Fans won’t love this Lions’ team until they do this one thing

Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson will have to win a playoff game to earn lasting respect from Lions' fans.

Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson will have to win a playoff game to earn lasting respect from Lions’ fans.

The Detroit Lions most imposing opponent is history. Yes, they have a winner-take-all game against their rivals the Green Bay Packers next Sunday to decide the NFC North title, but more than even that — this Lions team is squaring off against history.

It’s a history that hangs around this team like an anvil.

Consider this: under different circumstances, with a less difficult franchise history, this Lions team would be beloved. Yes, beloved. The Lions have come-from-behind to win seven of their 11 games. And in weeks 4, 7, 8, 9, 15, and again in week 16 against the Bears yesterday, the Lions have overcome deficits in the fourth quarter to win. If the Lions weren’t “The Lions” this team would be celebrated as “The Comeback Kids” and Matthew Stafford would be a matinee idol drawing comparisons to Bobby Layne, who had a reputation for late-game heroics himself.

Instead, Stafford is ridiculed for being a “fluff” quarterback who accumulates meaningless stats and throws boneheaded interceptions. But absent the Lions’ miserable record over the last 15 seasons, Stafford and his favorite target Calvin Johnson would be legends in the making. Ditto Ndamukong Suh, the most physically intimidating defensive lineman since…well since anyone. But the Lions can’t escape their history and that’s the problem.

Fans aren’t buying it. Eleven wins, maybe twelve? Ho hum. Thrilling fourth-quarter drives to win games? Yawn. A dominant defense that suffocates opposing teams? Yeah so?

These fans have the memory of late season collapses fresh in their minds. They’ve suffered through record-setting losing streaks and embarrassing losses. They know what it’s like to have their football team be the laughingstock, a punchline. They endured 0-and-16. And it wasn’t that long ago. It doesn’t matter that this is a new Lions team with a new QB who just went over 4,000 yards for the fourth straight season and is the franchise’s all-time leader in passing. It doesn’t matter that Megatron and Suh are the best on the planet at what they do. It makes no difference that Joique Bell and Reggie Bush are dynamic out of the backfield or that the defense is as good as any Detroit squad since the Silver Rush days.

It doesn’t matter because Lions fans have been burned more than they can count. They’ve come back year after year, most of them, and continued to support a team that always seems to be a big play away. A team that seems to always make the boneheaded play that leaves everyone shaking their heads. In recent seasons it seems like “undisciplined” has almost become an official part of the team name. They’ve lost games in so many different ways that the league has even had to clarify or rewrite rules to explain some of them (see “The Calvin Johnson Play in Chicago”). It’s too bad that we can’t enjoy this Lions team that already has eleven wins and could make it a dozen next week if they can break a losing streak in The Frozen Tundra.

Head coach Jim Caldwell deserves better. He’s taken a reckless team known for imploding and losing close games and transformed them. His defensive coordinator Teryl Austin has performed some sort of Motown Miracle in making the defense one of the best in football. Compared to recent seasons under Jim Schwartz and other boobs who earned head coach pay in the Honolulu Blue, this team plays smart. And smart is something we haven’t seen at Ford Field, well…never.

Even when these Lions win they get lambasted by many of their fans. If the offense doesn’t put up 30+ points, they suck. If a third string quarterback has a decent first half (see Jimmy Clausen on Sunday for the Bears), the defense is choking. And the special teams is just terrible all the time. Other teams, in other cities, if they won games in dramatic fashion like these Lions have, would be darlings of the media and the fans.

But Lions fans are so used to seeing terrible football their senses have been fine-tuned to it. Their like bomb-sniffing dogs: sure they might briefly be distracted by a piece of beef jerky in that duffle bag, but their going to seek out the plastic explosives every time. And we know what happens then… BOOM!

Detroit fans have been trained so well to see the bad that they don’t recognize the good when they see it.

It would be nice to have the city of Detroit crazy gaga over this Lions team. It’d be great if the fan base was emboldened and frenzied for playoff football. But they’re mostly not. And you can’t blame them. 0-16…late-season collapses…playoff embarrassment.

It’s going to take a playoff victory to change #SameOldLions into #LetsGoLions