Last weekend, I spent Sunday afternoon with my father-in-law watching the home opener for the Detroit Lions. Aside from the fact that the game afforded the opportunity to strengthen familial bonds, our simple family room gathering was more than just two dudes plopped on a couch, attention locked on the TV, geeking out over football. To me, it marked a glorious return to live sports.
You see, it has been a particularly rough year for Detroit sports fans. The city’s professional hockey and basketball teams, the Red Wings and Pistons, were so abysmal that both were left off the list of teams invited back this summer to finish their seasons that had been cancelled abruptly. And while the Detroit Tigers have been playing since late July, baseball is more of a sport one follows from a distance rather than by watching individual games.
So when I arrived promptly at my in-laws’ house 15 minutes before kickoff, I came with the excitement level of a fan whose pent-up expectation had been building for months. Jim played the role of the host brilliantly and, as he is known to do, prepared a lavish, over-the-top smattering of drinks and gameday snacks. The mountain of nachos we had for two—laden with pulled pork, avocados, jalapeños, and likely more buried toppings I never noticed—could have fed a full football team. The team didn’t disappoint either. Going into the fourth quarter, the Lions were up by a wide margin, leading 23 to 6 and absolutely stifling the Chicago Bears. Mitchell Trubisky, the Bears’ much-maligned young quarterback, was playing so poorly it looked as if this could be the game that would knock him out of the league for good.
But like a towering stack of nachos, hope and excitement can only be piled so high before everything comes tumbling down, especially when such positive emotions are pinned on the Lions. And boy, did the metaphorical nacho mountain fall, complete with a soggy cascade of toppings that buried the Lions up to their necks in overloaded chips, sweeping away all my hopes for a successful season.
The team played one of the worst fourth quarters I have ever witnessed. First, the defense went soft, and suddenly Trubisky looked like Brady. Second, the coach made an inexplicable decision to try a long-range field goal, which the kicker missed, giving the Bears excellent field position. Third, Stafford, the Lions’ quarterback, tried to force the issue and threw an interception. In the blink of an eye, a 17-point lead became a 4-point deficit. Even so, hope remained, but not for long. When a Lions player dropped what would have been the game-winning touchdown in the end zone with seconds left, the collapse at last was completed.
Because of my excitement, I had coaxed myself into a false hope. I had forgotten recent long-term history: in my lifetime the Lions have only made the playoffs three times and have notched zero playoff victories (the last occurred January 5, 1992). I had also conveniently forgotten recent history: last season alone, the Lions blew 12 fourth-quarter leads, a staggering statistic in a season with only 16 games. The Lions also have a way of turning another team’s garbage into sparkling treasure: Mitchell Trubisky is now 4-0 versus the Lions in his career with 14 touchdowns and just one interception. Ultimately, I had forgotten my identity as a Lions fan—an identity that is, to the bone, infused with disappointment and failure.
Over the past week, I’ve been pondering how I allowed such misguided hope to grow unchecked. I think it comes down to this: amidst this year of misfortune and crisis, I hoped the Lions might follow the upside-down trend and surprise us all. By some convoluted logic, the Detroit Lions, viewed through rose-colored COVID-19 glasses, would reign victorious. Maybe it is comforting to know that, even in unpredictable times, some things remain constant after all—COVID can’t touch the Detroit Lions.