Where to begin…
After my childhood dog, Kirby, passed away this summer following 15 years of glory, my brother checked the football schedule and saw something “YOLO:” my favorite player Peyton Manning was coming to Detroit to play the Lions.
He told my dad, and as a birthday present, we all arranged an incredible weekend for my brother and me.
Now, not only had I never been to a Lions game in my two decades of fandom, I have also never been to a Red Wings game. And outside of my family, there’s nothing I love more.
So, the game vs. Denver was Sunday, enabling us to catch a preseason hockey game at the Joe Saturday. After settling into the remodeled Renaissance Hotel right downtown (and consuming several shots) we headed aboard Detroit’s “People Mover,” a newly built monorail-like transportation system that will take you throughout the city.
Joe Louis Arena was a site to behold. Banners of what looked like every player draped the entrance doors. After my brother convinced the ticket stand we were still in college, our student rates were in.
While I waited in line, anticipating the inside of the arena, a self-speech seemed to go through my head. “This is it. This your MF-ing right. Your dad before you, 27 years of loving Detroit…” as chills ran down my spine. The excitement bubbled over as we punched our ticket: I had made it.
My father tried so hard to get us tickets when I was a kid, but we had so many victories in the 90’s and early 21st century, creating impossible circumstances, especially with divorced weekends. This was so special to me. I am Detroit – a hardworking, humble man who loves his family. When I got home, I saw a reminder on an old Stanley Cup Newspaper: “WORTH THE WAIT.”
The Wings were playing the dreaded Boston Bruins. Tomas Tatar promptly scored upon our arrival: did he sense some GR Griffins were in the house? The Joe reminded me of an oldschool-version of The Palace. It was quite filled for a preseason affair.
Two young Ethan & Eric’s sat behind us, rocking #13 Pavel Datysuk jerseys, and two older grandparents sat to our right. It was a passing of the torch. We told the hard-cheering kids we’d been fans since their age and our dad wanted to send us since we were that young.
The preseason was the perfect way to soak in the arena, without too much stress of winning. During the intermission, I stood at the front of our section and just took my glasses off. Tears of pride and joy overcame my eyes while I looked around, smiling like a little kid.
It was a great game. Tied at 3, off to overtime. There was plenty of time to remind the Bruins they weren’t the Patriots, and no cheating would be permitted. They didn’t listen, snarfing us on an OT penalty.
We witnessed perhaps the first 3-on-3 overtime in Red Wing history, too. And met so many nice fans, even some snarfs from Tennessee who were there a day early, too, to watch Peyton.
Once we wound home, it was plenty warm still in Downtown Detroit. So, after one (or two) more shots, we went in front of the hotel to view the Detroit River. With Canada in front of us, Windsor’s reflection shone gloriously on the water. It was really just us. While everything Sunday turned out to be nothing short of a miracle, that was the moment. The trip was definitely about Detroit, the Lions, and seeing Peyton. But most of all, for 25-year old E and I, it was us as brothers being together.
That night, properly drunk, we were able to reminisce about the years we spent with our dog. The three of us were all like brothers, spending our pivotal development years with Kirby. To honor him and to have that night – that’s why we wake up every morning. That is the only reason why we even play the game of life.
We woke up the next morning pretty tired and hungover! But that is why we spent the night a day early. After slowly and steadily recovering, we were prime for Sunday Night Football.
Our hotel was so massive it has it’s own zip code. We had given ourselves just enough time to kind of get lost re-finding the “People Mover,” dodging drunks, and making our way through a crowd consuming the blocked off street along Comerica Park heading to Ford Field. But by the time we got in the long admission line, music was poppin from Chelios’ bar right outside and we were rockin’.
Thanks to Ethan, my ass kicker, we survived a moronic employee who sent us out of line to the handicap entrance, which turns out did not exist. Ethan convinced a G in a snakeskin Calvin Johnson jersey to let us sneak back in line. God bless him. By the time I took my 3rd row seat – having crutched the entire way (and night before) I was drenched in sweat. SWAG ON. (My Barry Sanders jersey agreed.)
We were just in time. 10-15 minutes ’til kickoff, providing us the intros and all the theatrics. It was a pretty defensive game to begin. The massiveness of NFLers was instantly apparent, as well as the size of the stadium and the field. Watching a game on TV with HD now is like a photoshopped girl on Instagram – something’s not right, just too good of an angle to be true. Think Tom Cruise.
“Megatron” Johnson does not need HD to be a giant. Or Eric Ebron. The cornerbacks, do. When Manning took the field, I stood up (to many likely confused Lions fans) and proclaimed, “Ladies and Gentlemen: the greatest quarterback in the history of the game.” I got ya back, Peyton. Manning was driving towards our end zone, but the Lions popped the ball into the air and picked off the GOAT with a dramatic diving interception. It was either already 7-0 or 0-0; an NFL game is more like a rock concert than a sporting event, it’s hard to exactly remember. And we were pretty sober.
I just think if you don’t see a game live, the ebb and flow and natural energy will be lost on you. There are 50,000 other people who, like you, give a fuck about a silly kid’s game. I love it.
Once we finally mixed in some running, it was 7-6. Our kicker had the XP blocked thanks to Goodell’s clown rules. We were heading into halftime essentially tied, until with 11 seconds left on 4th and 1 at midfield, Manning found his tall WR #88 for a jumpball at the ten, and with no safety help, he eluded the much smaller Darius Slay and snarfed into the end zone. These are not the momentum shifts we want right before halftime.
