Now that it appears the lockout will end in the imminent future, I don’t feel guilty or hesitant in getting my hopes up about the Lions this season. As a 23-year-old fan who has only fuzzy memories of Detroit in the playoffs (and absolutely none of the ’91 NFC title game run), it practically goes without saying that I’m more excited for this year’s iteration of the Lions — by a large margin — than any in recent memory.
Of course, I’m a Lions fan, so one would expect that attitude from a biased observer of a longtime moribund franchise that appears to finally have a glimmer of hope for the present and future. But even among casual fans, people are taking notice of what’s going on in Detroit.
I’m currently on vacation in Phoenix (don’t ask why I chose July as the time to visit my friend out here), and we’ve been talking football with his two roommates, one a Cleveland native and the other from Oklahoma City. When I mentioned yesterday that I was trying to think of a piece to write for a Lions blog, the OKC native immediately perked up, saying that — as a completely unbiased NFL fan — he expected big things out of the Lions. I thought he was just being nice, but then he started talking about watching highlight videos of Jahvid Best.
To me, that’s awesome. It’s one thing to feel the energy and excitement surround the Lions in the state of Michigan right now — of course we’re going to be optimistic. To hear that level of optimism from a huge sports fan with no Detroit affiliation is completely different. If anything, I’d expect the general NFL public to laugh off Lions fans who think Detroit could make some major noise this season, and I wouldn’t blame them — the team’s track record speaks for itself until the team can prove they’ve moved far beyond the Millen era.
Not only that, but this friend’s excitement about Detroit was largely based upon the exploits of a rookie running back who played most of the season hurt. If I had to list the reasons I’m most optimistic about the Lions next season, Jahvid Best may not crack the top five (though if not, he’d be close). I can’t remember a season where I mentioned Detroit to a non-Lions fan and wasn’t immediately laughed at if I expressed any sentiment besides complete resignation and/or depression.
The culture is quickly — and finally — changing around this franchise, and it isn’t only Lions fans who are taking notice. You can quote the experts and talking heads all you want, but I think that, more than anything, shows how far this team has come. The experts have picked the Lions as a sleeper playoff team before, when Millen was running the franchise into the ground, but the average NFL fan has always known that the Lions are the Lions, and will be bad until proven otherwise. This year just might be the year that they finally do, and I can’t be more excited to get this season underway.