I like to joke with my friends all the time about feeble attempts to convert them to becoming a Lions fan: a reality I’d probably wish upon no one under most circumstances. In my mind, I’m going up to someone, siding up to them like Jon Stewart on the Colbert Christmas Special, about to start the first lines to “Can I Interest You in Hannukah” except it’s Lions football and all the misery that entails instead of a festive holiday.
But I only do it half-joking. In earnest, I’d like more people to watch this team. What’s better, there’s a damn good case to be made now.
The NFL’s had a hell of a year with its television ratings. In general it’s hard to discern what, if anything, is the primary cause, and there might not be one to diagnose. It could be a malaise brought about by so many different things, but it’s always been important to me as a sports fan that the sport itself remains, if nothing else, fun.
Fun’s one hell of a subjective goal. We can talk about celebrations and dancing being fun—they are—and we can talk about close games being fun, and lots of scoring being fun—both true as well. Of course, none of those really capture an important part of any sporting event: drama. Thankfully, the Lions have drama in buckets. There is no lead safe for, or against, the 2016 Detroit Lions; the balance will tip at any given moment in fearful and frenetic ways.
You can heckle professional wrestling for various reasons, but that entertainment medium understands the necessity of a flow in action to create the drama necessary to make people forget reality. Every wrestling fan knows it’s fake, but there’s a special power in wrestling, as there is in video games and theatre, to create a logical path towards a suspension of disbelief, to step inside a magic circle where the forces of reality can’t impact the animal emotions felt. In such a place, the inevitable finish will thrill and amaze and stun.
Which is exactly why there’s no more exciting brand of football out there in the NFL than the Detroit Lions at this very moment. Every game has promised cardiac arrests as the Lions offense comes out strong, scoring points and putting the opponent on their back foot. The lead will change as the foe realizes the Lions defense is made of wet papier-mâché and just starts barreling ahead at full sprint. Matt Prater tries to make field goals from 50+ out. The fourth quarter unfurls in a dreadful sort of way, but there’s Matthew Stafford, trying to put the whole Metro on his back and ride this weird machine into the sunset. He won’t always succeed, and sometimes that damn ride just blows up and goes to hell, but try telling me you didn’t get your money’s worth; standing there as you are, covered in soot and smelling vaguely of sulfur and gin.
That’s only possible this season because this team is so damn flawed. This drama doesn’t happen if the defense is competent, or if Stafford can’t seemingly pull an endless parade of rabbits out of his hat. It’s a perfect storm where the Lions are never guaranteed to win, but will damn sure make that high-flying final act worth your time.
But I’m not just trying to convince you if you’re a Lions fan. It’s easy to buy into this the morning after a victory, but what I’m proposing requires an acceptance that the die won’t always favor Detroit. I’m sure the Kool-Aid drinking faithful would have more fun and less heart failure if the Lions won every game by a comfortable two-score margin, riding a hot quarterback and a stout defense, but where’s the fun in that? There’s no drama, no anxiety. Alabama football is always on Saturday television, but who the hell actually thinks those games are fun other than the broke-brained Rammer Jammers, crushing everyone by 20?
This team is for all fans of sports. It’s fun, damn fun, and more should be experiencing it. Shrug off the notion this is the Detroit Lions—yeah, we know, they’re the Lions, okay?—and just accept that there’s a quarterback who can make unbelievable plays with virtually no hope. There’s a kicker that can shoot from the moon and a defense that can’t stop a cold except when their collective backs are against the wall with less than inches to concede. And there’s at least one wide receiver using his posterior as a game-sealing weapon. There’s no other show like this in the NFL right now.
So maybe your NFL team is in the dumps, or maybe you’re a Detroit sports fan who gave up on the Lions for, I don’t know, more important things. Maybe Sunday Night Football—OOOOOH SUNDAY NIGHT—isn’t getting you jumping, and you can’t take Chris Berman’s guttural utterances over Monday Night anymore. Why not come try out Lions football and these cardiac cats? Tell your friends. Maybe one of them won’t laugh you off and they’ll get to experience the same near-death experience we all do.
Maybe... Can I interest you in Lions football?