One day in November

The hope of a city rests on the shoulders of its turbulent football franchise

The smells of turkey, pumpkin pie and gravy waft tantalizingly through the home, begging to be paid attention to. That is, until someone asks for help with dinner.

It’s at that moment when I usually pull out my Lions tickets and make a break for the car, leaving my mother with her sisters, agonizing over dinner.

The drive down Woodward Avenue into the city causes me to draw my eyes to the run down buildings, the construction projects long abandoned, old decrepit hotel signs that hang from rusted, bent nails and the steam that rises from every manhole cover.

This city has character, just like its team.

Is character Ndamukong Suh’s “Stomp-Gate” of Thanksgiving 2011? Is it untimely personal fouls during their first playoff game in over a decade? No.

The character lies within the right arm of their quarterback and the collective chip on this team’s shoulder. It resides in the right leg of the grizzled and balding Jason Hanson, who has seen more than his fair share of blown leads and losses.

The Lions have been bad. Bad is an understatement in describing the Lions in the post Barry Sanders-era. Lions’ fans have had to endure the Lions being the NFL’s worst team four times between 2000-09, including the 0-16 2008 Detroit Lions.

Since then, they have brought in a young gun, fist-pumping coach in Jim Schwartz, a screaming mad man defensive coordinator in Gunther Cunningham and all the right draft picks to pull the Lions from their hole in the NFC North.

Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Brett Favre, Kerry Collins and Michael Vick have all taken to Ford Field on Thanksgiving Day, a day of celebration in Detroit, and beaten the Lions senseless.

The fans have been forced to endure not only their team’s struggles against the all-time great gunslingers, but the halftime shows too. Jesse McCartney, a terrible Mariah Carey performance and the hated Nickelback have taken the stage on Thanksgiving Day, causing some Lions fans to leave.

The NFL has long debated taking the Thanksgiving tradition from Detroit, a tradition that has been continued every year since 1934. It reaches back to the days of the great Alex Karras and Bobby Layne. Thanksgiving football has gone through the years of Charlie and Barry Sanders and onto Scott Mitchell and his legion of doom at the wide receiver position.

Yet there are glimpses of hope for Detroit. In 2003, Joey Harrington, also known as the worst professional player the Lions ever owned, defeated Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers, albeit in a slop-fest of a football game, a game in which Hanson kicked five field goals in a 22-14 effort.

Now the Lions have proved that while inconsistent through three quarters, they have moxie and are not just a blow-off game on the schedule. Matthew Stafford is the NFL’s best fourth quarter player in the NFL right now. Yes, he has done better than Eli Manning and Tom Brady.

The struggles of the people of Detroit have been well documented. Walking through the damp streets that are shadowed by crumbling buildings and boarded up storefronts, on Thanksgiving the city of Detroit is given the gift of football.

This Thanksgiving may be similar to the ones past where teams have simply carved up the Lions like the turkey they’ll be eating that night. The Houston Texans and their explosive team will take the field this season at the corner of Brush and Beacon Street.

Still, you can see hope on the lined faces of the masses on that one day in November—the hope that just maybe the Lions will roar once again. Thus the corner of Brush and Beacon Street fill with people, hopeful to glimpse their heroes in action.

Can the NFL commissioner known affectionately as “Dictator” Goodell really live with taking the hope from the city of Detroit?