Everything about the Lions, as it is with 31 other NFL franchises, is a work in progress at this point of the offseason.
Last night’s theme for the annual Taste of the Lions event held at Ford Field was “Under Construction.” The stadium is undergoing renovations and upgrades to enhance the fan experience; everything from video boards to seating is getting a facelift, but all of those changes were the backdrop for Wednesday night’s event.
Along the margins of Ford Field’s concourse, players—both old and new—were at the forefront, signing autographs and taking pictures with the droves of fans who showed up for that very chance.
The stretch of humanity where Ruth’s Chris decadent tenderloin was up for sampling wasn’t as it appeared: the line was actually formed for the chance to meet second-year player A’Shawn Robinson. Atomic Chicken, found at the corner of Woodward and E. Milwaukee Ave. and its chicken nuggets forged and seasoned in the seventh circle of Hell, appeared to have a line longer than purgatory. A few more steps revealed the line was actually for Darius Slay—but the nuggets were boomin’. Appearances were deceiving, but there were surprises sprawling across each seating section you passed on your way to the next glass of wine, or the next plate of finger foods.
At every turn there was another player, coach or executive to be found at the event. Against the backdrop of a stadium in the midst of renovation and enveloped in the aroma of delectable eats, the scene was a reminder of the foundation for not only Detroit, but also of the things on the horizon.
The drive into the stadium’s parking structure brought me past the new downtown district, a place still very much in development. Little Caesars Arena, which is nearing completion, is the new home for both the Red Wings and Pistons, and will place all four major sports teams within a couple blocks of one another.
Once inside Ford Field, you could see Tigers fans milling about outside Comerica Park, waiting for the first pitch from Tigers’ ace Michael Fulmer. Everyone from the casual Lions fan to the hardcore could be found amongst the crowd of over 2,000 attendees. There was a vitality that lasted from start to finish. It seemed larger than the event itself and propelled by the energy of the city.
Lions alumni from every generation were reminders of the past. Players like Greg Landry, Lomas Brown, Herman Moore and Rob Sims warmly greeted fans with conversation, never in a hurry to move from one person to the next even though the sizable lines weaved a lengthy trail. The event embodied “The New Ford Field” Rod Wood promised fans back in February with its crafty, decorative construction signs to help you recognize a station for drinks or food.
Something that was striking about the festivities was the way it blended eras. The young players in attendance weren’t always sequestered at their own table—the aforementioned Rob Sims was at a table welcoming fans with rookie Jalen Tabor. A fusion of veterans and players trying to play their way onto a roster this summer rallied against the way fans feel the team disingenuously calls on its past at times.
This organization’s history, when it comes to triumph, is something preserved and reserved for the past. When it comes to success, well, everyone feels some type of away about a banner to celebrate playoff berths.
The team’s history is often told through the lens of larger-than-life talent that’s been sprinkled over decades of futility and seasons that started and/or ended in disappointment. It hasn’t been easy for us as fans. Hell, being a Lions fan hasn’t been easy for many of the people that ushered us into such fandom, but something new is here. New management, new decision makers, new talent on the field, a new Detroit. The liveliness of last night’s event served as a bug in the ear: something is coming close to completion.
Last night was a reminder of the foundation, the direction things are heading in and what the team is building towards. For Lions fans, Wednesday night was a service to all of those things, and it’s an exciting time to be a part of the city.