Monday, September 28, 2009

For Lions fans, one day came Sunday

One day, a kid once thought to himself, this is all going to be worth it.

The big losses, the small losses, the bad draft picks and the worse draft picks, Barry bolting and Joey throwing.

The jokes on our behalf, the laughs at our expense, dropped balls, muffed snaps, Matt, Marty, Mooch and Marinelli.

The bags over our heads, the blacked-out games, the losing, losing and more losing until that one season we just couldn’t lose any more.

One Thursday, a middle-schooler rushed to the foot of his driveway and pried open the mailbox in eager anticipation of that week’s Sports Illustrated, only to walk back up with his head down, shoulders slumped and no magazine in hand.

The Aug. 9, 1999 Sports Illustrated, with “Why Barry Bolted” splashed on the cover, never made it inside his house.

One day, Barry will come back, he hoped, one day.

One midsummer afternoon, a kid walked through Brush street, with Ford Field being built to his left and Comerica Park to his right and asked, “Hey Dad, who do you think will win a championship first, the Tigers or Lions?”

His dad shrugged and said he didn’t know.

One day, the kid thought, one day.

One Christmas Eve, a teenager knelt at his bedside, hands locked tight and ears fixated on a clock radio that sat on his dresser.

“All I want for Christmas, God,” the teenager pleaded, “Is a win.”

Then a guy named Stoney rolled out of the pocket and threw an interception, and unbeknownst to all, it was the start of an avalanche of atrocity.

One day, the teenager thought as his eyes welled up, one day.

One December day, a barely-legal kid wandered through the service level at Joe Louis Arena, minutes before the start of a college hockey game.

Crammed into a concrete corridor were a few workers, huddled around a small television that stood on a Coke machine. A couple sat on a stack of tables, another on a metal chair.

15 losses deep, ten points down and half a quarter away from immortality, optimism still swirled in the corridor that day.

“We get a stop here,” one of the guys said. “And we got a chance.”

Instead, a long touchdown. Immortality inevitable.

The quarter ran out, everybody parted ways and went back to work.

One day, we’ll sit around and laugh about this season, the kid thought as he waited for an elevator. One day.

One day, just like that hot, midsummer afternoon, smack dab in the middle of a period when a young Detroit kid wondered not if it was probable that his football or baseball team could win – but possible – his kid will come up and ask, “Dad, do you remember when the Lions didn’t win a game?”

The kid, now a man, will sigh, nod his head and tell him about a season that began with Lions chasing a Falcon, about quarterbacks running out of their own end zone and about a general manager that got fired four years too late.

“So when did they finally win a game?” he’ll ask.

The man will smile.

He’ll tell the kid about a day when he was thousands of miles away from home, homesick and slouched in front of a video poker game at a hole in the wall bar, amongst a bunch of other transplanted Lions fans.

He’ll talk about guy in the “0-16, Yes We Can!” shirt and the guy in the Barry Sanders jersey, about the bartender from Grosse Pointe and the cook in the Tigers hat, all watching in the silence before the Redskins lined up for that last play, and about the nerves running through his bones and the eruption when the clock struck zero with the Lions on top.

He’ll tell tales of high-fives and hugs, of claps and cheers, of a victory two years in the making, of feeling like home across the country and of celebrating with people he’d sat next to for three weeks without saying a word.

His eyes will light up talking about those same eyes that welled up years ago, this time moist with joy and pride and echoing the words of a man across the bar, who said, “It’s a great day to be a Detroiter!”

“Did they win the Super Bowl that day?” the kid will ask.

The man will shake his head and smile.

One day, the man says, one day.

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