The Detroit Lions have been notorious losers for decades, and fans of the team have had to suffer for nearly sixty years with just a single playoff win. The futility of the franchise culminated in 2008, when the team became the first in NFL history to finish a season 0-16. Their ineptitude as a franchise during the span of Matt Millen era has gone unmatched throughout the league’s long history, leaving fans in Detroit as one of the most suffering markets in all of sports. In fact, on Thursday, Mike Greenberg of ESPN’s radio show Mike and Mike said the following:
"The Lions are the most tortured fan base in the NFL."— Mike & Mike (@MikeAndMike) July 21, 2016
- Greeny pic.twitter.com/sl0hpBqkID
It’s hard to argue against Greenberg. No Super Bowl appearances, one playoff win in 59 years, 0-16, the early departure of Barry Sanders and now Calvin Johnson; Lions fans have been through a lot.
However, a discussion on Twitter sparked by Lions beat writer Dave Birkett introduced an interesting question. Have the Buffalo Bills, who once lost four consecutive Super Bowls, had a more tortuous ride than the Lions?
For the sake of simplicity, we’re going to keep the Cleveland Browns out of the conversation. Plus, they just won a basketball championship, so let’s not get greedy, Cleveland.
This debate basically comes down to one basic conundrum: would you rather have occasional success with the devastating disappointment of losing every year on the biggest stage (sometimes in horrible, horrible fashion), or would you rather live with low expectations nearly every year and have no success to show for it?
Let’s break it down a little more:
It’s the journey, not the destination
This is a solid argument from Zac. While Lions fans have had to suffer Sunday after Sunday, Bills fans during that four-year kinda-sorta dynasty got to enjoy a regular season record of 49-15 with playoff wins galore. Sure the Bills never got over that hump, but the ride there in four consecutive years must have been filled with joy for months and months.
The Lions, on the other hand, have never put together four consecutive season of making the playoffs. They have, however, put together strings of four consecutive losing seasons, in nearly every decade. In fact, they went 10-straight years between 2001 and 2010 without seeing the bright side of .500. That’s a lot of sadness.
But what about expectations?
With years of losing, comes the battered feeling of malaise. When things have been bad for as long as they have — and they’ve been really bad for Lions fans — expectations are so low that disappointment and shock are rarely part of the Lions' inventory of emotions. Sure there are times when hope is on the horizon, but that hope is usually violently squashed before it has a chance of blooming into anything substantial.
Compare that with the Bills, who went into nearly every season in the 90s expecting it to be "their" year. That optimism wasn’t met with immediate disaster. Instead, each year, Bills fans would be fed with more and more optimism each week, raising their hopes and dreams to unreasonable levels. And each year their hyper-inflated balloon of hope would be tortuously popped. They were not the Buffalo Bills in the 90s, they were the Buffalo Tantaluses (Tantali?), with a championship always at their fingertips, but always tragically pulled away from them at the last minute.
@PrideOfDetroit Ask a Bills fan after Norwood's miss, "Would you rather have gone 0-16 this year?" They'd say no. Lions fans have it worse.— Michael David Smith (@MichaelDavSmith) July 21, 2016
Yes, it doesn’t get worse than 0-16. The Lions will forever have their franchise attached to the losingest football team in NFL history. It’s hard to describe to others what that year felt like. Throughout the year, as it became more evident this was going to happen, outsiders would try to cheer me up. "It’ll never happen," they said. "It’s impossible to go winless in today’s NFL."
I tried to believe them, but I couldn’t. It always felt ordained under Millen this was going to happen. And when the Snowpiercer-esque train started booking it down that awful track, I knew that nothing could stop the impending disaster from happening.
Worst of all, that pain never goes away. Every year the Lions start on a losing streak, they’re reminded of that year. The images of that year never fade. Whether it’s rookie Matt Ryan lighting up the Lions’ secondary in his first career game or Dan Orlovsky stepping his way out of the endzone and into the record books as the most embarrassing moment ever for an NFL quarterback. It was the most tortuous season ever.
Pick your poison
In the end it all comes down to preference. If you’re the kind of person that gets so beaten down by losing that optimism never even enters the equation: Welcome to the Detroit Lions! But if you’re a hopeless optimist at all times, you may want to join the ranks in Buffalo so that your dreams are at least within viewing distance every now and then.
For what it’s worth, here’s what our friends at Buffalo Rumblings had to say:
Must be nice.