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Lion's Ascent

I've never professed to be a sports fan.

Perhaps for a musician and worship leader by vocation who dabbles in creative writing pursuits, this is about as surprising as late April snow in Michigan, insofar as these stereotypes go.

In fact for years, whenever someone would bring up the latest happenings of professional sports--most of the time involving the current NFL season--a couple of my fellow non-interested sports friends and I would jokingly proclaim 'Sports!', aloud with sarcastic, biting enthusiasm.

That being said, marrying into a family in which football very much equals life, I've been more entrenched in it than ever before these past ten years. I realized slow but sure that football gave meaning in the truest sense for my new brothers, as well as for my father in law who coaches the game.

Just like any passionate pursuit ought to.

No different in fact, than music, art, writing, gaming. All the 'nerdy' things.

(As an aside, make no mistake: There are football nerds. They just hide in plain sight, behind the veil of our cultural understanding of what a 'nerd' actually is and does. A true nerd after all is merely defined as a person who is extremely enthusiastic and knowledgeable about a particular subject. So there.)

Interest slowly began to alight in me, and I invested myself piece by piece in the NFL season, precluding that my allegiance however pronounced it may have been or not through previous years, fall squarely and solely to my home state's team--the infamously beleaguered and embattled Detroit Lions.

My dad has always been and will remain to the bitter end, a Lions fan. I can look back now upon countless Sundays spent watching the game, often accompanied by a cascading avalanche of whoops, shouts, and inevitable screams of agony as the Lion's prodded more often than not to a slow and painful defeat.

Still, I was born in 1988, so the indomitable Barry Sanders held his incredible tenure as perhaps the most lauded running back in the history of the game, squarely from the time I was 1 until I was 11 years old. I only wish that I had a videographic memory, that I could recall and relieve watching the live broadcasts with my Dad as number 20 dodged, wove and ran faster with full pads on than seemed plausible or humanly possible, straight into the endzone time after time as the pursuing defense could only look upon the blue blur, stare hopeless at the silver target number on his back.

All told, turns out I'm a sports fan after all. Or at the very least, a Lions fan.

Enter the 2023 NFL season. Watching this Detroit Lions team has been nothing short of heart rending, pulse pounding, and joy inducing along with the appropriate amount of rage and frustration one could expect. This is after all, still the same team that has never reached the end all be all of football ascension to godhood--the Super Bowl.

Seeing the focused poise of Jared Goff and his often surgically precise throwing was no less thrilling than watching Captain America toss his shield true and clear into enemy lines. Laporte crashing into the fray no less harrowing than Aragorn launching headlong into a horde of orcs. And Dan Skipper, the tallest man in the NFL tromping onto the field for a clutch red zone stop called up images of Game of Thrones' The Mountain himself, or perhaps a heroic version of David's nemesis Goliath to fight on our behalf.

(You see, classical 'nerdom' and football aren't so different after all!)

Witnessing my two young daughters brandish the jerseys of Hutchinson and Amon-Ra St. Brown (or as he is called by our six and four year old, 'Amon Ramen', which seems to me like a missed marketing tie in for some honoululu blue Ramen noodles) brought an unexpected joy and rapture to our household each game day, and a bonding sort of unity that is not easy to replicate.

And then, as it came clear that the Lions were on track for the best season in recent memory or possibly ever, I felt the steady build of energy thrumming throughout all Michigan and beyond, that came along with the battle cries of 'One Pride' and 'All Grit'. I knew then perhaps later than most, that this moment in time was something special.

I remember watching the 2022 season of Hard Knocks featuring the Lions training camp, albeit somewhat passively as my brother in law put it on our living room TV. I was unexpectedly captivated by Dan Campbell. As he paced the front of that room not unlike a certain african apex predator, his physical presence and effortless authority mixed with emphatic and emotional calls to action and unity, under the simple banner of GRIT brandished upon the wall behind him, compelled and enlivened the men in that room. Even I felt a compulsion that should that Dan Campbell ever stand before me and tell me to run, jump, fight or die trying, I most certainly would. A leader worth following.

