By Justin Brouckaert
5. Dan Orlovsky runs out of his own end zone for a safety against the Minnesota Vikings (2008)
Dan O, to say we remember this still is not to say we are heartless. It is not to say that mistakes aren’t forgivable, only that we never forget. Nearly three years later you’ll go for 353 yards and two scores as an Indianapolis Colt, lead that team to the first win of their sad, Peyton-less season. But some of us will never leave 2008—will never stop thinking you could have done the same for us. Dan O, it isn’t fair to say these things to you. You weren’t our first choice—you were never meant to be a savior. When you’re a Lions quarterback, no one is on your side. Secretly we wanted you to fail. Secretly we take pride in our consistency. Same old Lions. Dan O, that refrain has burned holes through worse men than you. Your blunder was somehow our excuse, all we really needed to throw that season away. “Look at this,” we said. “And you wonder why,” we said. But Dan O, you are too good a man for Detroit. I knew it when I watched you roll back across that thick white line, eyes wide and begging for someone to save you. I knew it because you wouldn’t let yourself stop, even after the play had died.
4. Barry Sanders attempts to throw a touchdown pass on a trick play, but throws an interception instead (1996)
It is Sunday. My father is eating pistachios. I am eating pistachios. Together my father and I are watching the Lions and eating pistachios. If the Lions win it will mean playing catch in the front yard and then a trip to 7 Eleven for Slurpees. If the Lions lose, I will be on my own. My dad will yell, then laugh at his yelling, then say “It’s only entertainment” and walk outside to mow the lawn. He will mow and he will clip and he will edge and he will trim. We’ve all learned to take the bad with the good, especially where Barry’s concerned. We learn to eat the negative yardage—to swallow the chunks of turf Barry cuts on, again, and back and again. It’s more than fair—an even trade for the runs where he defies momentum, spins the field into a storm of writhing, grasping bodies. This pass, this flashy showman’s trick—this isn’t Barry. This isn’t the Barry that never spiked the ball after a score, the Barry we never caught smiling. This is not his fault. But what hurts most is when we see him happy—when we see him celebrate what he thinks he’s done. “He doesn’t know,” my father cries. We ache for Barry. We ache for ourselves. We are ashamed to see him in this moment—to see how proud he is. My father crunches pistachio shells beneath his tennis shoes as he makes the silent walk from the couch to the door. All afternoon, he mows and he mows and he mows.
3. Joey Harrington vs. Tony Siragusa: The “Champagne and Caviar” Feud (2004)
I don’t have to tell you it hasn’t been easy for Detroiters. I don’t have to tell you that tensions are high. What can I say? It’s true we never liked Joey, but to be fair, we didn’t quite care for Tony creeping up and down the sidelines of our Fox broadcasts either. I can tell you this: there are things you should know about Michigan men. Things you should know about toughness, our pride and our sin. Michigan men run a traditional offense, and they aren’t afraid to take a hit. Michigan men drink beer, and they don’t miss games with irregular heartbeats. Michigan men don’t check down. In the end, none of it really matters—champagne and caviar, wine or beer. We’ve started 21 different quarterbacks since 1990. If you find our patience wanting, if you are shocked by the ease with which we brushed Joey aside, know that for us, toughness is everything. Know that we have been doing this for a long time now. Know that we are steeling ourselves for the future, for so many more years of this to come.
2. Marty Mornhinweg wins the overtime coin toss against the Chicago Bears and elects to kick the ball instead of receive (2002)
So what, this happened. This happened! We watched it happen. It was the wind—he wanted the wind. The wind was a thing. The wind was one of many things. The list of other things includes a ball, players that throws it, run it, kick it. The list of other things includes a strategy—this is, a basic understanding that an offense is to take said ball to the very end of the field, to the absolute end, to the absolute farthest it can go, to score. A score! A football score. A touchdown. Look at this coach, so confident. And next to him, a kicker—a sad kicker, for he has once or twice before kicked hard against the wind. He needs this. It is all he has. And how many yards? How few yards to how many yards? A heads or a tails—listen: we have made worse decisions. You and I, we will be okay. But this kicker—this kicker who must watch his rival kicker split the uprights, put his hands skyward, let his snapper lift him. This kicker who stands on the sideline and has to swallow this air. This air! This wind. And oh, Marty, this thing you’ve done.
1. The Lions score with eight seconds remaining to come within one point of the Minnesota Vikings, 27-28, but long snapper Don Mulbach botches the snap on the extra point attempt that would have forced overtime (2004)
We doubt that it is happening, even as it happens: a real-life Lions comeback, complete with an honest-to-Bobby Lane two-minute drill. It isn’t the first time my father and I have mistaken the crumbs of luck that sift down through the standings even to Detroit as glimpses of hope, smiles stretched across faces that Sundays should have taught to know better. But for me, it is the last. At fourteen, I was susceptible to mood swings. It was easy to mock me when I called it a divorce. “You haven’t been with them long enough to let them go,” my father said. “You haven’t seen what I’ve seen.” Of course I wavered and relapsed, broke my resolve again and again. But like any heartbreak, the stab hardened to a dull throb, a pulse that still quickens when the crumbs fall, when someone tells me I jumped ship too soon. “No,” I say. “No, no, no.” The replay plays on the television over and over as the announcers announce their disbelief. My father is silent with his head in his hands. My mother is on the phone. “Oh, they are so mad,” she says. “Oh, they are just so mad.”