Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Thanksgiving with the Harts II: TWTW's Vikings @ Lions Preview

Danville, Kentucky -- Folks, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. For one day each year, families come together to feast, count their blessings, and then engage in brazen consumerism at 7:00 PM once Black Friday shopping starts. Yet, most men pay a heavy price to earn this day of leisure. Thanksgiving is not given; it is earned. It is earned in the auto factory, where many men spend lifetimes toiling in oppressive conditions. It is earned in the meat lockers of delicatessens, where shivering men pound raw steak with metal mallets. It is earned in the driver's seat of semi-trucks, where weary men travel through the dead of night carrying goods across our country in hopes of providing for their families. It is earned in the coal mines, where daring men venture without a guarantee they will ever see their loved ones again. For these men and many more, there is no better feeling than eating several pounds of mashed potatoes, loosening one's belt, collapsing on the couch, and watching the Detroit Lions.

Last Thanksgiving, there wasn't much for the good people of Michigan to be hopeful about. Manufacturing jobs were trickling from the state like blood from Trevor Bauer's poorly-bandaged drone wound. The Lions were 3-7, poised for another season of disappointment. The administration of nerd-governor Rick Snyder reached new levels of incompetence as the depth of Flint's suffering became well-known. It was a winter marked not by white tufts of fluffy snow, but rather grey-brown muddy slush.

This Thanksgiving feels very different. It's morning in Michigan again. The Detroit Pistons are moving downtown, and Jim Harbaugh has restored Michigan football to its former glory. Donald Trump is President-Elect of the United States. Thanks to Donald's stunning victory, Ford Motor Company has decided to scrap a plan to outsource jobs to Mexico. By making this decision, Bill Ford has taken a stand for the good people of our country and the state of Michigan. Now, Bill Ford's Detroit Lions are on the cusp of doing something that they haven't done in 23 years: winning a division title and hosting a home-playoff game.

Longest Division Title Droughts in NFL
Folks, I remember where I was the last time the Detroit Lions won a division title back in 1993. 1993 was a long time ago. It was an unforgettable year. Lions nemesis Brett Favre was not yet a household name, though he would become one later that year after completing a last-minute 45 yard touchdown pass to Sterling Sharpe in the '93 NFC Wild Card Game to eliminate the Lions. Newt Gingrich's "Contract with America" had yet to be written. The original Jurassic Park film was the hottest movie around. The world has changed significantly since 1993.

Thanksgiving of 1993 was special. My whole family was gathered around a lovingly prepared and lavish Thanksgiving dinner: sweet cranberry sauce (the canned, gelatinous kind), wholesome stuffing soaked with rich brown gravy, cloud-like mashed potatoes dripping with golden melted butter, and tender turkey breast with crispy brown skin. Yet, all was not well. Emotions were running high at my family's Thanksgiving supper. The Lions lost in disappointing fashion to the Chicago Bears earlier that day. My Uncle Bert was livid that an offense with Barry Sanders and Herman Moore only managed to put up 6 points against a feeble Bears squad. My Uncle Bert was a kind man; but proud, and ill-tempered if crossed.

Tensions boiled over when my wife (now my ex-wife) made a move for a coveted turkey drumstick. My Uncle Bert was a hard-working man and provider; one of the unspoken rules of our family's Thanksgiving celebrations was that the turkey's drumsticks belonged to him alone. My foolish wife broke this rule, prompting an extensive tirade from Uncle Bert about the value of diligence and the decay of America's moral fiber under President Bill Clinton. Folks, if you hate it when your family talks politics over Thanksgiving dinner, I hope you never meet my Uncle Bert. My wife didn't appreciate the scolding; when Uncle Bert's rant was finished, she grabbed the drumstick and headed for the door. I haven't spoken to her since.

Folks, Thanksgiving of 2016 is going to be vastly different from Thanksgiving of 1993. We no longer live in an America where families have to war over drumsticks. Thanks to Trump, delicious poultry will now be plentiful and affordable to all Americans. Coal mining jobs will return, after years of desolation at the hands of EPA overreach. Blue-collar folk across the rust belt will return to their jobs in manufacturing plants, after years of hanging up their hard-hats because of awful trade deals. America is going back to work.

Things are looking up for America, and they're looking up for the Lions too. The Lions sit atop the NFC North division; with a win against the Minnesota Vikings this Thanksgiving, they will position themselves well for a playoff run this Winter. Matt Stafford is now a certified elite quarterback: the former #1 draft pick now stands upon the precipice of leading the Lions to postseason glory, fulfilling his destiny in the process.

And yet, the Lions are not without their flaws. The Lions' running game remains a major weak point, flimsier than a soggy breadstick from Olive Garden. At times, their defense appears more porous than the US-Mexico border that Donald Trump has vowed to reinforce. In spite of these weaknesses, the Lions remain in the playoff hunt, largely due to Stafford's uncanny ability to orchestrate fourth quarter comebacks. With Stafford playing at an MVP-caliber level and key defensive players like DeAndre Levy returning to health, the stars appear to be aligning for Detroit's first division title in decades. In 2016 we have witnessed Britain leave the EU, a team from Cleveland win a championship, a Chicago Cubs World Series victory, and a Donald Trump presidency. Why can't the Lions get in on the fun?

This Thanksgiving is shaping up to be a truly marvelous one. Gone are the days where I would celebrate Thanksgiving with a cold TV dinner; the days of lavish feasts have once again returned. This Thanksgiving, I anticipate the Detroit Lions to provide compelling entertainment as they have all season. They will flirt with disaster; frustrating fans with their inconsistency and silly mistakes: botched punt returns, bobbled passes, missed tackles. Yet, I nonetheless predict a Lions victory, as ice-blooded field general Stafford delivers dramatic more late-game heroics. 2016 has not been any old year; these are not the Same Old Lions.