I have a bad history of being a fan of losing sports teams. The Detroit Tigers didn’t post a winning season for the first 13 years of my life. I inherited fandom for the Chicago Cubs, who haven’t won a World Series since 1908, from my dad. Somewhere in there I was able to fit in the Detroit Lions. I promise I still had a good childhood regardless.

David Harris

Eventually there comes a point where the losing is embraced — specifically on t-shirts. Though the greatest shirt in Detroit sports history will always be one that reads, “DON KELLY TAUGHT MEGATRON EVERYTHING HE KNOWS” (there really isn’t a need for explanation there, it’s official dogma of the Church of Detroit Sports), perhaps the most enduring one to describe the past three-quarters of a century is a Detroit Lions shirt that has all the design and makings of a conference champions shirt but instead of “Conference Champions” reads “Conference Participants.” This shirt has become my go-to apparel for all important sports games in which the Lions are participating in, as well as the games they are not. And one of those games the Lions have been guaranteed not to play in: the Super Bowl.

One thing stays consistent at every Super Bowl party: the constant making fun of the Lions fan in the room. Trash talking is inevitably part of sports culture, but there’s a special sadness from the soul of any football fan for the Lions; it’s simply no fun to make fun of a team that has won nothing. So when the Red Hot Chili Peppers took the stage for the half time show at the Super Bowl earlier this year and their drummer, Chad Smith, who grew up in Bloomfield Hills, Mich, had an insignia of the Lions logo (among other teams) on his drum set, everyone said, “Look! The Lions finally made it to the Super Bowl!”

Somewhere during the Seahawks’ 43-8 victory over the Broncos the attention shifted from the game outcome to the various 25-cent bets we would make on the game (Will Pete Carroll be chewing gum in the 3rd quarter? Over-under on number of times Peyton Manning says “Omaha” on this drive: 7) and even Super Bowl Bingo. Eventually someone asked me, “Hey David, would you rather have the Lions continue to not make the Super Bowl, or make it and get obliterated like the Broncos?”

It’s an easy answer: of course I’d rather see the Lions make it all the way than fall short of glory. But somewhere that question highlights a deeper perspective.

Somehow missing field goal after field goal to start the season still hurts even when you’ve become numb to the losses and feelings of sports heartbreak no longer register. Somehow every year restores the confidence that “this is our year,” with no bearing given to past results. The unofficial slogan of the Lions for the past 50 years has been “Restore the Roar.” It’s still the slogan this year, and it’s possible it will be next year too. But nobody thinks about next year yet, because just maybe this is the year.

Somewhere in the seemingly endless despair the Lions have apparently become a microcosm of the city of Detroit. Not only has its football team been comically labeled as participants, Detroit has lacked any description of a “winning” city. It flirts with escape, yet continually toils in depression, stuck in an age it can’t seem to escape. But there persists the attitude that the Roar of Detroit too will be restored.

For the past few years, Ford Field has been one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL. It has no name for its fans like the “12th MAN” of the Seattle Seahawks or the “cheeseheads” of the Green Bay Packers. The fans at Ford Field are nothing more than a bunch of Honolulu-blue-clad people with tickets who show up to support a football team.

So too are the people of Detroit. There’s no collective identity that defines a Detroiter, no classification of who the citizens of Detroit are. They are simply people. And when a lot of people get together for the same cause, they make a lot of noise.

Gov. Rick Snyder said during the gubernatorial election debate last week that, “Detroit never had a brighter future.” The Lions haven’t won a Super Bowl yet. Detroit still has its myriad of problems. But the bright future of the city shines through. Its people show up time and time again for the city because just maybe this is the year not just for our football team, but for our city.

David Harris can be reached at daharr@umich.edu.

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