Another Lions season has come crashing down in spectacular fashion, but this one feels singularly grim. It could be due to the fact that the Lions loss here seals the timeline on a grim future, full of rebuilds and lost talent. Make no mistake, what’s coming next for the Detroit Lions is probably not fun if you take this team seriously. The good news is that such a thing is entirely optional.
There is an inclination among an analytical sports media to assume that efforts being made by a given sports club are, at its base level, a serious effort, taken with the optimal intention of winning; failing that, to do what is optimally efficient.
But for Matt Patricia’s Lions, no such courtesy need due. This team is not serious, and you should not treat them as such.
The universe is vast and unbound, but it beggars belief that the Detroit Lions are serious when they repeatedly smash their offense’s square pieces at round holes. The very insistence that this musty old script to run the football and handcuff Matthew Stafford’s vertical capabilities is not, in any form, serious. It cannot be. Every rational mind sees that this is not a working solution—so why does it continue? The answer is simple: the Lions don’t think scoring points is a serious endeavor.
It begs the question that the Lions are likewise serious on defense, where the blitz has become an endangered species and linebackers are playing in the middle of a schematic Limbo; neither rushing the passer nor dropping back into coverage, just simply watching the vast grey un-time. There is no serious answer as to why this is the blueprint.
Likewise, no serious team repeatedly chases away talent, season after season, and replaces it with barely functional parts. No serious team loses its best running back to injury and then insists an aging Adrian Peterson can run the same scheme. No serious team faces team after team, studies tape and then decides to play directly into their opponent’s strengths, seemingly on an unerring vector.
All this leads to the underlying conundrum: we are meant to take all this seriously. The people who run the Lions insist they are serious about all of this. The matter is to win; that’s why they’ve been setting themselves up to lose, over and over.
No. It can’t be serious. So why should you consider this a serious endeavor?
I understand. You were sold a different tale many moons ago. The National Football League is A Very Serious Matter. You wear those indictments of No Fun League proudly, because we’ve loaded your head with a sport rich with military jargon and analogies. Every tale we tell is one of hard-working, thick-nosed men coming in to tolerate no nonsense, to win at any cost; this sport has a short menu, wins and losses. We’ve tied the last final dying embers of civic pride in an utterly hyper-atomized American society to professional sport; your love of city and metropolitan area and state are kept alive for the spectacle of greater television ratings and tax dollars funneled from threadbare education budgets to the construction of more obscene stadiums somewhere in the Nevada desert. This isn’t just a team of professional mercenaries playing ball; this is your team.
We’ve developed a culture of very serious sports fandom, where your whole being is tied to the performance of a game of ball played on Sunday, crowd proven optional thanks to this pandemic. Why? The United States is far from a peaceful country, but its crippling issues do not stem from whether the Lions make it into the top 10 in the 2021 NFL Draft order, or whether Matt Patricia coaches this team through December.
I have to propose a different theory here. I’ve watched too many fans fall from their perches of defiant hope and serious insistence to cynical, distraught ends. The vocabulary of “Lionized” or “SOL” gets bandied about and used to regard a franchise haunted by its own ghosts, but for me, it indicates someone who has fallen into a very serious hole of crushing, serious self-hate. The two overarching modes of fandom in Detroit is serious self-regard and overwhelming cynicism. There has to be a better solution.
The clear-eyed belief makes itself known here: the Lions are not serious, and it behooves you not to take them seriously when they themselves do not. The notion that this is some life and death matter, that this team deserves competent analysis or serious commentary about its future, must be defenestrated.
The need to waste your emotional toll over such a team as the Detroit Lions becomes less apparent when you accept that this team isn’t making a serious effort in 2020, regardless of the words of their un-serious head coach or their un-serious coordinators or the un-serious players or their un-serious wives. The deeds simply do not match the words to regard otherwise.
If this team is begging you to believe that they are not serious, you should indulge them. There is no need to treat them seriously. You do not need to see these coaches as smart men doing smart things, nor believe the words of players insisting they are playing for those smart men. Do not let the frown of sports pages in gray newspapers convince you that this is no laughing matter.
This is the meme that belies the Detroit Lions, a team that took itself seriously and hired a coach to undo the work of a decade. Why would anyone seriously do that? Save yourself the trouble of worrying about why; it’s not serious here. I’m gonna become the Joker.