The crowd had been almost as loud as they get in Seattle. There are so many diehard Lions fans who look like they’ve been weathering storms since before I was born. And lest we forget “General Nuisance,” a G I saw and saluted walking in wearing a Jason Hanson jersey and a helmet with “General Nuisance” on it. Just a plain, silver army helmet. WE ARE ALL SOLDIERS IN YOUR ARMY GENERAL!
After Ethan and I ate (which would later not settle the best for General Ethan – they be cookin’ they meat too quick while pumpin ’em out at $10 a kabob), feeling good, Detroit controlled the 3rd quarter. We watched them score right in front of us on that screen pass to Ameer Abdullah. After watching us in person, it confirmed every suspicion we have on this site: all the talent and tools are there, but our offensive coordinator isn’t putting them to use. Jim Caldwell is fine. Our defense is good. But we barely rushed for any yards. That was Joe Lombardi’s problem last year when he came to Detroit: he inherited Reggie Bush and Joique Bell when both had 500/500 rushing/receiving yard seasons and failed to ever allow each to fulfill their potential last year.
There’s way too much pressure on Matthew Stafford, to constantly lead us, pass and bail us out, and literally on him in the form of blitzing foes while our O-Line sits and watches.
Denver really didn’t do shit. They just outsmarted us on a few play calls. Manning has not lost “it,” and he alone will continue to be a force to be reckoned with. Down 17-12, we sill looked to be in prime 4th quarter position. Until the refs finished Mr. Garrison-ing our Canadian Donald Trump.
How many calls were overturned? And how does Detroit seem to consistently be an ugly Betty to glamour cities? I’ll tell you what I saw in Detroit: a hardworking city with a heart beating strong, that is just waiting for you, rich people, to stop looking down on it. Detroit, like our sports teams hasn’t gone anywhere, we’re just poor and need help – like protecting our players when they earn the win.
After our final drive was ruled that fumble when it looked like an incomplete pass (even after further review), those real Lions fans stayed and accepted our fate. I watched my childhood hero stick the final dagger in us with another jump ball against Slay, then a tight end strike to Owen Daniels.
My voice is still hoarse. I had the time of my life: I got to fulfill a fantasy with seeing the Red Wings; we watched the fireworks explode over Comerica aboard the “People Mover” Saturday night; and we successfully made it to Ford Field. After finding our mom the right shirt, we headed back.
After snapping one last photo with our stadium, Ethan and I noticed a small crowd of Denver fans huddled around a parking lot gate. There were the Denver Broncos team buses, waiting to be boarded. I didn’t even know players did this or anything like it even existed – Danny Trevathan’ s grandma, in a wheelchair, waited amongst us along with many player’s families.
It was pretty much 200-300 die-hard Denver fans, friends, and families, and us. There were maybe 25 Lions fans, if that.
Trevathan came out through the gate to hug his grandma. Here he is, NFL linebacker, feet from me. After respectfully giving him his space, he posed with the crowd for pictures. I shook his hand and wished him luck on the season, and Ethan took a selfie with him.
Then pro bowl corner Aqib Talib came out. And they all rocked the suit. He found his group in the corner and signed some autographs. After much suspense, the GOAT emerged: that’s right, here came my hero.
Peyton Manning was like a rock star. I have only seen a crowd stampede like that in downtown Grand Rapids during gun fire. It’s an awful thing to witness, the mob-mentality of human beings.
Pressed against the person in front of me by insane losers behind me, I was basically watching my dreams slip through my hands: All I want is to shake his hand, I thought. But to do so would have meant being very un-Peyton like. Sure, I could have pulled a Tom Brady, shoved smaller people aside, and made an ass of myself. But I’m a writer, dammit – that’s why I sent him a letter a week ago telling him how much he’s meant to me, and why I may meet him again some day and do it proper.
I still tried, though – I ran around the corner to the final section of gate, where Peyton would finish an amazingly professional, slow, autograph circle. But I was still too many rows deep. That’s when I noticed a little girl who’d stood on top of a cement structure to get a view begging someone for help. It instantly put this silly chase into perspective and I helped her down. I feel damn good about that.
Everyone started to clear out now that the Messiah had left. I hollered at Chris Harris, who is very short (cornerback) and wandered over to Ethan, who, naturally, had just met Owen Daniels.
The Denver faithful were pretty respectful. As Ethan and I stood a few feet back, something brushed up against my foot. Almost like in Vegas Vacation, we see this slip on the ground and I’m pretty sure I can see Peyton’s autograph on it. I quickly pick it up and put it in my pocket, and we don’t look at it until we’re back in the hotel room. Sure enough: there appears to not only be one but five graphs from my idol #18!
How? Why? Who Cares?! It appeared to be folded over multiple times to trick poor mobbed Manning. Or who knows? We saw these autograph hounds ducking and weaving through the crowd, ultimate snarfing multiple balls and helmets to sell for sure. So maybe an asshole dropped it and it fell to a G? We’ll take it.
And that’s the end of our story. We were damn tired and crashed, but it let us be nicely rested for the drive home.
My family hasn’t always come together, but we did for Kirby, and we did this weekend. I thank my mom and stepdad for providing transportation and helping us out. I thank my dad for showing us all the Detroit teams and hooking us up with such nice seats and our hotel accommodation. And first and foremost, I thank my brother, Ethan, for being the best friend anyone could ever ask for.
We did it.
(And our spirit will live on forever in the D.)
Go Red Wings.
And Go Peyton.