I always wanted to start a tradition. I never thought that I would play a part, just a part, in heaving up some song from the 80s I had barely thought about prior to 2016 and attempting to connect it, by any way possible, to a professional football team like the Detroit Lions.
Now, at the end of a miserable 2018 season for the Lions, this silly little thing is the one thing I can count on to bring me joy, every time, during a Lions game.
Last Sunday, “Africa” by southern California rock band Toto beat Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You.” They did that on the Sunday before Christmas, where the universe should have been against it. Before then, it beat Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and countless others. Each week the most suburban anthems came forward to unthrone “Africa,” and they all failed. Even the holidays could not contain it.
If you’ve followed Pride Of Detroit on Twitter or listened to the PODcast, you know that “Africa” is our thing. It’s been our thing since about 2016, when we started tagging it into the Lions and their unprecedented antics in last-minute miracles and winning ways.
In a way, 2016 proved a useful catalyst. It started simply enough. #VictoryMonday music. Celebrate Golden Tate smacking the Vikings with his butt to score a game-winning touchdown on a PODcast. But then it kept happening. Every breathtaking Cardiac Cats comeback had people sending us videos on themselves, usually in a bar, singing “Africa.”
It was our thing, la nostra tradizione; it was our—excuse me for using a word that’s lost all meaning in the internet age—meme, lodged deeply in our minds and passed along through contact. It resonated in a collective psyche for people who were fans of what we did at POD and who also liked the Lions.
This was all in good fun. We thought one day, wouldn’t it be cool, wouldn’t it be cool to have that power to make it an unofficial anthem? We kept thinking and thinking, and eventually things...
Well, you see, things just started to happen.
Someone on Lions social media liked the idea so much that they brought in the 2018 New Year the right way:
Then it got on the PA at Ford Field.
The melodic tones of Toto's "Africa" welcoming fans entering Ford Field. pic.twitter.com/0OzMkBKRYK— Justin Rogers (@Justin_Rogers) December 16, 2017
And then it wouldn’t go away.
They just played Toto's Africa here in Detroit so...same.— Michael Rothstein (@mikerothstein) August 30, 2018
In the least surprising thing you'll see all day, Toto's "Africa" won the fan poll for song of the day. Again.— Michael Rothstein (@mikerothstein) November 22, 2018
And it didn’t go away.
And...Toto's Africa wins Song of the Day again. Because, yeah.— Michael Rothstein (@mikerothstein) December 2, 2018
AND IT WOULDN’T GO AWAY
There is one thing undefeated at Ford Field this year: Africa, by Toto, as the song of the day.— Michael Rothstein (@mikerothstein) December 23, 2018
So...Lions fans...you have that. You'll always have that.
And now we are here, dear reader. Now we are here.
(For the record, I’m sorry Mike.)
Doubling back, I just need to add this. If the first line of the first paragraph above sounds like a lot of self-congratulation, then I’ll step in here a second and just try to say that it’s not. It’s just something that was on my mind. I like thinking about these things. I’m not trying to be important (BUT EXCUSE ME WHILE I WRITE A BUNCH OF WORDS ABOUT THIS), and honestly the connection of “Africa” to the Detroit Lions is something that took a lot of people, a lot of moving parts to happen, and safe to say it’s still not done. Traditions have to weather time, multiple generations and enough traction to keep going.
I have it on good authority that the Lions may have had discussions about having Toto perform "Africa" during a game. No idea if it will happen. https://t.co/Vw4xOLHEYg— Bill Shea (@Bill_Shea19) December 23, 2018
Make it clear though. “Sweet Caroline” didn’t just pop up overnight to become the anthem of the Boston Red Sox. Flinging octopi onto the ice at Joe Louis Arena takes gumption, extended effort to circumvent bans and a good fishmonger or five. Texas A&M University didn’t get a trademark on “The 12th Man” and then use licensing to lord over the Seattle Seahawks and soap companies without a proper origin story.
In many ways, 2018 was the year of “Africa.” There was the Weezer cover, which was quickly topped by Pitbull and Rhea remixing the beat and chorus in “Ocean to Ocean.” The world was down for the song. It’s uplifting and overly positive in a world of bitter cold and irony.
The song itself shouldn’t really be this, but there is great joy to be found in the simple chorus, the enchanting beat, or just the longing phrases that cut somewhere deep in a non-burnished part of my soul.
And now we’re going hard, H.A.M. even, to see this song attached to the Lions, for good or for ill. There’s no real reason to see it happen beyond that it should, and therefore must, happen.
Will the greater public burn out on “Africa”? Probably. But it is our thing in a different way. It’s not just the catchy song of the moment, but something that was set out to become a tradition; maybe subconsciously, I don’t know.
Do the Lions need to be winning for this to become a thing? Not really, even if it is victory music, but it’s not like the Red Sox were winning rings when Neil Diamond became a staple of Fenway Park.
Does it need to have a reason? Does it need to have a connection to Detroit at all? Why? You find a thing and you make it your own. That’s how the best traditions work. Someone goes and finds an old shoe and spins a story about it, and before you know it that Magic Holiday Shoe is hanging on the mantle every Christmas at Uncle Craig’s house.
The reason becomes secondary, and then it becomes forgotten altogether. Time fades that legend, but it births something new and you accept it as fact.
Think for a moment.
Do you know why there are trees raised up and decorated for Christmas? Why families hang stockings by the fireplace? Do you know why we all sing “For Auld Lang Syne” at the birth of a New Year?
Are the reasons you know or find verified fact or are they additional myths and legends? Would understanding the true reasons to these things help you enjoy the tradition more, or would knowledge diminish it?
For that reason, I want to see this survive. But I felt like the world needed an explanation, at least for the sake of record-keeping, before it’s washed away in the sea of information. I don’t know if it’ll suffice, or if this will drift away, but until it does I would hope you join in too.