I was watching my Detroit Lions play the Seattle Seahawks on Monday night with my friend Bruce. I mentioned to him that I happen to be an intensely loyal person. It’s one of my biggest defects as a human being, I admitted.
“That’s not a defect. That’s a good thing,” Bruce answered.
“Not if you’re a Lions fan,” I said.
You can’t really know what it’s like to be a Lions fan unless you actually are one. During the NFL season, it’s kind of like having to walk around every day with a “kick me” sign on your back.
On this particular night the winless Lions were huge underdogs again in Seattle, but the impossible happened. Late in the fourth quarter they managed to trail by only three points, and quarterback Matthew Stafford marched them on a long drive right to the verge of scoring what probably would have been the game-winning touchdown. Alas, his pass to the Lions’ best player, wide receiver Calvin Johnson — just as it appeared Johnson was going to cross the goal line with it — was punched out of his grasp only inches from paydirt. It bounced into the end zone and then out of it as a Seahawks player purposely batted it across the back line.
The referees called it a touchback and awarded the ball to the Seahawks. Game over.
Except the refs blew the call. By NFL rule, the Lions were supposed to get the ball back a half-yard away from the end zone.
So, essentially, what happened was this: The Lions were robbed of their first victory of the season, a potential game-changer of a victory against one of the best teams in the NFL, in arguably the hardest place for a road team to win in the NFL, solely because of a blown referee’s call. Instead of being 1-3 with a chance to turn their poor start around, they’re 0-4 and essentially done for the season.
Lions head coach Jim Caldwell, bless his heart, insisted the next day that the Lions should just forget about what happened on Monday night and plan for the next game. It doesn’t do any good to complain about the refs, he said.
Maybe he’s right. If you’re an NFL head coach, you’ve got to be calm and responsible. And Caldwell is about the calmest and most responsible coach that there is. In fact, he doesn’t even have a pulse.
But I wish he would go ballistic. I mean, at this point, what else can the NFL do to us, anyway?
The thing is, the Lions have a history of being jobbed. It’s like this: Most of the time the Lions — the NFL’s sorriest franchise — blow games on their own. Once in a while, however, they actually play good enough to win. Then, far more often than the statistical likelihood of such things, some ref comes along and blows it for them. It happened as recently as last year, when a blown call (yes, admitted the next day by the NFL) cost them a playoff win (the Lions own only one playoff victory since 1957) against the Dallas Cowboys.
If it happens once or twice, I can understand a coach’s desire to let it rest. But when you’re the Lions, it’s routine, and if you ask me, it’s high time someone like Caldwell blew his stack.
OK, I’ll be fair. I’m not going to say that the officials purposely fleeced the Lions Monday night of a win, although I’d like to. I think the more likely explanation is that they know they’re the Lions, they know they’re not supposed to win, they know they’re the NFL’s version of the Washington Generals, and they just don’t care. With the Lions, it’s kind of like the way the Supreme Court treats the Constitution: Sure, it exists. But it’s irrelevant.
I’m not asking for much, am I? I mean, it’s bad enough I’m a Lions fan (and I know it’s my own darned fault), but on those rare occasions when they actually win a game, can’t the refs — for once — just let them keep it?