When the Washington Redskins and Detroit Lions meet on Sunday afternoon, not only will it be a clash of mediocre teams with losing records, but also of tortured fanbases who spend the better part of the sports calendar wallowing in self-pity, watching each and every Sunday with emotionless expressions, and telling themselves that there’s always next season.
I didn’t grow up a fan of the Washington Redskins; in fact, before I started covering the team for USA Today, I didn’t pay them much mind. I knew that they had a successful run back before I was born, but as of late, the franchise had been run-down by a controversial owner, a general manager who struggled to get out of his own way, and a litany of injuries that consistently derailed the team.
I did, however, know a thing or two about the Detroit Lions. One of my good friends growing up was born a Lions fan, and his long history of delusion and disappointment was often a joke to us, as it wasn’t a classic NFL Sunday without his hopes being shattered as Detroit found new ways to lose in devastating ways.
With this matchup on tap, it got me to thinking…between the Lions and the Redskins, who really has a more tortured fanbase? I reached out to my friend, Eli Moon, to see what he thought. Here’s our conversation.
Zachary Neel: When I first reached out to you about doing this interview, I premised it by saying that it would be nice for Washington fans to realize they aren’t alone in this utter disdain for their team. You scoffed at the idea that fans in Washington are even half as miserable as those in Detroit. Explain your reasoning.
Eli Moon: I believe my initial response was to quote the Batman villain Bane: “You merely adopted the dark; I was born in it, molded by it.” I understand the inclination to commiserate, but the only solace I have as a Lions fan is that our ineptitude is unequaled by any other franchise. Washington fans at least have the comfort of memories of a better time and the benefit of three Super Bowl championships. There is some comfort in pining for the days of Theismann and Riggins. The Lions have not won a playoff game in over 10,000 days. That means that they have never won a playoff game in my lifetime and they have won a total of one playoff game in the lifetime of my father, who unfortunately infected me with this fandom.
ZN: In the past two seasons, both teams have felt a semblance of hope early on; Washington started out 6-3 last season before the high hopes went down in flaming glory after Alex Smith’s injury; the Lions were 2-0-1 this year before losing two close games to the Chiefs and Packers, and completely falling off in the ensuing weeks. What’s your view on these fleeting glimmers of hope that can at times be felt from season to season? Is it a good thing for a fan, or do you just ignore it now, knowing that it will hurt even more if you buy into the hype?
EM: There is an all-too-familiar cycle of being a fan of a franchise trapped in a perpetual cycle of mediocrity: the preseason offers some semblance of hope, the first few weeks build that hope up a little bit more just so all of your dreams and aspirations can be mercilessly crushed by midseason. I am a sucker because almost every year I have hopes that the Lions will turn the corner. Inevitably though, by midseason, I am actively hoping they lose every game so they can improve their draft position.
ZN: As a fan of the team, you obviously have some advice for the ownership group, and think that you have some of the answers — that’s not a slight, it just comes with the territory of any NFL fan base. For example, the fan’s advice in Washington is cut-and-dried; Dan Snyder needs to #FireBruceAllen and sell the team. So, say that Martha Ford and Bob Quinn come to you asking for help. What do you tell them to do first?
EM: This is a tough question because I was actually quite pleased with the moves that Bob Quinn made in the offseason. The usually inactive Lions made some serious efforts to fill gaps in their roster, most notably acquiring Trey Flowers to bolster the pass rush, Justin Coleman to provide depth in the secondary at the extremely difficult nickel corner, and Jesse James and TJ Hockenson to provide stability at tight end. The reality is that a lot of the defensive issues come from a non-existent pass rush and certain high-ceiling draft picks not panning out. My advice to Quinn would be to replicate the activity of the last offseason and give Matt Patricia everyone he wants for next year. If the Lions are not in the playoffs next year, Matt Patricia has to go. Simple as that.
ZN: Alright, we get it…though Washington is deeper in the dumps at the moment, the fans at least have memories of what it was like to be good at one time, though that time is growing further away, along with the young generation of fans. The Lions have never experienced that joy of winning it all, and their last playoff victory was all the way back in 1992. You officially win the worst-franchise award, congratulations.
So now it’s time to pay it forward. What is your advice to all Washington fans who are sick and tired of watching their team fail while being uncertain about a chance at success in the future?
EM: I have a certain sick and depraved pride in being a Lions fan. It is easy to jump on a bandwagon or be a good fan when your team is successful, but when your team is in the gutter is when there is the greatest opportunity to prove to yourself how much your franchise truly means to you.
I know that if I could still love and actively follow this team after they caused Barry Sanders and Megatron to walk away from football, lost every single game of the 2008 season, and perpetually revel in mediocrity, then I will be a devoted fan for life. To me, life isn’t about being a Patriots fan and winning all the time — that turns you into an arrogant prick, in my opinion. Rather, life is about failing, and getting beat and embarrassed over and over and over again, but still maintaining hope. Keeping the faith that someday you will witness your team hoist the Lombardi Trophy. That’s what has kept me rooting for the Lions all of these years, and it’s the same thing that will keep me a part of the Lion Pride for life.
This may not have been the typical article that you’re used to seeing from us, and if you’ve made it this far, I want to thank you for reading along. My time spent covering Washington so far has been eye-opening, and I’ve been impressed by many of the fans’ dedication to the team as they’ve been dragged through the muck all of these years.
I’m sure it’s not always fun to be a fan of the Lions for Redskins, and I’m sure those who root for either team will be the first to tell you that they’ve questioned why they do it all of these years. In the end, though, it’s a deeply rooted love for the team and a never-ending supply of hope that urges them to tune in each and every Sunday, each and every week, each and every year, always maintaining that a run at success is right around the corner. While the teams will face off this weekend and look for a few days of fleeting joy that comes after victory, know that both fanbases are more alike than you might care to think. They’ll always be bonded in misery.