So here we sit, in the long, dreary month of June, where football news seems to lie dormant until it rouses its sleepy head in late July for the beginning of training camp. Thoughts seem to effortlessly gravitate to the hope and expectations of the coming year, while the hoopla surrounding the draft is quickly becoming like a sailing ship on the horizon - fading a little each moment as the sun begins to set. With every passing day, the 2009 season becomes little more than a fleeting memory and the grass on the side of the 2010 season looks ever greener. So with respect to the outlook of the upcoming season, I pose the question... why not now?
We Lion's fans have suffered immeasurably over the past few decades and perhaps no decade has delivered the most painful blows as the last. But all things - good, as well as bad - must come to an end, right? I mean, surely the suffering and losing cannot go on endlessly. I hold that it is logically impossible for us not to field a winner in the future... whether that be in five years or another fifty years. At some point in our future, respectability will return to this once glorious franchise. And if that return to prominence is a sure thing, then why not now? Why can't this year be the dawning of that new age, a beginning of a time where the name Detroit Lions is not synonymous with the words losing and failure? Why can't this be the year where the sins of the past are finally absolved through roster attrition and meticulous planning on the part of the new front office?
Please don't misconstrue this post to mean that we will win twelve games this season. That is not my objective. My intent is to dissolve the notion that while we all appear to be optimistic about the coming seasons, success remains to many merely an illusion where the rebuilding processes will endlessly rise and fall with nary a winner as the result. This will not happen. Like I said before, I believe it to be impossible to never again be a great franchise. If that is true, than it is guaranteed to happen. And if it is guaranteed to happen, then why not now?
I know you are all probably saying, "Yeah, but aren't you the guy that always wants to inject a dose of realism into our Kool-aid induced fun?" Yep, sure am. And this is my current dose of realism... we can and will be winners again very soon. Do I believe that it will specifically be this year? Not necessarily. But then again, I am not ruling it out. I think the foundation has been laid for the next winning Detroit Lions team (and yes, there have been others, it's just hard to remember them). I think that the pieces are in place right now and success is just around the corner. In short, I believe that the time is now (feel free to inject all of your snarky "Do You Believe In Now" slogan remarks here... lol). All joking aside, I can honestly say that have not felt this way since the mid-90's or maybe to a small extent after the 2004 draft (when we added Roy and Kevin to be the final offensive pieces with Joey and Charles). I am always optimistic in a sense, but most years, I'm simply hoping for the best case scenario to materialize. If I'm being frank, I don't always feel that our best case scenario can result in a winning season nor do I feel that we can do well without significant external factors intervening. In a nutshell, I usually feel that we are not the masters of our own destiny... regardless of the front I may wear.
So what makes this year different? Good question. It can be hard to put it in writing, but this year, I feel like we have a high(er) ceiling on our yearly best case scenario and I think that for the first time in a long time, we have enough potential or high level talent to be in control of our own destiny to an extent. I sense that our best case scenario is a winning record and possibly a WildCard berth. Remember, I said BEST case scenario... that is not a prediction of any kind. This year, I think it's not just about the other three teams in our division failing or losing a quarterback or other significant player through injury, it's about OUR talent playing to its highest capacity. If we play to what I feel our current level of talent can be, we will win significantly more games this year and take a major step towards respectability.
I think it's still fair to say that we have our share of weak spots in our roster. But in all fairness, every team in the NFC North has weak points. The Vikings have a weak secondary, very average linebackers and potentially a massive hole at quarterback. The Packers have a weak offensive line, an aging secondary and a spotty running game. The Bears have a weak secondary, aging linebacking corps, suspect receivers and a sketchy offensive line. In fact, I'll take Stafford, Johnson, Best, Pettigrew, Burleson and Scheffler against all of those secondaries any day of the week. It's been a long time since I've had the true inner confidence to bet on a Lion's unit like that. I'll also take our defensive line against all but maybe the Viking's offensive line in our division. That said, I could see us taking at least three or more games in our division this year. And if you can do basic math, that's more games than we've won in the last two years combined.
The optimism on my part is not simply from improved players. It's from a perceived organizational shakedown that has flipped this franchise on its head and back again, changing directions and putting its roots back down into better soil. Jim Schwartz and Martin Mayhew have gotten their fair share of lip service on this site, so I won't add to it too much here. To be honest, they haven't really achieved anything yet. But the excitement of what is coming is palpable and nearly tangible. The front office moves, especially draft choices, are undeniably better... even with little fruit at this point to show for it. I can honestly say that I have never felt so much confidence in a Lion's coach as I do with Schwartz... never. Not Fontes, Ross or even Mooch. I always felt a certain amount of hope and optimism, but not always confidence. I liked Marinelli, but I NEVER saw the image in my head of him standing on that Super Bowl platform hoisting a Lombardi Trophy. I knew in my heart of hearts that he would never win a Super Bowl. Did I think he would go 0-16... uh, no. But with Schwartz, I can absolutely see that image. It is crystal clear. I can also see Matthew Stafford, Super Bowl MVP, standing on that podium beside Schwartz with that big ‘ol "aw shucks" grin wearing a sopping wet "Detroit Lions - Super Bowl whatever Champions" T-shirt, telling Terry Bradshaw that he always knew they would get here. I can see Calvin Johnson up there with a championship hat cocked slightly to the right, big wide grin, groovin' to the stadium music realizing what he and the rest of the team has just achieved. And now there is a vision of the gentle giant Ndamukong Suh standing stoically behind Stafford like a majestic mountain in the distance. The look on his face displays the satisfaction of complete domination of his opponent and a conquest of the personal dreams he toiled so hard to achieve.
Never have these images been so vivid in my mind. It must mean something, right? Clairvoyance or maybe simple craziness? Probably the latter, but I think sometimes as a fan, you just know. Sometimes you've been around long enough to see it all and when you've watched losing as long as we have, I think it's easy to spot something that feels different. Maybe it's a lack of medication, but to me it feels like the cusp of winning. Maybe I've typed words like this before, but they have certainly never felt like they do now. Again, I'm making no predictions of any sort. I'm just putting my feelings into words and hoping to get all you crazies excited in the process. In only a few short weeks (which will feel like an eternity while we wait), the 2010 season will start to gain momentum. The long, hot drain of two-a-days will give way to the first preseason games. And in less than three months, we will enjoy our first taste of what we will in hindsight call "the beginning". As much as I try to retain a sensible composure of what is to come, I've invested far too much to be passive. Let me be the first to declare the dawning of the "Age of the Lions"!