As I watched the Lions get set to take the field against the Packers on Thursday at Ford Field, it dawned on me how important a victory would be for the team. Obviously, being tied with the Bears atop the NFC North with a chance at a second playoff berth in three years, a divisional rival game is important. Obviously, it would be nice to win a game at home on Thanksgiving and avoid losing 10 straight on the holiday. Having the privilege of going to over a dozen Thanksgiving Day Lions games in my lifetime, I could sense something was different about this game. Over my years, I have been able to deal with the heartache of losses. True Lions fans know what it is like to be a Chicago Cubs fans. Both are generally bad, or mediocre at best. Sometimes they can be “good” or “promising” or show “potential,” only to collapse and return to their bad or mediocre status. For the Lions, there is a special day for this event to take place every year. There is even a parade for it.
I have seen this game usually play out in one of these ways:
1. A team with no business playing on national television gets their one chance to shine. Drunk middle-aged men in hard hats fill the stadium and sort-of pay attention to the game. Lots of boos. Lions get embarrassed. (Or Barry Sanders makes the highlight reel, the Lions lose, or win, nobody takes them seriously either way.)
2. The Lions are on the precipice of turning the franchise around. Skeptical fans pack the stadium. Even some of the NFL analysts are picking the Lions, and there is a great deal of buzz surrounding the possibility of an up-and-coming Lions team. Ultimately, they get blown out on the national stage. Fans boo.
3. This is the Lions’ year. Even those self-proclaimed Lions fans who root against their team because years of anger and heartbreak has made them that cynical and stubborn are on board with this Lions team. The stadium is packed, the Lions look good. Fans in the stands boo as the Lions lose in a game where the box score is not sufficient enough to portray how badly the home team choked.
In all three scenarios, there is one common theme: it marks the end of the Lions’ season. Whether it was doomed from the start or it showed promise, Thanksgiving Day never failed to be the point when it was officially time to give up.
This year, in a once prominent American city that filed for bankruptcy last summer, there was the usual parade but not the usual football game. Between the video played over the dual jumbotrons before kickoff and the community based halftime show, there certainly was a plethora of emotions surrounding a football game with a team in contention.
Even with the lead at halftime, Lions fans watched with bated breath, because we they have been down this road before. I was fully prepared to walk out of the stadium shaking my head, asking myself how it happened again. But there was a part of me feeling as if a victory on Thanksgiving would be all I need to chalk up a successful season for the Lions.
And the Lions did win. Convincingly.
And as thousands of fans left Ford Field, nobody had given up on their team. Nobody was sarcastically chanting “Let’s go Red Wings.” In fact, there was a genuine chant of “Let’s go Lions!”
To add the icing on the cake, the Vikings beat the Bears on Sunday, giving the Lions a one game lead in the NFC North. With games remaining at Philadelphia and Minnesota with two home games vs. Baltimore and the New York Giants between them, the Lions are in control of their own destiny. Winning three out of their last four will clinch the NFC North for Detroit. Winning two of four would also be enough for the Lions to be crowned NFC North Champions if the Bears do not win out.
Bradley Allen is a multimedia journalist for Impact Sports.
Photo: Bradley Allen