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Thanksgiving Day in Detroit: A Losing Tradition Unlike Any Other

DETROIT, MI - NOVEMBER 28: A general view of Ford Field prior to the start of the game between the Chicago Bears and the Detroit Lions on November 28, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Chicago Bears v Detroit Lions | Leon Halip/Getty Images

DETROIT -- Like so many Michiganders of a certain age, the episode of Home Improvement where the Taylors go to the Lions game on Thanksgiving and Tim causes a power outage was a formative part of growing up. Yes, that's right: the one with Rodney Dangerfield. It does not, in fact, get enough respect.

Watching this sad sack franchise lose a football game instead of spending time with my family on a holiday became a Bucket List item I wasn't sure I'd get to check off.

But folks, I am happy to say that dream came true yesterday and the experience lived up to expectations. All the elements were there. An absurdist reality in which the Lions started a third-string quarterback. A too-loyal crowd willing to part with hard-earned money to see this social experiment take place. An equally sketchy offense on the other side helmed by Mitchell Trubisky, who can only look like a Pro Bowler when facing Matt Patricia's genius defensive system.

And of course, a touching homage to the 1997 ABC sitcom in the form of an inopportune power shortage during the halftime performance by the Brothers Osborne -- the Tim Allen-ication of the day made complete by serendipitous technical difficulties.

Though nostalgia was a tasty morsel, the main course of the day was irony. David Blough, seeing his first NFL action, threw a 75-yard touchdown to Kenny Golladay on the opening drive. Then, against all odds, the Purdue product engineered another scoring drive late in the quarter to give the home team a 14-7 lead.

The Ford Field faithful erupted in a cascade of cheers and tongue-in-cheek "M-V-P" chants. Blough had put together a 131-yard, two-score first quarter. This was the first step in a victorious march to Canton. It was good, clean fun to pretend this. And that brief period where the greenhorn reserve was the best player in football was amazing.

But as it tends to do, reality reared its ugly head. The offense stalled, managing a meager three second-half points, and the Bears were able to find victory with a late touchdown. Detroit has now lost eight of its last nine games, is hopelessly adrift, and once again one of the NFL's deadest turkeys.

In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't matter that the Lions lost. They are a non-entity in the playoffs and likely can't lose enough to get their hands on Chase Young in the draft. It does matter that the highlight of the season was an ironic chant. It does matter that sarcastic joy passes for actual joy at this point.

Year after year, they sell out the place on Thanksgiving. Year after year, loyalty is not rewarded. It's a slap in the face and will continue to be a slap in the face until there's a top-down rebuild to exorcise the lingering demons. Jokes aside, it's damn admirable that Lions fans continue to support the team and buy into the definition of insanity. A true winner would mean so much more to the people here than perhaps anywhere else in all major sports.

So it's bittersweet to revel in the sporadic silver lining. It was a reprieve to worship at the altar of David Blough for an hour before the crushing reality set in. It was funny and chaotic when the power went on the fritz during the halftime show. But maybe the real joke is as its always been: on Lions fans.

Sad Tool Time grunt.