This week’s SB Nation theme is “Sports Moments That Made You Cry.” So today, I regale you of the only time the Detroit Lions have made me cry tears of joy.
The Detroit Lions haven’t produced a lot of proud moments in recent history. I could list the lack of accomplishments over the past 30-60 years, but you’ve likely memorized them by now. Truth be told, the positive memories associated with this team are mostly confined to single plays or moments that don’t really add up to much in terms of overall accomplishments.
Matthew Stafford’s fake spike heroics moved the Lions to just 5-3 on the year. They would go on to lose six of the next eight and and miss the playoffs. Detroit’s first win in Lambeau in 24 years came in a somewhat meaningless game after a 1-7 start to the 2015 season. Hell, in the same game that Barry Sanders eclipsed the 2,000-yard mark back in 1997, first-round draft pick Reggie Brown suffered a career-ending injury that nearly left him paralyzed just two years into his NFL career.
Tragedy and the Detroit Lions seem to go hand in hand, even in the happier moments. So it’s hard to even think about crying for joy when it comes to this franchise. But I do distinctly remember one moment in which I felt overwhelmingly proud to be a fan of this franchise.
In my history as a Lions fan, I don’t think there’s a game I attended that I went through more emotions than Detroit’s Week 15 game against the Oakland Raiders back in 2011. My friends and I had the genius idea of dressing up in all Lions gear and procuring tickets in the vicious Black Hole section.
The game itself was a dud through three quarters. Matthew Stafford and the Lions offense—aside from one early drive—had been stuck in neutral all game, and it seemed Detroit, and their playoff chances, were just holding on by a thread against a team just as desperate for a win. A strip sack and fumble recovery for a touchdown—by Aaron Curry(!!), no less—put the Raiders up 27-14 early in the fourth and seemed to put an end to hope.
Throughout the game, I had feared for my own safety, watched as Calvin Johnson danced in the end zone, and felt that all-too-familiar feeling of being let down by this team again. But then Stafford, with just 2:14 left, led the Lions on a 98-yard, game-winning drive on the road, directly into the end zone I was sitting behind. Ndamukong Suh clinched the win by blocking what would have been a game-winning, record-breaking 65-yard field goal.
I jumped, I screamed, I realized I was being an obnoxious road fan and quickly slumped into my seat trying to avoid eye contact with the pissed Raiders fans heading to the exits.
But I didn’t cry.
That came the following week. I was in Florida to spend the holidays with my family, the ones responsible for my Lions fandom. For the first time since I was barely a teenager, the Lions could clinch a playoff spot and finally shoot down the ladder of the “Professional Sports Teams With Longest Current Playoff Drought” list.
It was never in doubt. From the very first play from scrimmage—a 46-yard bomb to Calvin Johnson—the Lions were in control of that game. And as the clock winded to 0:00 with the Lions up 38-10, and Jim Schwartz was bathed in not one, but two Gatorade showers, I distinctly remember turning to my dad—the person who I had attended Lions games with for well over a decade —and giving him a big hug with tears welling up in my eyes.
As I looked back to the TV in the overcrowded bar, there was a long-haired Matthew Stafford shaking hands as the words “Detroit Lions clinched 1st playoff berth since 1999” emerged on the screen.
It was the first, and only, time I cried tears of joy over the Detroit Lions.