All told, it felt in the latter days of this NFL season that I was watching the most heroic underdog story of my time play out before me. My gut would begin to churn in the hours before a game, and once the playoffs began, it would be on my mind not long after waking, to the point where I would not have been surprised if little sprites of blue and silver anticipation in the shapes of lions were to have manifested and prowled the room. A strange feeling for a long time self-professed non-sports fan to have, I assure you.

The electricity that emanated from Ford Field during those two playoff games was so palpable that it transferred even through a screen. The collective shouts and deafening battle cries a bastion to the Lions themselves, as they fought and won.

So it was that we came to the penultimate battleground in Santa Clara, CA.

I don't know that I've ever yelled louder and felt more sheer exhilaration watching that first half unfold before me as we racked up 24 points to the 49ers meager 7. Gathered around with our kids and friends, shouts non-sensical high pitched whoops and yells at one point scared by six month old Megatron jersey brandishing baby boy, to the point of tears. Rest assured was quickly consoled as he bounced on my anxious knee, until halftime descended.

After putting our girls to bed, and promising to leave them a note beneath their doors should the Lions reign victorious, we returned to watch a very different battle unfold. The tide turned in an instant, and what seemed a near concrete victory began to crumble and slipped through the collective grasp of not only our team on the field, but Lion's fandom as a whole, like so much sand through a dreadful hourglass as the clock bled and ebbed away.

But we did not go quietly. The heroes of silver, white and blue, those who profess with pride the tribe of Leo and bear the moniker of a city of music and manufacturing, fought to the bitterest of ends. It was with the same GRIT with which they clawed to the top of this tower that they expelled and expended themselves until there was no more left.

Say what you will of the way they fought, but they did not down without a fight.

And so today there remains a lingering despair. And disappointment.

Perhaps that last word holds a clue to the depth of what is felt by the team themselves and their fearless leader Mr. Dan Campbell, and for all of us, the One Pride.

It feels as though there has been a true 'missed appointment', not simple disappointment. It was supposed to be our year. The story shouldn't have ended this way--there was a better ending we all had in mind.

But sometimes, the better ending isn't the right one.

Perhaps the better ending is one in which we are allowed to feel the elation of such a spectacular long fought effort and meteoric rise, the afterglow of which is only heightened by the heartbreak. Perhaps the better ending of a march straight to the top of the mountain to which we were told we would never and could never conquer, is the ending which teaches us that though we may not have crested the peak, we did bear witness to a glorious ascent.

What if the better ending is the one that prepares us for the best and truest of endings, where there is a victory awaiting to be taken by those who hold fast, who do not yield, who wield with grit the weapons of our war and take hold, one day, of our rightful end.

Though there be a valley before us, there is another mountain yet to climb.

To the team that led us nearer the summit than we have ever been, your pride is well earned. Be inured of spurn, and assured of your future.

And to all those who hope and dream, who have bled blue and torn at the silver seams, these words are all for you.


The Lion's Ascent

Here is a song to remember this time, where we are all one grit and all one pride

The sting of defeat deep in our chest, but the mark of battles well met

The tang of iron upon our tongue, merely the taste of an iron resolve

The bitterness of hope deferred, only another page to turn

The shame unaccepted within our bones, but a lie so often told

For though it may linger after a fall, and true that pride comes before it all

No shame can conquer the feats of men whose stalwart hearts neither yield nor bend

We carry a pride of a righteous kind, this blue fire within blazing eyes

Though it be true defeat befalls, there is no room for gloom to dawn

As we fought with will to win, so must we now begin again

Standing firm upon this strength, beclothed just as the lion's mane

With truer grit than all have known, there lies a path, a winding road

There will resound beyond this day, a roar to signal we remain

Let the pride be not to put to death, for though there we fall

We rise again


Author's Note: And to think.... I'm not a sports fan. ;)

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