While the 2011 season ended like so many others for the Detroit Lions — with a loss — the season gave fans hope and an ability to do a bunch of stuff that we haven’t been able to do for a long, long time.
1. Lions fans, it is FINALLY OK to start looking at Mock Drafts. Since the Lions haven’t earned a pick in the 20′s since the Clinton administration this is definitely strange territory. After being eliminated from the playoffs by Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints, the flood gate to mock drafts opened. Anyone caught looking before the referees decided to let that 40 seconds run off without a snap in that playoff game, risked ridicule discussing a mock draft before then. Normally, we’re in full swing for this activity around Halloween and someone has analyzed every possible of the three millions draft scenarios before Christmas. But this year, we made it to New Years without thinking about the draft. Now it’s OK to talk about it — but odds are you’ve got a better chance of seeing a tax break in the next year than you do of correctly picking who the Lions will select with the 23rd overall pick. The inevitable downside of success is that it significantly dampers our draft talks.
2. If you want to start an argument with your friends from Green Bay, Chicago or Minnesota that the Lions have the most valuable player in the league — go for it. As a matter of fact, you could pick one of two guys to make that argument about and not look like a total idiot. Obviously, Calvin Johnson enjoyed a historic season and will get at least mild MVP consideration. Perhaps, with competition from Randy Moss, Johnson had the best season that we’ve seen from a wideout since Jerry Rice’s prime. However, Calvin isn’t the only Lion in this discussion. If you just morph the argument to include the most valuable player to start a new franchise with, Matt Stafford is as good a choice as any. Quarterbacks are king. That’s finally been proven without a doubt thanks to the Indianapolis Colts. Of the top quarterbacks, Drew Brees, Eli Manning and Tom Brady are all on the wrong side of 30 — rule them out. Ben Roethlisberger just lost to Tim Tebow and will be 30 in two months. Matt Ryan, Jay Cutler, Joe Flacco…ehh. That leaves Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton and Matt Stafford as the three guys to pick. Rodgers seems the obvious choice, but he’s got five years on Newton and Stafford. Either way, you won’t get laughed at for arguing for Stafford. You couldn’t come close to making this claim since old Number 20 walked out 13 years ago.
3. You can renew — or purchase — those season tickets without a twinge of remorse. Normally, getting the season ticket invoice was on par with getting a brown bagged issue of Playboy in the mail. You shamefully grab it and hide it in the kitchen drawer so none of your friends see it — hoping the mailman didn’t snicker at you too much. You curse yourself while writing the check as sloppily as you can, hoping the bean-counters at Ford Field take your scribble as a sign of your displeasure. When your friends ask you if you renewed your tickets you no longer have to sigh, “yeah” — in a manner similar to the reaction you get when you ask that buddy if he’s back with his cheating girlfriend. Now you can proudly pay that bill.
4. You can pay full price for Lions apparel once again without looking like a moron. Gone are the days when stores had ridiculous markdowns for anything emblazoned with Honolulu Blue. The only discounted items you’ll find at Dick’s or Dunham’s are the Roy Williams jerseys – and thanks to Matt Stafford, Calvin Johnson and probably Ndamukong Suh, there’s no need to replace your player jerseys every other year. Those guys should be around for another decade or so.
5. You’ll be able to look forward to the release of the NFL schedule. For at least this season, it won’t be a matter of just determining which of the 16 predetermined opponents the Lions play on which Sunday at 1PM. The Lions are sure to have a bigger national audience this year. Since the Kansas City Chiefs had three primetime games after a solid 2010, the Lions should have at least two next season in addition to their annual Thanksgiving Day game.
So this is some scary territory Lions fans. A lot of foreign, unfamiliar experiences that come with fielding a winning team again. While it’s a step in the right direction, there’s some distance to go before we can finally use “Detroit Lions” and “Super Bowl” in the same sentence…but that’s up next on the list.