Hours before Matthew Stafford officially became a Los Angeles Ram, the Detroit Lions posted a nine-minute farewell video from one of the toughest dudes to ever put on a football uniform. It was a love letter to the place he's called home for his entire professional career. It's a love requited from those wise enough to appreciate all Stafford did in a Lions uniform, even if winning anything of significance wasn't one of them.
Five-hundred and forty seconds may seem excessive. And it's easy to mock earnestness because it costs nothing to be emotionless. But honestly, it could have been longer. It was both fantastically done and arresting.
The Lions are a disastrous, perhaps unsalvageable franchise. Its fanbase need no reminder that they've won a single playoff game since 1957. Yet they still watch because the pain and oh-so-rare joy means something to them. With a loyalty teetering on naivety, each year brings hope that things will be better. Something deep inside the soul needs to believe that they can get better because believing the reverse would be even more painful than cutting all emotional ties.
Despite literally doing nothing in return, the Lions have remained the most popular professional sports team in Detroit. There's beauty or sadness or both in the steadfast loyalty. Players who care back are treated as heroes and beloved, even when they leave to win championships elsewhere. It's not football-specific either, as Detroit and Michiganders have rallied behind former Tigers as they pursue World Series on more competent teams.
The embarrassing or pride-inducing secret is this: Detroit sports fans' ability to treat its local athletes with humanity and support, even in the face of failure, may be the best thing about the entire athletic ecosphere. It would undoubtably be more fun to have winning teams, but history has shown us that whenever the Lions, Tigers, Red Wings, and/or Pistons turn things around, the city will be afire in passion and operate at a fever pitch.
All of this is probably too foreign for dozens of other markets to understand. And so this Stafford video doesn't land in the same way. Yet for those who do get it, it's a powerful realization to feel the two-way connectivity and reflect on the past decade-plus. To accept that neither side got what they truly wanted out of the marriage but that there's mutual love and respect.
That's not an entirely bad thing if you can work through the protective shield of sarcasm.