Sports opinion: It’s not easy being a Detroit Lions fan
About seven months after I was born, on Oct. 14, 1984, Kirk Gibson smashed a three-run home run into the upper deck at Detroit’s old Tiger Stadium in Game 5 of the World Series, crushing any hope the San Diego Padres had.
Over the years, I’ve read the stories and heard the countless anecdotes about those Tigers, a team that started 35-5 and was led by the likes of Gibson, Jack Morris, Alan Trammel, Willie Hernandez and Lance Parrish, and managed by the great Sparky Anderson.
They played well the next couple of years at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull (Michiganders will immediately get that reference), but eventually dwindled into the horrors that were the 1990s and early 2000s.
But Detroit was saved by a group of rough-and-tumble men who made their mark on the NBA like no other team in the sport’s history. Bill Laimbeer, Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, Rick Mahorn and the tattoo-less, regular-haired, still-sane Dennis Rodman led the Detroit Pistons to back-to-back titles in 1989 and 1990.
By the time Vinnie Johnson’s Microwave-hot shot sank Portland in Game 5 of the 1990 NBA Finals, I was 6 years old and just beginning to understand what sports were all about.
While I don’t really remember the Bad Boys’ run, I do know I had already pledged my allegiance to Detroit sports by then (and had chosen the Michigan Wolverines over Michigan State, because really, if you grow up in Michigan, you are decreed to choose a side early in life, and stick with it for the duration).
But it was around the time the Bad Boys started to crumble that I began to really get into sports, and thankfully, as the mid-90s neared, so, too, did the rise of the Detroit Red Wings.
That Wings era was arguably our most exciting as Detroit sports fans. It’s impossible to forget those epic Red Wings-Avalanche brawls, Stevie Y’s euphoric blue-line, double-overtime series clincher in 1996 against the Wayne Gretzky- and Brett Hull-led Blues, or, of course, our three Cup wins in ’97, ’98 and ’02.
They don’t call us Hockey Town for nothing, and that era of The Grind Line, The Russian Five and all those stars, from Yzerman to Fedorov to Lidstrom and beyond, was pure Detroit sports ecstasy.
Just as the Wings’ luster died a bit in the mid-00s, up rose again the Pistons, a team that made six straight Eastern Conference Finals from 2003-08 and enjoyed a sweetly satisfying “five-game sweep” in 2004 over a Los Angeles Lakers team that featured future Hall of Famers Kobe, Shaq, Malone and Payton. We’ll never forgot the good times Ben, Sheed, Chauncey, Rip and Tay gave us.
Like clockwork, just as the Pistons were fading, the Tigers returned (albeit in a new ballpark), giving us several great teams, some of the greatest hitters and pitchers to ever play the game, and two World Series appearances since 2006. And, considering our ’08 Stanley Cup win, the Red Wings really never left.
Now take all this, and sprinkle in the Fab Five and the more-recent Wolverine basketball teams, Michigan football’s title in ‘97 and years of relevance until recently, Michigan State’s NCAA hoops title in 2000 and its Izzo-led relevance since, and Sparty’s current football impression, and we Detroit fans have had a pretty good run the past 30 years.
But, have we? Those keeping score know there’s something missing here. The most important sport of all, and our most important team: The Detroit Lions.
I was glued to the TV Sunday afternoon, watching the Dallas Cowboys slowly win a game I knew from the beginning they would. Because, we’re the Lions.
Yes, I saw the phantom pass interference/holding penalty, and the incredible amount of debate, both on social media and among sports pundits from across America, on whether or not the Lions were screwed.
We weren’t screwed. In the end, the game came down to a few blown calls (which happens every game, both ways, no matter how many images are shown of a penalty not being called in our favor) — and just another example of the Lions losing a big game.
We just found a different way to lose this time. A good team, one of destiny, perhaps, will find a way to win a game like this. Simply put, if we played better, we wouldn’t need to worry about a blown call. For every bad call that’s gone against the Patriots, for example, they made up for it by winning other big games (sorry for this reference, Raiders fans).
As much as Lions fans — or any other of a sports team that “got screwed by the refs” — don’t want to admit that, we know, deep down, that’s the case.
We Lions fans have struggled through decades of mediocre-at-best football (see: not figuring out how to surround the best running back to ever play, Barry Sanders, with competent personnel); repeatedly terrible coaching decisions (see: Marty Mornhinweg taking the wind, and not the ball, against Chicago in overtime in 2002); a laughably futile stretch in the ‘00s that featured countless Thanksgiving Day embarrassments, Matt Millen (see: Charles Rogers, Mike Williams) and the historic 0-16 season in 2008; and, most recently, a team infected with an ability to make dumb and dangerous plays (see: Ndamukong Suh’s, ahem, fancy footwork).
One has to wonder if this was just the latest blow to a team that’s never been to a Super Bowl. This latest disappointment is proof that maybe, God hates the Lions just as much as the Cleveland Browns, right?
Don’t believe me? Consider this: My roommate, a San Diego fan (ironically, considering how I started this column) texted me early Sunday evening with the following message: “Just heard … sorry for your loss 🙁 … great season for you tho.”
I chuckled. It came off like someone had died. Because, figuratively speaking, that’s how bad it’s been for Lions fans for our whole lives. We’re the epitome of the “frowny face” emoji.
America knows it as much as we do. And there’s not a darn thing another World Series ring or Stanley Cup can do about it.
— Kevin MacMillan is managing editor of the Sierra Sun and North Lake Tahoe Bonanza. He may be reached for comment at email@example.com.
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