To get right down to it, yes, it’d be swell if the Detroit Lions took out the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night and advanced to the Super Bowl.
For me, it all traces back to the 1969 New York Mets.
Stay with me on this.
Background: In 1969, as the Amazin’ Mets were climbing to the top of the standings in the newly formed National League East, it occurred to me I was watching a reboot of the fabled 1967 “Impossible Dream” Boston Red Sox. I was 11 years old in ’67, a native of Boston, and it was breathtaking to watch the perennially last-place Sox emerge from nowhere and capture the American League pennant.
Two years later, at age 13, I happily latched on to the Mets. After playing laughably bad baseball for the first seven seasons of their existence, the ’69 Mets overtook Leo Durocher’s Chicago Cubs during a hot and crazy summer, went on to sweep the Atlanta Braves in the NLCS and then upset the powerful Baltimore Orioles in the World Series.
Ever since then, I’ve had a thing for, well, let’s call them tortured sports franchises. See, this isn’t about rooting for the underdog. Every playoff series, every playoff game, has a favorite and an underdog, and the many variables that go into determining those designations don’t pull me to the edge of my seat. But the tortured sports franchises — the pre-2004 Red Sox, the pre-2016 Cubs, the pre-until-a-couple-of-months-
Which brings us to the Lions. You’ve no doubt been inundated over the past couple of weeks with breathtaking breakdowns of this franchise’s postseason futility, so we’ll keep it to the basics, beginning here: We have this annoying habit in sporting America of looking at the NFL solely through the lens of the Super Bowl era, and in that spirit, the sobering reality is that the Lions have never even been to the Super Bowl, let alone won one.
Baumgardner: Dan Campbell, Lions fulfill promise to village that never lost hope
The Lions did win four NFL championships in the pre-Super Bowl era, most recently in 1957. Baseball’s Cleveland Indians/Guardians have gone longer since last winning a championship, toppling the old Boston Braves in six games in the 1948 World Series, but the Lions’ quest for a championship seems longer — to me, anyway — because of that tricky language about not having played in the Super Bowl.
I have no particular affinity for the Lions, other than when fellow UMass graduate Greg Landry was their quarterback in the 1970s. Check that: My interest was somewhat renewed in 2008 when the Lions selected Boston College tackle Gosder Cherilus with the 17th pick in the draft. Cherilus played football at Somerville High, which is about a mile from my house, and I covered the ceremony the day he signed to attend BC. So, yes, there was some home cooking at play during Cherilus’ days in Detroit.
But this isn’t about Greg Landry and Gosder Cherilus. It’s about Jared Goff, the current Lions quarterback, and Penei Sewell, the All-Pro Lions tackle. It’s about Dan Campbell, the high-octane coach who in three seasons has taken the Lions from 3-13-1 to 9-8 to 12-5. With playoff victories over the Los Angeles Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Lions are one giant step from landing in the Super Bowl.
— Detroit Lions (@Lions) January 22, 2024
Lions are winning playoff games and changing perceptions of what they can accomplish
The sports connoisseur in me would like to see that happen. Just as last weekend, the sports connoisseur in me wanted to see the Buffalo Bills keep winning and get back to the Super Bowl … and finally win the thing. In fact, a Lions-Bills Super Bowl matchup was a dream lurking inside me. It would have been a nice follow-up act to the 2016 World Series between the Cubs, who hadn’t won a championship since 1908, and the Indians, who last won it all when they beat the Braves in ’48.
It’d be pushing it to suggest that any football fans who have a heart and soul will be rooting for the Lions to beat the 49ers. Legalized sports betting has forever changed the landscape; fans who bet on the games are less likely to care that the Lions haven’t won it all since Dec. 29, 1957, when Tobin Rote threw four touchdown passes in Detroit’s 59-14 victory over the Cleveland Browns.
A much more pressing concern, if you’ve watched the Lions’ two playoff victories to date, is that the Rams’ Puka Nacua (nine catches, 181 yards) and the Bucs’ Mike Evans (eight catches, 147 yards) took advantage of the mediocre Detroit secondary. If the 49ers’ Brandon Aiyuk puts up numbers like that Sunday, we might be seeing the end of Detroit’s dream season.
That’s a story yet to be written. Up till now, the story has been riveting for those of us who follow the tortured sports franchises. Imagine: The Detroit Lions are one victory from the Super Bowl. For those of us who root for the story, this one will be worth following.
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(Photo of Amon-Ra St. Brown and Taylor Decker: Gregory Shamus / Getty Images)
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