While today’s game means absolutely nothing in terms of win/loss, it represents something that has eluded the city of Detroit (outside of the “twist-our-arm” Thanksgiving game)–a return to the national scene.
Now, everyone in the national media has been adoring the Lions this offseason. They’re the sleeper Super Bowl Pick of SI’s Peter King. They have two budding superstars in national advertising campaigns. ESPN pollsters place them significantly higher than last year’s Power Polls and they (well maybe Chicago) seem to be the team most likely to challenge the Green Bay Packers for NFC North supremacy.
The Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills are replacing the Lions as the doormats of the NFL in the eyes of fans, who are hyping the Lions and their potent offense and hard hitting defense. But how much has the nation actually seen of this version of the Lions? Unless they’ve gone out of their way to track them down on NFL Network or online, probably not much. Tonight will be their first opportunity to see the Lions since their season-ending winning streak and offseason pickups have bolstered expectations, and outside of Tha0nksgiving, the first nationally televised game for the Lions since 2005. Back when Sam Gado’s “incomplete” pass and a late Shaun Rogers unnecessary roughness flag kept the Lions from ending a losing drought in Green Bay, and with the Packer’s high expectations in 2011, a streak which is unlikely to end this year as well.
Overall, this game doesn’t really mean much. At face value it’s a chance for Matt Stafford and the offense to fine tune, and for Ndamukong Suh to get a lick or two in on that pretty boy Tom Brady. Avoiding any further injuries is about the best thing that we can hope for. Symbolically, however, is our franchise’s first step in the return as a legitimate NFL team and a dress rehersal for October’s Monday Night Showdown with the Bears. Tonight says “Football does exist in Detroit”. When people hear “The Detroit Lions” maybe they will no longer think of a Jay Leno monologue or a 0-16 punchline, but a monstrous Calvin Johnson snaring in TD passes and a bulldozing Ndamukong Suh pile-driving opposing signal callers. You can be assured tonight that Matt Millen’s sullen face won’t be shown in a suite with his embarassing record as a GM emblazoned on the screen. There will be no more slapfests between a prima donna QB and an even bigger prima donna CB.
We’re being told, and to an extent witnessing, a transformation to a winning team in Detroit. Tonight represents the Lions’ best chance to prove to the rest of the country what we already know is happening.