When the Lions walked off the rugged New Orleans turf in early January, it was a tough site to see. I mourned not the loss itself, but the eight Lions-less months that lay ahead. Little did I know how painful it would be.
If you're reading this, you're likely a Lions fan and survivor of the shit-storm that was the Lions' offseason. I don't need to chronicle the offseason woes, we've all heard too much about them already. But what it's led to has been more significant to me. I can shake offseason issues and easily forget about character faults once the game-clock moves to 14:59. And, typically, I have no problem avoiding the talking heads spewing their typical filth about how the immature and overrated the Lions are going to be.
But for some reason, it got to me this year. At first, I went through my typical anger. I figured the Lions had finally gained some well-earned respect from last year. If anyone denied such things because a couple players had impaired judgement while drinking, they were the idiots. But then the sentiment grew. People I respect started telling me the Lions were due for a regression.
When everyone is around you telling you something is true, even when you believe it is false, you start to believe it anyway. Psychologist Solomon Asch was famous for his conformity experiments that identified this phenomenon. And like the unknowing test subjects, I fell for the lie. Armchair Linebacker calls it "The Fear," I liken it to an abused animal. After the horrors of the past decade, I have never learned to fully put my trust in the Lions. I was burned after a 6-2 start. I was burned after an electric 4-0 preseason. I was burned by a first-round quarterback. I didn't want to get burned again after a 10-6 season, especially with Tampa Bay's fall from grace still fresh in my mind.
For 2012, I predicted a slight regression to 9-7, or even as low as 8-8.
But then I remembered this:
I remembered where this all began. I remember immediately thinking knowing that this was the beginning of something special. I remembered that last year wasn't a flash-in-the-pan, but had been building from this exact moment.
I remembered 2010. I remembered sitting in the surprisingly chilly Raymond James stadium with my father sitting in disbelief as Drew Stanton led a 3-10 Lions team to a fourth quarter comeback win, ending the Lions' awful away losing streak. I remembered hugging any stranger in Honolulu blue in the concourse and the embrace forcing tears to well up in my eyes. I remember sitting in a hotel room just outside of Disneyworld that night re-watching the gif of Jim Schwartz fist-pumping for 20 minutes straight.
Then I remembered the following week, where from high atop the bleachers in Miami, I again witnessed an improbably comeback win. I remembered someone named Nathan Vasher grabbing a Chad Henne overthrow. I remember the boos; the all-too-familiar boos. But never had the boos been as satisfying as they were on that windy afternoon.
Then I remembered last year. With the leftover optimism from 2010's four game win streak, and the return of Matthew Stafford, every Lions fan's cup runneth over with Kool-aide. I tried to slow my imagination from exploring the true ceiling for this team, allowing "The Fear" to slide it's way in again, but when the Lions jumped to a 5-0 record, even the most caution Lions fan couldn't be contained.
Then literally hundreds of highlights flooded my mind. Tony Scheffler swashbuckling on opening weekend. Cliff Avril levitating in mid-air, grasping the pigskin from the heavens, and trudging into the endzone and the playoffs. The dismantling of Tim Tebow. Megatron doing everything physically possible, and most things impossible.
But then I remembered the bumps in the road last year. The bad starts to games. The embarrassment on Soldier Field. The disasters against the Packers and Saints. The fear. But throughout all the turbulence, the Lions managed to improve by four games, make the playoffs for the first time in over a decade and complete the most entertaining season of my lifetime. Up until a few days ago, I thought all of this progression and improvement lead to last year's amazing run. I don't believe that anymore.
The Lions story is not done. They have been building for too long, overcoming all adversity they've faced to let a poor offseason derail this train. Whether it has been a separated shoulder, a 20-point deficit, a decade-long winless streak, or a depleted roster, the Lions have persevered. Experts (and my own doubt) be damned, this team's arrow is still pointing up, and this year, there is no limit to their potential.