Monday, November 23, 2015

Thanksgiving with the Harts: TWTW's Eagles @ Lions Preview

Danville, Kentucky - Thanksgiving is a time of tradition. Each family has their own unique way of giving thanks, when the fourth Thursday of November comes rolling around. Since my last divorce, I've celebrated Thanksgiving with only myself, my basset hound Barry Goldwater, some canned cranberry sauce, a turkey TV dinner (Banquet® brand), and lots of  my patented Fireball & Apple Cider punch.

Thanksgiving with the Harts.
But it wasn't always this way. In the Hart family, Thanksgiving was once a time of jubilee. My Uncle Bert from Flint, Michigan used to host a merry little celebration. I remember the long car-rides through the Midwest, sitting in the backseat of my father's old Ford truck, pining for the delicious fixings my Uncle Bert so lovingly prepared. The contrast between the warmth of my Uncle's fireplace and the barren winter landscape of America's northern wastes was poignant to me.

In Uncle Bert's native Michigan, families come together every year to watch their irrelevant, out-of-contention team get beaten handily. The Thanksgiving day game is one of the few things that hasn't been taken away from Detroit. Manufacturing jobs and bailout money are fleeting, transient things. But the Autumnal tradition of gathering around the mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce to watch Barry Sanders or Calvin Johnson waste their potential on a perennial loser team is forever. They've been called "the most disappointing team in the NFL," but until it's cheaper for the NFL to outsource the franchise to Japan or South Korea, the Thanksgiving day game belongs to the pitiful Detroit Lions.

In the blue-collar expanses of post-industrial Southeastern Michigan, watching talented, hard-working men like Megatron squander their God-given gifts on a bottom-feeder franchise teaches a young man a thing or two about life. No matter how hard a man works, or how many hours he puts in on the assembly line, decisions made by his incompetent superiors may ultimately render his self-sacrifice meaningless. Such is the lesson learned by supreme talents like Sanders and Johnson -- who have achieved remarkable individual feats while a Super Bowl victory has eluded them -- due to generations of mismanagement by the Lions ownership. Such is the lesson learned by lifelong employees of Ford and GM plants, who lost their jobs due to generations of mismanaged trade policy starting with Reagan's horrific Uruguay Round of multilateral trade negotiations in 1986, and culminating in Clinton's NAFTA, the death blow to all working-class aspiration in America.

This Thursday's Thanksgiving day match-up between the Detroit Lions and Philadelphia Eagles will follow a plot arc familiar to anybody who has celebrated this wonderful holiday. The game will begin with a feeling of hope and nervous anticipation of a feast-to-come. The Lions offense will appear initially competent, putting 10 points on the board early, while the defense gives a sturdy performance reminiscent of the days when psychopath Ndamukong Suh called Detroit home. As the euphoria of a Thanksgiving day feast gives way to the lethargy of a mid-afternoon food coma, a series of Matt Stafford-induced turnovers will allow the Eagles to sail to a comfortable lead. The defense will spend too much time on the field, overcooked like poultry left in the oven too long. Lions fans across the state will be rudely awoken from food-naps only to find that their team has disappointed them once again. The spirit of the Lions will crack like a drumstick, crudely jostled from the torso of a golden-brown turkey. It is an outcome as predictable as the serving of pumpkin pie at the day's conclusion. Mark Sanchez will inexplicably win Madden's Turkey Leg award. Life will go on, much as it always has.

I last celebrated Thanksgiving with Uncle Bert in November of 1996. The Lions lost that game in heartbreaking fashion to the Kansas City Chiefs. Bert was a generous man, but hosting the Hart family's annual feast quickly became too much to ask of a man whose livelihood was taken from him by the forces of globalization. Thanks to NAFTA, there was no trip to Michigan for Uncle Bert's feast in 1997; just a TV dinner and the broken promises of Bill Clinton.

Not even the miserable winter of '97 could prepare me for the betrayal of '99. At the behest of my brother-in-law, I finally watched the Godfather Part III. Folks, Godfather I & II are very near and dear to my heart. I consider them the finest pieces of American cinema I am ever likely to see, besides the Rocky series. There may be a time and a place for Godfather III; but it was not Danville in the winter of 1999, in the aftermath of the financial ruin of the Hart family. I cringed as the spiraling ruins of this once proud series hit its nadir when Michael Corleone was asked by his ex-wife to accept his daughter's love of his brother's daughter. As I averted my eyes from the travesty unfolding before me, I glimpsed a page on my (third) wife's beeper. It was a number I'll never forget. (434) 791-4803. A number I had dialed so many times before, when I needed a man to confide in. The number of my best friend Rhett. 3rd baseman for Danville High during my '72 no-hitter. Cuckolded once again, the betrayal was complete. Thanks to Rhett and NAFTA, my family was more dysfunctional and broken than even the Corleones. Thanksgiving was never the same.