Forgive me if I take this time of year with an unhealthy degree of skepticism.
It's that dangerous time of year when hope springs eternal for baseball and football fans. I'm talking of course about the Detroit Lions (yes, here we go again), but this just as easily can apply to any of the over 125 odd teams between the four major professional leagues.
At this moment, unless your team is the Houston Astros, who failed to sign their top draft picks or the Cleveland Browns, who are in receiving hell, nearly every team in baseball and the NFL has something to feel good about.
Hope is the quandary of the fan. We're always hoping for something involving the targets of our fandom, and never satisfied.
Cleveland Cavaliers fans once hoped their franchise could turn things around by drafting LeBron James. They were fulfilled. They then hoped they could stay afloat without him and were let down on an epic scale. Now they hope they can win that ever elusive title now that the King has returned. They went from hopeless to hopeful in the span of minutes when James announced his decision.
And likewise for the Browns, a sorry franchise until it drafted its latest savior-in-waiting Johnny Manziel. The hopeometer is high with this one, or at least it was until Josh Gordon was suspended from the NFL for a full season and Nate Burleson broke his arm. Whoops.
Hope is volatile, driving emotions in an instant, shattering expectations or creating an instant illusion of awesome.
Hope is an investment however. Some teams allow the sentiment to mature until it can be cashed in for jubilation. Others are like penny stocks that can fluctuate with boom and bust cycles.
In the Detroit Lions case, it's more like those 75-year bonds handed down to you, except ravaged by economic collapse and cashed in repeatedly before maturation.
Well, I'll put it this way. No one, except perhaps my co-worker John Vrancic, wants to see the Lions win more than I do. But holy wah (I've been waiting for an excuse to say that), I'm sick to death of all the rah-rah press releases, the talking heads, the training camp proclamations and the preseason fanfare.
What the Detroit Lions should do at this point is hold silent press conferences where they simply hold an expression at the podium. The Associated Press would then write "Martin Mayhew had a half-scowl on his face Tuesday morning, possibly indicating Ndamukong Suh balked at the latest contract offer. Or it may have just been indigestion."
Preparing for the NFL season from a Detroit fan's perspective, I imagine is like someone feeling the early pangs of heart disease. Your NFL memories flash before your eyes - There's Scott Mitchell throwing an interception in overtime, there's Barry Sanders rushing for 2,000 yards...and retiring early. There they are going 4-0 in the preseason and 0-16 in the real season. There's Jim Schwartz acting like a Lions coach, yelling at fans and throwing an inappropriate flag. The rest is a spinning blur of goofy faces, silly quotes and John Madden bemoaning his job on a particular Thanksgiving.
You could say seeing is believing when it comes to the Lions, but even perception is often false.
A 6-2 start? An injured Aaron Rodgers? Ha. Show me 8-0 and I'll show you a team that could still screw that up.
But yet, something compels us to keep watching. It could just be that it's impossible to ignore, that the NFL is a compelling vortex or black hole if you will. But in the end, it all amounts to hope.
John Vrancic just hopes to see a simple Super Bowl appearance before he dies. It's not an outrageous request. The NFL, after all, is rigged for success and fluctuates wildly each year. In the last five years, only the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots have made the postseason each year. But for Vrancic, over a half a century of being a Lions fan has relegated him to broken record status and constant NFL despair.
I'm not there yet, though I do continually give myself pause after willingly admitting to people that I'm a Lions fan, wondering how those words managed to come out of my mouth and why they still do.
I used to get really wrapped up in it, It would ruin my day if the Lions lost. Now I just watch and move on. It's better this way.
I don't write my Lions columns out of anger. I am simply the mirror that Lions brass looks into on a daily basis, and I'm trying to tell them how it is. I think by now, they've broken me six or seven times, which accounts for roughly 50 years bad luck. Makes sense.
So save the predictions, save the hype.
I'd say it would take a miracle for the Lions to finally even win just one playoff game, but even a miracle didn't do it for the Lions last year when Rodgers got hurt and the Bears and Vikings were collectively mediocre to terrible. So I just shrug. They are at least good for comedic value occassionally.
So what do the Lions have to feel good about this year? (I mean, aside from a self-annointed superstar tight end and another new coach).
Well, there is this. Although the Lions now stand as the most inept NFL franchise, having never appeared in a Super Bowl since its inception, they still aren't the most futile franchise in professional sports. I offer some persepctive in the form of the Chicago Cubs, whose theme song is perpetually Johnny Cash's rendition of "Hurt." What is their title drought at now? Over a century?
Hopefully, Detroit will never come to that.