As a Lions fan, it’s easy to take a “woe-is-me” stance about loyalty to a franchise that has won all of one playoff game in the last fifty seasons and has yet to make a Super Bowl appearance. As fellow SLR contributor Marty Medvedik pointed out last week, there’s good reason to take this stance — a study in The Business Journals used a formula examining both performance over the last decade and landmark wins over the course of team history and concluded that our very own Detroit Lions are the most difficult team to root for in the NFL.
This is tough to deny, depending on your criteria. If it’s purely based on wins, as is The Business Journals’ study, then it’s almost impossible to say that any other fanbase has had it worse than us. Detroit hasn’t won an NFL title since 1957, experienced middling success at best for the next few decades, managed to only squeeze one playoff victory out of the career of Barry Sanders, then descended into a whole new period of ignominy during the Matt Millen era. It’s been rough, no question.
However, I don’t think that wins (or more appropriately, the lack of) should be the only determining factor when deciding the difficulty in rooting for a franchise. For instance, I’d rather cope with Detroit’s complete lack of playoff impact than be a fan of the Buffalo Bills, who saw two decades of sustained success culminate in four straight Super Bowl losses before the team dropped into the NFL cellar, and now are playing annual “home” games in Toronto amidst worries about losing the team entirely. Same goes for the Cleveland Browns, who suffered a series of brutal playoff defeats and then lost their original franchise to Baltimore, only to have the team resurrected four years later as an expansion squad that has played, to this day, like an expansion squad.
Ditto the NFC North’s own Minnesota Vikings, losers of four Super Bowls themselves who fielded quite possibly the greatest team to not make the Super Bowl, the 15-1 1998 squad that featured a rookie Randy Moss alongside Cris Carter and a reinvigorated Randall Cunningham — that team lost the NFC title game to Atlanta after kicker Gary Anderson, who hadn’t missed a field goal all season, couldn’t connect on a 38-yard attempt that would have put the game away.
What about Cincinnati, a franchise that has never won a league championship, lost a pair of heartbreakers in their two 1980s Super Bowl appearances against San Francisco, and now is run by a meddling, cheap owner in Mike Brown? I’ll take the Lions, thank you very much, especially when considering the recent history of off-field transgressions by Bengals players.
Houston, Tennessee, Jacksonville, or Carolina? Just two combined Super Bowl appearances in the bunch, and the most team to make it just earned themselves the No. 1 overall draft pick after a season as bad as any I’ve seen the Lions have, save the infamous 0-16 year. Call me when you have some history to hang your hat on, even if it’s over a half-century old.
No, I’ll take my losses at face value — the less brutal and heartbreaking, the better, at least until the team can legitimately contend for Super Bowl titles. Until then, I’ll enjoy watching the Lions progress with an exciting core of young stars, happy that no past losses haunt me in my dreams.