Disclaimer: I know it's been a good, long time since I've posted an article on the front page, but I will say that it's good to feel like doing it again. Many of you are aware of my personal challenges over the last few months, so please know that I am doing well and starting to get the hunger for posting again. I'll try to post more frequently in the coming months, because I know we are in a pre-season lull and sometimes lacking the amount of fanposts to satiate our daily Lions cravings.
At the risk of sounding annually redundant or being pegged a Kool-aid-aholic, I'd like to start by making the statement: there is something different and special about this year's Lions. Many of us sense it. Maybe some sense it and are not even sure quite why, but they feel it nonetheless. Most would commonly and correctly point to Schwartz and his refreshing attitude and his "dude-next-door" demeanor. And yes, that has a lot to do with it. He brings swagger, intelligence and moxie to this town. But most importantly, he understands the fanbase. Case in point... in his time with the media after one of his mini-camp practices this week, he talked about the plight of the fans and how he understood the passion and investment that each of us gives only to have our hearts ripped out each fall. For once, I felt that a person living in the realm of professional sports actually understood the diehard fan's perspective. Ty over at thelionsinwinter.com wrote a good piece about this the other day that you all should take the time to read, if you can.
Yes, Schwartz seems to be a good, natural fit for these Lions at this particular moment in time. But there's something else, isn't there? Maybe you feel it, too. Think back to the 2008 Detroit Lions. It's faceless, isn't it? To me, it's simply a drab, gray canvas with nothing but a big "0-16" painted across it. There is no color. There is no flair. There is no effervescence. There is nothing but defeat, shame and perpetual head-hanging. If anything can cool you off in these hot days of early summer, it's the chilling effects of daydreaming about the 2008 Lions' merciless beatings and unending mishaps. In my mind, the memories linger as black-and-white still photos of players, heads in hands, lifelessly sitting on the bench, then looking upwards as if to ask why they were chosen to be a part of this misery. Again, there is no color, no panache, and ultimately... no character.
Now fast forward from the gut-wrenching defeat at Lambeau to this week's mini-camp. What a difference a year makes. Optimism abounds. The off-season moves were plenty and the reaction positive. Players seem to have new legs beneath once tired, beaten bodies. There is color in this new ambiance. There is flair. And yes... there is character. To me, that's the mysterious difference that has quietly been scratching my mind's eye.
Think about the championship teams of late. They all have outspoken, colorful characters that seem to leap out of our TVs into our living rooms. We feel we know them, relate to them and create bonds with these bigger than life personalities. I know we all hate Terrell Owens, but no one can say he's not a fascinating individual. He brings intrigue, drama and color everywhere he goes. No, I don't want the Lions to go after T.O. next year, but he does give a team identity, albeit a typically negative one, but an identity and character nonetheless. This is what Detroit lacked last season. From the dark shades of Marinelli's dry and stale military personality, to the lack of vibrant leadership on either side of the ball. Maybe some of that vibrancy was overshadowed by the unforgiving losses, I don't know. But I look at the cast of characters in Detroit this year and I see a rainbow of vivacious enthusiasm.
From the youthful glee and cocky confidence of second year running back Kevin Smith, to the veteran stoicism of the personable, intelligent Jon Jansen, the stark contrast of this year's cast is night and day. Think about Louis Delmas and his brash, fully self-aware confidence as a rookie. Thinking about how hard he's working, how quickly he's picked up the defense and how hungry he appears to be... man, gives me goosebumps. Then there's the fan favorite, Larry Foote. He brings instant leadership, instant credibility and above all things, an instant upgrade and character to a position that's sorely lacked it since Stephen Boyd retired a few years back. The dull, gray void that was Paris Lenon is gone, replaced by an energized hometown hero that is here to give back to his team and his community. Can't make up stuff any better than that. Then there's the quiet, confident, intelligent promise of young players like Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford that give credence to the hope that our future will not be filled with that of the past. Even the depth has character. Look at players like Ephraim Salaam... the character of all characters. This guy could easily host the Tonight Show (would probably be an instant upgrade over O'Brien). He is the type of guy you want your young, impressionable players to be around. He is positive, animated and fully alive and that energy is contagious... just as losing can be contagious as all of us are fully aware.
Summer's here, the Kool-aid's flowing and the Lions are once again giving us that pre-season optimism. But like I said before... it does feel different this year. Maybe I pegged it with this study on our dynamic characters... then again, maybe not. Maybe it's something else. Whatever it is, it's there. But so is that guarded optimism that we Lions fans have come so used to feeling and so accustomed with trying to suppress. So the question is, should we try to suppress it if we feel it? Should we not be excited because of our past failures? I've always tempered my excitement, because I don't want to be the pre-season nutcase that's running around guaranteeing a 12-4 record and throwing the "P" word around like it's the dog's chew toy. I'm a guarded, conservative person by nature and my demeanor usually portrays me as such. But unveiled, I'm just like the rest of you ducks on the pond... calm and poised on the surface, but my legs excitedly churning below. Who's ready to show those legs?