It was a wonderful Sunday night in Detroit. The Lions won their first playoff game since 1991. Believe it or not, I was part of the radio broadcast team when they won that last one back at the Pontiac Silverdome. In that game, Mark Champion was doing the play by play and I was the analyst. At the time, I thought with a good young team, the sky was the limit for the Lions. It was my fifth year in the broadcast booth, and I truly believed I was in for a great run in the coming years announcing the Lions games to the great Lions fans throughout Detroit and the State of Michigan.
The following week in the NFC title game in Washington, the Lions got hammered by the Redskins (at the time) and came home deflated. But, in my eyes, there was hope. I even envisioned a possible Super Bowl opportunity for this franchise and myself over the next decade or so.
Little did I know, nor did I imagine, that in the next 26 years before my run in the booth was over that I would never broadcast another playoff game in Detroit, or that I would never broadcast a playoff game win for the Lions. So, like all of you as fans, I was delighted and emotional about the Lions victory over the Rams at Ford Field.
Look, I think Dan Campbell has done a fabulous job as the coach. He is perfect for this city and this team. In addition, Brad Holmes as the GM has populated the roster with really good players. All of that is necessary to win in the NFL. But the intangibles take you over the top. Attitude, belief, trust, a great coaching staff that connects with the players, a front office that players and coach’s trust and believe in, and respected ownership all play a part.
A lot of players have come and gone since this franchise has reached this level. They’ve been great players too. Hall of Fame players. A lot of them showed up for the Rams game at Ford field. That shows their loyalty and support for the franchise they played for even though they may not have turned the franchise around like they’d hoped. It’s the current crop of players, staff, coaches that got it done. They won a home playoff game. They have restored a community’s hope in their NFL football team. In a sports world where NFL football is king, that’s a huge deal.
But even more than all of that, my first thought after watching the explosion of emotion after the victory in downtown Detroit was my happiness for the Detroit Lion fan from all over the State of Michigan. When I was broadcasting the games, I would travel all over the State for personal reasons in the summers and winters. From Traverse City to Alpena, to Mackinac to Niles, to Jackson, to Monroe, Mt Pleasant, Flint, Tawas, Bay City, I love our State and love visiting its nooks and crannies. Invariably, wherever I would go, in a diner, in a gas station, in a motel, someone would recognize my voice, and ask how the Lions were going to do next season. It was amazing to me how much interest and hope they held for their beloved Lions. Every year, from 0-16 to playoff losses, to 8-8 seasons, these fans never wavered in their support. It always blew me away.
I can’t tell you how many times someone told me they had season tickets for 20 or 30 years and this was the year. They were sure of it. When it didn’t happen they paid their money again and got their tickets only to be disappointed again. Yet, they never wavered. I know a wonderful couple living in Arizona who are also die-hard Lions fans. They flew in for the playoff game the other night, and they’ll be back next week too. They are typical of this great fan base. All Lions, all the time, no matter what!
When the final seconds ticked off the clock at Ford Field against the Rams, I felt the best for all Lions fans! From every small village and burg in the State to the big cities and for that matter, across the country – this one’s for you!
Maybe the Cleveland Browns have an argument for the most long suffering NFL fans, but my money is on the Lions faithful. Hell, the Browns lost their franchise at one point, they were moved out of Cleveland. At least the Fords never took the team out of Detroit. No other franchise in the league has the fan base that the Detroit Lions have. I’m sorry. I know every other team in the league will tell me I’m full of crap, but I stand by it.
This Lions team may not win the Super Bowl, who knows? What I do know is that every Lion fan on the planet believes they will. And after all, isn’t that what being a fan is all about? Belief! Nobody believes more than Detroit Lions fans. I’m glad I’m part of that legion.