Explorations in Irrational Love: The Lions and Me


Writing a first post is a lot like opening up a conversation on a first date. It’s tough to know exactly where to start, it tends to be a little awkward, and I have no idea when to stop talking. With that said, I’m just going to dive right in…

My name is Ace Anbender, I’m a Detroit Lions fan, and I’ll be contributing weekly to the SideLion Report for the foreseeable future (or at least until Zac realizes I’m woefully underqualified). I’ve been blogging for about four years, first at my wildly-ambitious attempt to cover every Detroit sports team plus University of Michigan athletics at The Ace of Sports, then over at my current home at The Wolverine Blog. I think this makes me 65 in blogging years, though in reality I’m just a 23-year-old recent college grad with too much time on his hands.

I’ll be sure to dive in to some actual analysis of the Lions next week, but since is my first time posting here at SLR, I figured I should give you some background about my irrational love of the NFL’s quintessential cellar-dwellers:

When I tell people I’m a fan of the Detroit Lions, I’m usually asked one thing: “Why?” It’s a question that’s both easy and difficult to answer. The easy part: My family moved to Ann Arbor when I was five years old, I became addicted to all things sports at six, and the Lions were the hometown team. (Also, watching Barry Sanders run helped immensely.) That’s relatively simple.

Why I became such a die-hard fan, however, is a more daunting question to answer. My father, a Michigan grad, introduced me to the game of football when he bought season tickets to the Wolverines in 1994. I instantly fell in love with the game watching players like Tyrone Wheatley, Tim Biakabutuka, and Amani Toomer dazzle crowds of 100,000 — while my father was (and still is) not a huge sports fan, he made sure to indoctrinate in me the family connection to Michigan football.

I had no such introduction to the Lions. While my dad was there with me watching every Michigan game growing up, I was left to discover the Lions on my own, as if my parents were hoping I’d never stumble across their existence (or, more likely, they couldn’t care less about a terrible NFL team with which they had no meaningful connection). With my thirst for sport, however, it was inevitable that I’d start exploring the area’s other teams. By the 1995 season I spent many a Sunday afternoon alone in front of the TV, pulling for the Lions like it was life-and-death, not just because I knew of no other way to root for a team but because the Lions, in a way, were mine — I had taken the initiative to closely follow this sad-sack bunch, so I felt personally invested that they do well (not often), or at least that Barry Sanders would reward my loyalty by ripping off a mind-blowing run (often).

I know plenty of people who rooted for the Lions growing up; by the time they hit high school, they realized there were (in their minds, anyway) far better ways to spend a Sunday afternoon than watching arguably the worst-run organization in professional sports. Making matters worse for the Lions was that every other Detroit pro sports team experienced at least brief periods of great success – if given a choice to root for three teams out of the Pistons, Red Wings, Tigers, and Lions, only the most hopeless football addict would have so much as given a thought to the Honolulu Blues until perhaps this past season.

Sports fandom, however, is anything but rational. In an earlier time, I was equally invested in all four Detroit teams, as well as Michigan football, basketball, and even hockey. I would get all my homework done early during the winter so I could watch Pistons and Red Wings games during the evening, and each summer I would head up to Comerica at least a few times. On fall Sundays, you didn’t need my cellphone number to know exactly where I was – every game, no exceptions, I was in the living room chair closest to our aging Sony, watching the Lions fight valiantly against teams with more talent and better coaching and owners who appeared to have a clue. The chair changed a couple times, but to my chagrin, both the television and the football team stayed stagnant.

As you know, we lost more often than not, and it usually wasn’t close. But these days – while I tend to wait until the playoffs to watch the Wings in earnest, couldn’t tell you the last time I took in an entire Pistons game, and can’t commit to anywhere near the 162 Tigers games that will be broadcast this summer – I still watch every Lions game, and I can say definitively that no sporting event could possibly make me happier than seeing them win a Super Bowl.

How did things come to this? The combination of football’s greatness as a sport and the brevity of its schedule certainly plays a part, but that isn’t the whole answer. Ndamukong Suh, Calvin Johnson, and Jahvid Best are exciting, talented players who give hope for the future, but I sat through every televised game of the Millen Era (somebody give me a badge!) watching Joey Harrington hand the ball off to Shawn Bryson with the same level of enthusiam. In truth, I think I love the Lions so much because I’m waiting for the payoff. We’re pre-2004 Red Sox fans without the history of close calls; we’re Bengals fans without distant memories of Super Bowl appearances; we’re Clippers fans without … never mind, there’s one franchise even more hopeless than ours.

I’ve already seen the Red Wings hoist the ultimate prize enough times at this point that I feel more relief than elation when they win the Cup. The Pistons had their magical run in 2004 and a string of conference finals appearances, and while the Tigers haven’t taken home a World Series title in my lifetime, just getting there in ’06 felt nearly as good. Those teams each also have a rich history of highlights since the advent of color television, something the Lions almost entirely lack (though that Dick “Night Train” Lane was a dandy!). I’m still waiting on that moment when my years of Lions fandom pays off. Luckily, after years of nothing but ineptitude (with brief interludes of brilliance almost exclusively provided by the aforementioned Mr. Sanders) this team is finally – finally! – headed in the right direction.

[NOTE: I’d just like to add that I’m really excited to be a part of SLR, so a big thanks goes out to Zac for giving me this opportunity. Zac, Matt, Ross, and Scott do a fantastic job with the site, and I hope you all like what I try to add to the discussion. Please feel free to give me feedback via email or on Twitter, and I’m looking forward to talking Lions and the NFL with you.]