Viking fans, welcome to Lionland

Former Detroit quarterback John Kitna is a classic Lionland veteran.
REUTERS/Andy King
Former Detroit quarterback John Kitna is a classic Lionland veteran.

The post-mortems have been lengthy and predictable. All around town, writers, bloggers and fans have been weighing in on just what the Vikings’ 31-3 loss to the Packers last Sunday at the Metrodome really meant.

Will Zygi giving the fans an early holiday gift by firing Brad Childress today really matter? Is this the final act for Brett Favre? Is it time to break up an aging defensive line and start looking for some fresh legs?

These questions … and another thousand or so … are being vigorously discussed at water coolers, bar stools and across the Internet throughout the state.

I have a simple one-sentence observation that, in its own way, gives a definite answer as to the state of the local pro football team these days:

Simply put, the Vikings have entered Lionland.

As a longtime, long-suffering Detroit Lions guy, I welcome you to our world.

Don’t worry. You’ll get so used to 31-3 losses that you will find yourself praising the second-team linebacker who sacks the backup quarterback in the final minute of the game. In Lionland, we learn to celebrate whatever little in-game victories we can find. The final score doesn’t mean as much as the fact that our team has the game’s leading rusher and that our punter outkicked theirs.

As a rule, Lionland is a quiet place.

With a few rare exceptions (a Barry Sanders run here, a Lem Barney interception there), my hometown NFL team plays its games without notice and rarely contending for anything. (Detroit has won exactly one playoff game since 1957.)

Ironically, the Vikings are joining Lionland during the one time of year when Detroit gets some national exposure. On Thursday, the Lions make their only national TV appearance of the year when they host New England in the first of three Thanksgiving Day games.

It’s the one time the country gets to see what us Lionlanders are already know: Our guys are well-meaning souls who almost make great catches, interceptions and sacks and come close to blocking punts.

Lionland teams lose in the most unimaginable ways possible. Losses on things like a 63-yard field goal on the last play of the game and missed extra points are par for the course.

(A quick digression: If you think the officiating has been unhelpful or plain weird in the past, just wait. Longtime Lionland residents know “You ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.” This year, the NFL came up with a convoluted, weird explanation that disallowed a potential game-winning Calvin Johnson TD in the last minute of a game at Chicago. Last Sunday, Detroit was penalized for tackling Marion Barber by his hair. No such rule exists, but no matter. Accordingly, Detroit kept its NFL record road losing streak alive — 26 and counting.)

There are a few other things you need to know about life in Lionland.

1) With the exception of a game on the West Coast, all games begin at noon. Dinnertime is sacred in Lionland households.

2) As a rule, the announcers will be the newbies — the guys working their first season for Fox or CBS. They will mispronounce names and can be counted on at least once to get Minneapolis and St. Paul mixed up.

3) You will have a key player get injured and miss many games. (Matthew Stafford comes to mind here.) Accordingly, the backup will get a chance to star. At this point, you will discover why he is a second- or third-stringer for a team that has no chance of making the playoffs. Later, that player will sign with another team as a free agent or get traded for a draft choice.

4) One of your team’s castoffs will drift somewhere else where he will mine gold. Eventually, he will show up for a game against a Lionland member with a better surrounding contingent of talent and have a field day against your faves. Last Sunday, Lion fans finally got to see something they waited a long time for. Jon Kitna looked like a stud (18-for-24, 3 TDs) in a winning performance. Unfortunately, Kitna did this for the Cowboys in a 35-19 against Detroit. It was the type of effort Lion fans never saw during his three-year stretch there from 2006-08.

A few other quick notes. Each loss becomes easier to accept. In September and October, the leaves get raked earlier and with great vigor. Your team usually gets a high draft pick. This means they will draft somebody you have actually heard of. He will often be a guy who comes from a winning college program. He will be hailed as the guy who could turn the franchise around. He will not succeed, of course. But you will applaud him for his effort.

There is more, but you get the idea. In time, Viking fans will learn that Lionland is a gentle place where people don’t paint themselves to go to or simply watch games. Instead, they will be content to have a few drinks and reflect like fisherman about the good ones who got away and now play for Green Bay.

In hindsight, the Vikings already had a small claim to membership in Lionland. After all, neither team has ever won a Super Bowl.

Fret not, purple pals. The initial adjustment to being a full-fledged member of Lionland is a little painful. Time, however, heals all wounds. Just ask Gopher fans. Their team has been a Lionland resident since its last Rose Bowl appearance nearly 50 years ago.

Dave Wright, a Detroit native, is a freelance writer/editor in St. Paul. His first book, “162-0: Imagine a Twins’ Undefeated Season,” is available in bookstores and online.

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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Bernie Hesse on 11/22/2010 - 03:16 pm.

    Dave-
    you nailed it. We have hit a spiral going down and when it stops no one knows. It is indeed a cruel winter as gopher football, the wolvies, and the wild provide little solace as the cold increases and the vikes play with our emotions…
    bring back the fighting saints!

  2. Submitted by Peter Nickitas on 11/22/2010 - 05:45 pm.

    Let the Vikings follow the Lakers to Los Angeles — only 53 years later. Then we will have the Packers as the local team — the only team owned by its own fans. The Green Fans’ Team: 12 NFL titles and 3 Super Bowls. The Purple Billionaire’s Team: 1 NFL title and 4 Super Bowl losses.

    To all those children out there who go to bed worrying about jobs, rent, mortgages, and food on the table, take it from Sonny in “A Bronx Tale” who advised Calogero (“C”), “Go see what Mickey Mantle has to say when your father can’t pay his rent. Nobody cares.”

    Go see what Zygi Wilf, Brett Favre, or Adrian Peterson say when you or your parents can’t pay the bills — especially when sales and property taxes go up to fund a new stadium with gold-plated skyboxes.

  3. Submitted by Ben Drewelow on 11/22/2010 - 08:02 pm.

    Sorry, Dave Wright. It’s “Lionland” for a reason. The Lions have been a bad team my whole life. The joke on them is that they NEVER have a good year. They are showing some promise, and I’d like to see them become a good team as much as any football fan. But don’t go comparing the Vikings to the Lions because of 7 losses. When’s the last time the Lions won the division? Vikings have the last two and many previous.

  4. Submitted by Pat Borzi on 11/23/2010 - 05:25 pm.

    Dave: Isn’t there a Bobby Layne curse that Lions fans blame this on?

    Your Lions are also the only team in NFL history to have a player die on the field during a game (Chuck Hughes, 1971, heart attack).

  5. Submitted by Dave Wright on 11/29/2010 - 11:11 am.

    Jeff:

    I’ve been meaning to reply to you for a couple of days. To many native Detroiters, Vernor’s Ginger Ale is the nectar of the gods. You can actually find it at some grocery stores around the Twin Cities.

    Pat:

    I didn’t mention the Chuck Hughes incident but I probably should have. It was the start for a really bad trend of tragedies that hit this cursed franchise. A few years later, their head coach (Don McCafferty) died just prior to the start of training camp. There have been two cases of players suffering horrible on-field injuries. There is also the sad case of Billy Sims, who looked like he was on his way to becoming a star RB until he blew out his knee at the Metrodome. That, however, is pretty grim stuff for another day.

    The Bobby Layne curse is like the Cubs’ goat business. Someday (maybe) it will be lifted. Until then, life in Lionland goes on peacefully.

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