By Mark Constance
I’m a Lions fan.
Let me preface this by saying that overall, in my family you had a choice: the Red Wings and/or Tigers.
My grandparents, Bud and Mary Holland, were Canadian so you can see how we fell in line. I grew up watching Peter Puck and honestly, used to think hockey pucks grew on trees and were harvested just in time for hockey season.
My dad, Gordon, wasn’t much of a sports fan, but he did follow the Tigers a bit. We saw a few games at Tiger Stadium during the 60s and 70s. Baseball and left-hander Mickey Lolich hold a special place in my heart, especially when the Turtle arrives each Spring.
But this Lions thing has no roots in my family. No one really seemed to give a rip. Me included, till I saw Charlie Sanders play the first time.
It was on a black and white TV with foil strung across the rabbit ears. He had just bulldozed an unknown Chicago Bears defensive lineman, turned and caught a pass in the snow. Another Bear went low. He lept over him and while in the air, was crushed, spun sideways, hit the ground and bounced. But he held onto the ball.
My next fling with the Lions came when I was in Scouts. We went to a Blue and Gold Banquet and I won, of all things, a football autographed by the entire Lions team. Not the mass produced, plastic wrapped pretender sold today in just about every party store in Southeast Michigan.
No, this was the real thing. A hand autographed piece. But only one guy on that ball meant anything to me: Sanders.
I was adopted into the family.
I was one of many, angry with Lions ownership, when Billy Sims tore up his knee on a cheap piece of artificial turf, ruining a promising career.
I was excited, then stunned during the year of the strike, when “Mr. Reliable,” Eddie Murray, missed the field goal against the 49ers.
We all mourned with the family of Eric Andolsek, when he was killed in his yard by a semi during the off season. And we prayed for Mike Utley when he was paralyzed in a game. They were the cornerstones of a team that offered us the best hope of a title shot since Bobby Layne led us to the promised land in 1957.
I was on the sideline at Ford Field when Calvin Johnson set the single game yardage record. Leaning on my mono pod at the back of the end zone, I watched as Matthew Stafford reached across the goal line for the winning touchdown, crushing the spirit and playoff hopes of the Dallas Cowboys.
But I can say I also saw the master in action … Once. As a sideline photographer at the Pontiac Silverdome, I watched Barry Sanders shred a defense like they were first year players on a youth football team.
Busting loose for a 35-yard run, faking one guy out of his socks, then casually stiff arming another to cruise in for the first of two touchdowns.
He flipped the ball to the referee after each score, acting as if it were nothing but another day at the office.
And we were all witness over the years to some of the most amazing runs in football history, many that never made it back to the line of scrimmage. No better running back has ever graced the gridiron.
In the 2016 version of the Lions, we’ve watched them roll off five straight wins via fourth quarter comeback. They make you want to cheer and throw the remote at the same time But that’s the nature of this franchise. It’s in their DNA. They give a little, then take it back.
On Sunday, I’ll watch with other Lions fans around the world as we play the 9-4 Giants. living and dying with every play.
We are 9-4 and lead the Black and Blue Division. The rest of the world thinks the win over the Saints was a fluke. And that Stafford’s finger injury against the Bears last week will expose us this week as pretenders, not contenders.
But those negative thoughts are faint echoes heard outside the Lions circle. We believe, even when we carry a historical sense of doubt created by years of cumulative disappointment.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve flirted with Tom Brady and the Patriots. Who can’t like Mr. Clean and the great hooded one. And in a moment of desperation, I even rolled with Brett Farve and the Packers.
But I kept come back to my first love. And I hope we’re on the edge of something historical. Then again, I don’t know for sure. That’s just the way it is.
To my son, Sean, in Sarasota, I humbly pass this torch to you.