Christmas Eve Clincher
Christmas Eve is always a special day for many, but it was even more meaningful this year in Detroit. The Lions carried a 9-5 record into Ford Field for their final home game of the season. The matchup with the San Diego Chargers was a pivotal moment in the season, with the Lions being able to clinch a wildcard spot with a victory over a dangerous, under-achieving Charger team. The atmosphere was electric in Motown, with a late Saturday game falling on a national holiday. The stadium was sold out, once again, and expectations were sky high.
Many franchises have become accustomed to success. Many fan bases scoffed at the excitement throughout Detroit for simply the opportunity to advance to the post-season. What separates Detroit, and Lions fans, from those groups is their history. The Lions hadn’t sniffed the playoffs since January 8th, 1999, when they fell to the Washington Redskins 27-13. The lack of a playoff history, combined with the fact that the franchise has only a single post-season victory since the beginning of the Super Bowl era, led to heightened levels of excitement. With a showdown at Lambeau looming in week 17, there was almost an “elimination game” type atmosphere throughout Ford Field.
In fact, Detroit’s playoff drought was so significant, that the last time the Lions qualified for the post-season we lived in a different world. Bill Clinton was serving his second term as President, and the U.S. economy was as strong as ever. The Euro had just been introduced to a unified Europe. Britney Spears released her first single this same month, and the number one movie at the box office was “A Civil Action”, starring John Travolta. People actually ventured outdoors for recreation, as the world had not yet been introduced to Facebook or Twitter. We lived in a world devoid of iPhones, smart phones, and iPads. Music was still being purchased on CD’s, as the first iPod launch was more than two years away. In fact, the last time Lions fans were able to watch their team play in January, Pluto was still a planet, Saddam Hussein was still in power, and the skyline of New York City had not been altered forever.
As the hopeful eagerly gathered in their seats for the opening kickoff, the excitement in the stadium was only surpassed by the tension and anxiety. The nervousness was limited to the spectators however, as the Lions players quickly rid any non-believers of their doubts. Detroit played arguably their best, most complete game of the season, and quickly jumped out to 10-0 first quarter lead. The celebrating began for fans in the second half, as the Lions held a comfortable 24-0 lead. The Chargers wouldn’t even sniff a comeback, and as the crowd counted down the final ten seconds, chanting “playoffs”, the Lions had sealed their playoff destiny with a 38-10 shellacking of the San Diego Chargers.
The significance of this game was underscored by an impromptu victory lap from the players, as a “thank you” to their faithful, long suffering fans. As Lions players circled the field, shaking hands with the crowd, the stadium remained full of the most loyal fans, basking in a moment that had escaped them so many times in years past. A moment that many hope will never be so deserving of celebration again.