by Brandon James Anderson
It was a brisk fall Sunday. I was a college freshman though, for the life of me, I can’t remember where I was. I know I was indoors. I know it was a Sunday. And in Chicago it was windy, this I remember distinctly because the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears played four quarters of football without a winner. I can’t recall if the coin flipped at the end of regulation was heads or tails, but I do know the Lions won the toss.
And, if you, too, were a Lions fan at the time, you likely also remember that the Lions elected not to take the football. Their coach, the infamous Marty Mornhinweg, decided it best to play with the wind than with the ball in his team’s hands. I can’t recall how many plays it took; I can’t remember which Chicago wide receivers caught the ball; I can’t remember which running backs ran with the ball. But I do know that, like clockwork, the Bears scored, the Lions lost, and the game was over.
While the minor details of that game are fuzzy 11 years later, one thing was crystal clear that day – I was no longer a Lions fan.
I’m not the only one, either. I know of several people who gave up on the team that day. And there are plenty more who have their own similarly distinct moments given that there’s been countless times throughout this team’s existence in which just giving up on them completely has seemed like a no-brainer.
Giving up on the Lions does not mean one stops watching them — far from it. What it means, usually, is that the emotional investment is gone. No longer do you agonize over every screw up. No longer do you pound your head against the table with every stupid play called by your joke of a head coach.
Instead, you just shake your head. You still feel bad, but it’s empathy for your friends who remain Lions fans rather than a feeling of personal sorrow.
And sometimes when one gives up on the Lions, they adapt a new NFL franchise. Such was the case for me when I moved to San Diego for grad school and threw my lot in with a Drew Brees-helmed Chargers team that went 14-2.
A year ago my Chargers were in need of a new head coach, and they didn’t hire the man I wanted. Instead, the guy I wanted, former Arizona Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt, was hired to be Mike McCoy’s offensive coordinator. And the two took a shaky, regressing Philip Rivers and turned him into a bolo tie-wearing, above average pass-completing son-of-a-gun.
As the Chargers marched toward a once unthinkable run at the playoffs, I knew Whisenhunt would be gone. And when the Lions fired Jim Schwartz, I really wanted Whisenhunt to come to Detroit. But, as these things so often go for Michigan’s professional football franchise, that was not to be.
Instead, Ken took a whise on those plans and dashed off to Tennessee, and the Lions tapped Ravens OC Jim Caldwell as their head coach. On one hand, at least he has head coaching experience (and Super Bowl experience at that). On the other hand, Caldwell is no stranger to losing and may have been about to lose his job in Baltimore.
And so, here are the Lions. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. Still without my allegiance but never without my empathy.