Losing has long been a way into the hearts of America. The Chicago Cubs were the first to start the trend, as the Lovable Losers suffered 108 years without a championship. Despite their ineptitude, a large portion of American professional sports fans wrapped themselves in Cubbie Blue and celebrated in the autumn of 2016 when the Curse of the Billy Goat was finally broken. The Boston Red Sox were a similar endeavor in misery, as they spent 86 years void of a championship. Yet, in 2004 when the Red Sox dispatched the Cardinals in a four game sweep, America celebrated a championship for a Boston underdog (I know that, three World Series, three Super Bowls, an NBA and NHL title later, this seems highly unlikely). Even the Cleveland Browns, who have incessantly delivered an inability to even find quarterback to last more than a season, find a swarm of – maybe ironically- adoring fans at the slightest display of progress.
Then there are the Detroit Lions. The Lions are not lovable losers. They have no redeemable fanbase of nut cases, a la the Buffalo Bills; nor do they have any remarkably likable players a la the Cleveland Browns and their rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield. In fact, the Lions most apparently affable player, Golden Tate, was traded away for a third round draft pick in an act of surrender for the 2018 season. And while the Tate trade was likely in the best interest of the franchise, it robbed a nation of football fans of any Lion to root for personally.
The Lions, unlike most losers, are easy to hate. They flirt with goodness, never greatness, and they specialize in breaking the hearts of their fans. It’s an annual ritualistic and voluntary participation in masochism on the parts of the fans this team still has. Every single season, fans who should know better by now by into these Lions, because they aren’t the Same Old Lions.
It happened in 2016, when the Lions battled back from a 1-3 and turned it into a 9-4 start. Fans were ecstatic, as the Lions were set up and only had to win two of their last three, including a week 17 primetime match up with rival Green Bay, to finally win the division. And yet, Matthew Stafford added to his run of built in excuses by injuring a finger on his throwing hand, losing all four of their final games which included being murdered in Seattle in the NFC Wild Card.
It happened again a season ago, when the Lions dispelled notions of the Same Old Lions by getting off to a 3-1 start with wins over two teams that would make the playoffs. These Lions were different, right up until they went 6-7 down the stretch, kicking their fans in the balls again en route to missing the playoffs.
Well, the Lions once again dispelled the notion of Same Old Lions when they made a universally praised decision to fire head coach Jim Caldwell in favor of New England Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. And yet, these Lions have gotten off to perhaps the most horrific start to a season in recent memory.
Look no further than Monday Night Football to open the season. At home, against the hapless New York Jets and rookie quarterback Sam Darnold, the Lions were brutally and publicly executed in their own house by 31 points. The Jets are currently 3-7, and were just executed 41-10 in their own house by a Buffalo team that is one of the worst we have ever seen. (Buffalo is so bad that Las Vegas bookmakers have actually made odds for if they played the University of Alabama. Buffalo is -28.5, for those counting.)
If you choose to engage in the masochism that Lions fans engage in every Sunday, move forward to when the Lions battled back to a 3-3 record after taking down the Miami Dolphins. Not only were they coming off a dominant win against the New England Patriots and a (kinda lucky) victory over Aaron Rodgers’ Packers, they were hosting a reeling Seattle team in Detroit to climb over .500.
Seattle stomped the life out of the Lions before the first quarter had even ended.
This is why I hate the Lions. They act good, but they are not good. They fool their fans by flirting with winning, only to turn around and punch their fans in the stomach repeatedly. Year in, year out. The Browns will talk about hope, and now with Baker Mayfield and an offense that looks like it actually could be building towards something, they have it. The Lions have none.
Hope vanished when the Lions gave Matthew Stafford the keys to the organization in the form of a $135 million contract. While many may not have known it then, and those who know me will undoubtedly mention my unwavering defense of the Lions quarterback, the contract may have been a death warrant.
The Lions have sold Stafford’s value as a franchise quarterback far too many times to really believe he’s a franchise quarterback. Look at it this way, the Patriots never need to tell you how great Tom Brady is, because Tom Brady has shown you that. It’s the same thing with every great quarterback, or even one worth their salt. Nobody has to sell fans on the skills of Philip Rivers, Russel Wilson, or Aaron Rodgers, because they show you their skills. Only the Lions spend time fluffing their quarterback’s greatness without any empirical evidence to fall on.
The Lions have actively empowered Stafford. The rumblings that Stafford has been preferential to simplistic offenses are, honestly, pretty believable. When Patricia came in as head coach, Stafford was reportedly adamant that the Lions retain offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter. Yet, Stafford has displayed severe regression under an offense that has shown a failure to adapt, adjust, and identify oppositional weakness. Stafford has shown no ability to change plays at the line of scrimmage or recognize any coverage or blitz packages by the defense. He’s shown extensive reliance on a system that is failing him on a game-by-game basis.
If Stafford’s on the field failings were the biggest disaster, it would be one thing, but it’s his off-field decorum that has been the most damaging. He has consistently given blatantly disingenuous answers at the podium during press conferences, to the point that it is disrespectful to the fans. After his wife posted on Instagram attacking fans and media members for criticizing Stafford, and Rich Gannon stated on ESPN’s NFL Monday QB that he’s “sick and tired of talking about Matthew Stafford,” Stafford said in a press conference he doesn’t need to answer to his critics. He’s right, he doesn’t need to answer to them at the podium, he needs to answer it on the field. He didn’t answer it on Sunday, when he led the Lions on multiple three and outs and threw two interceptions, trailing 26-0 to the rival Chicago Bears.
I loathe the Lions. It is a feeling that is rooted deep in my soul, that I have only experienced with one professional sports organization. Their unwavering commitment to the status quo is reprehensible, and would be in any business. I thought that Michigan State would be the worst football product in the state this year; I was wrong. The Lions have matched the Spartans inexcusable commitment to inept assistant coaches and broken, simplistic schemes. So much so that while I was writing this blog Lions’ beat writer Dave Birkett tweeted another deplorable quote from Matt Patricia.
Patricia is so impressed by his defense allowing Mitchell freakin’ Trubisky throw for 355 yards and three touchdowns, posting a 148.6 rating, that he’s confident in Paul Pasqualoni to coordinate the defense. He’s so enamored by his offense that, outside of garbage time, posted seven, six, and zero points in the last three games, that Patricia is CONFIDENT in Jim Bob Cooter to call the offensive plays.
How could you not loathe this team? How do maniacs continue to paint their faces blue and race to Ford Field to cheer on Matthew Stafford while he holds the football for seven seconds on every drop back? How do these same fans continue to let coach, coordinator, and quarterback off the hook despite their continual ineptitude?
The fans are partially responsible as well. For as long as these fans paint their faces, and scream on Sunday afternoon, and buy jerseys and tickets and beer, the Lions have no reason to change the culture. None. And they have proven that they will not.
This team and organization are systemically damaged. It’s like the Lions are diseased, and afflicted beyond reasonable cure. There is no hope of winning for as long as Matthew Stafford is quarterbacking this team, which will likely be forever because his dead cap hit should they get rid of him would be $40 million next season. Here is a quarterback who has never won anything, at any level of football, in the entire duration of his career; yet has been endlessly enabled and empowered at every level.
Losers are easy to love. The Browns are the most exciting 3-6-1 team in the history of the National Football League. Who didn’t enjoy seeing LeBron James bring a title to Cleveland for the first time in over half a century? The Lions are the exception to the rule. They are putrid, vile, and irredeemable. I hate them.