I really have a fully changed heart? Could I actually care about the Giants as much or more than I cared about the Lions for 35 years?
Well, after the Lions obviously went on to a record-breaking 0-16 season (the first team to go winless in the era of 16-game seasons), it wasn't all that hard. But it wasn't until this past Sunday, after a season of rooting for the Giants and doing my best to ignore Detroit (I even went to a game this season at Ford Field though), when I went to the Giants playoff game against the Eagles that I learned the truth- I have become a Giants fan. I wasn't just casually bummed that the Giants lost, I was very upset. When you feel that kind of emotion, the conversion is real. I am a New York Giants fan.
Having said all of that, there will always be a place in my heart for The Detroit Lions, hence the title of this blog entry. Should the team get sold, or the Fords miraculously decide that they want to own a team that competes in the league and prove themselves as real winners, I'll be happy. I just refuse to spend the next 35 years (or depending on how you look at it, the second half of my life) rooting for and investing myself in a team that doesn't care. If the Fords don't care enough to win, why should I?
So, Grandpa Rosenberg, there you have it. I can see you crack a smile now and say in your gruff, old-school way "well, what took ya so long, boy?" It was hard, grandpa. But I've made the move, and I'm comfortable with it. If some of you out there aren't, try walking in my shoes for 35 years, then you can judge. Until then, GO BIG BLUE!
P.S. I hope I haven't offended any of the people at the Detroit Lions organization with whom I have become acquainted over the years. I had to get this off of my chest.
P.P.S. My fortunate 5 and-a-half month old daughter will grow up a Giants fan, and not have to endure the pain that I have. Plus, she can go to games in a shiny new stadium!