Detroit sports are up to their old tricks. Splashes of blue invaded a red tide in Arrowhead Stadium, standing in stark contrast on a night of celebration for the Kansas City Chiefs. They were raising a banner; the Detroit Lions and their fans were seeking a different kind of validation. The heady days of that kind of Detroit invasion, the stuff the Red Wings specialized in for so long, is back.
Michigan’s a football state, and they’ve been wicked smart on how to approach this. This is no slappy state, no sir: these are refined beasts, awful but refined, honed on the keen differences between Rich Rodriguez and John L. Smith. You can show them a rub route and they’ll tell you what it’s thinking. And you can present them a Jim Caldwell Lions team coming fresh off a wild card and they’ll still prefer to stick home, knowing that misery is soon to come.
It’s not like the Lions haven’t had good teams in the past; but this year is just damn different and those Michigan sorts can feel it. Yes indeed, the nose has it. Nothing else would convince so many to come here, on a night of triumph for the foe and stand ready to invade their aural space upon a moment of weakness. That came late in the game as the faith in the Chiefs died, and the Lions took charge of the game’s final minutes.
And what force. The Lions played far from a perfect game, but they did exactly what needed to be done. Coach Dan Campbell showed the usual moxie by faking a punt from within his own 20-yard line; he capitalized further by ramming the ball down the throat of the Chiefs, another seven minutes for seven points. The defense kept coming and pressured Patrick Mahomes on 40 percent of his dropbacks. Detroit’s rookies put their stamp on the game immediately, and both Jahmyr Gibbs and Brian Branch got to evince that SEC speed.
They won this game on the ground and on defense, and they won it against one of the best quarterbacks in a generation. Mahomes may have been down his best receiver and what remained were clucking chickens with hands to match, but you capitalize on what you got in front of you; a man on Wall Street would grin shark teeth and call it arbitrage. You gotta win, and the Lions did that in a way not often seen. When Detroit has to run the defense out to hold a lead I usually get acid reflux. Not tonight. Not yet. They pushed the bastard back and back and it was over, blouses.
Do you believe in miracles?
The Lions don’t need to. This here is to be routine. They don’t need a curse or a blessing. They have no time for superstitions or prayers on comebacks. You must understand: they don’t want to be subject to the strings of fate, they want this to be standard operating procedure. This wasn’t a magical moment of triumph against insurmountable foes, this was the plan all along. Who gave a rip about a banner? There’s a game to play, man.
Belief in the self turns into knowledge of the self. The Lions are charged with that. They want to win; they know they can win. They need to win.
You want to change the culture, you want to go places in football? You got to stop thinking like the little team that could, you got to stop thinking about overcoming your past history and curses. You are the curse now. You’re the ruiner of things, a terrible force of the supernatural. You wanna kill gods, you have to act like you belong on Olympus.
“I didn’t learn anything,” Campbell said about his team Thursday night. “I got verification on what I already knew.”
Damn right. You can only talk about how much better you got for so long. You can only peddle hype and hope for so many months. It would be great to say with certitude that the Lions would take off where they left it in Lambeau, but we all know that’s rarely the case. Eventually, people, tastemakers in sports, will get tired. They’ll start to take refuge in the old reliables; they’re not picking the Lions anymore, they’re back taking the Vikings to win the division. What about all that history, yadda badda. They can’t handle it all. And dare you fail that peddled hype, they’ll bury you for trying to take a victory lap before you got a single down.
But this? This is hardcore proof, chum. This is something solid, a plague of locusts and a burning bush. God is real and he’s right pissed. This is something you can take and push in their faces. “Look here, you bastards. They beat the Chiefs. What do you say about that now?” And they did it with moxie and blood-grinding defense. Aidan Hutchinson is a monster and we’re going to show you his monster family too.
Okay. It’s early in the season. There are still 16 more games to play, and you’re not going to the NFL playoffs in Week 1. But you also can’t make bricks without clay, and you can’t get going unless you start stacking wins.
The Lions are starting to believe, but not in miracles. They believe in themselves, and they know they’re mean sumbitches. They got their proof.