(Puts on Vince Mancini hat, dusts off Armond White’s seminal work, “Ethnic Frisson: Pretentiously Overbearing Pontification in Mid-Pre-Post-Modern Cinematic TruthBombing”)
I am continually fascinated by Detroit in the context of movies.
It’s now a tired cliché of dime-store film school refugees and bored-as-shit-on-a-film-junket directors to talk about how New York City is itself a character in a movie. As if the giant gaping maw of the world’s most self-involved, self-important cesspit was spouting dialogue from its rat-infested $2000-a-month studio “apartments,” greed-built monuments to Fucking Over Other People and Laughing in the Financial District , and 10th story Brooklyn walk-ups that are just perfect for starting that artisanal dental floss business that you’ve been dreaming of since a week ago.
Other than Boston, whose sole line is “AAAAHHHHN’T WE GRITTYYYYY!?!”, the only city who is consistently a character in movies set there is Detroit. Sure, other Rust Belt cities can be used to when you need to show economic hardship, blue-collar community and Post-Manufacturing America. But Detroit stands alone when a film needs to portray decay. Detroit was such a point of pride for so long, synonymous with the automobile industry that was in turn synonymous with America, that its long slide into violence and desolation makes it synonymous with falling from grace. It’s Marlon Brando’s “I coulda been somebody” line from On the Waterfront, rendered in concrete and brick and plywood boards. You cannot set a movie there post 1965 without chaos and death being the dominant tones—except the criminally-underrated Grosse Pointe Blank, which is a black comedy that delights in irony and perversity. It’s no coincidence that Kathryn Bigelow, most well-known for her stark and unflinching portrayal of the Second Iraq War in the Hurt Locker, decided to challenge herself by taking on Detroit in this year’s Detroit. For fucks’ sake, you don’t even need to know more about the movie than its name to know that you’re in for some dark, unflinching unpleasantness, the only question being when in the city’s long death rattle they chose to set it.
“Why, Reverend,” you ask, “why are you rambling on and on about movies? This is ostensibly a football site, and this article is explicitly a season preview for the Lions, not a meditation on urban decay.”
First, because I have been drinking. Second, because I am a Secret Film Nerd. But mostly, it’s because the Lions and the city seem to have their fates inextricably linked. The Lions were once contenders as well, champions even- in the 1950s. Now, it’s a pretty good year if they are not a laughingstock of the league—and they have not had many pretty good years.
Forget about 0-16, Charles Rogers, Dan Orlovsky, Matt Millen, Martin Mayhew, etc. The more embarrassing and damning names for this franchise are its two greatest: Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson. No other team can boast of having broken the spirits of not one but two Hall-of-Fame talents enough to run them out of football entirely. That’s championship-level shitty.
“But Mayhem!” you interject again, “They were 9-7 last year! They went to the playoffs! Why are you bagging on them like they were the Bills or something?”
First, I refer you again to my alcohol consumption. Second, stop interrupting my flow. Third, they had an incredibly advantageous schedule, in which they played the perennial Sick Man of the League AFC South, plus the Bears twice and the Rams. Six games that should have been walkovers, plus the who-are-they-this-week Titans. Amazingly, they lost one of those games to the Bears. The Beeeeeaaars. Dwell on that for a moment. Tastes sour, doesn’t it? Also, they were pathologically unable to run the ball, averaging 81.9 yards per game and never had a rusher break 90 yards in a game. It may be an air-first league, but that shit’s not sustainable. If you keep pulling the trigger on Matthew Stafford Roulette, you’re going to end up with your brain pick-sixed all over the floor like Christopher Walken in the Deer Hunter.
Based upon the fact that the offensive line has had more personnel changes than a 70s rock band on a reunion tour, I’m not thinking the rushing situation is going to improve. Guard Larry Warford is gone. Left tackle Taylor Decker is in limbo after shoulder surgery this summer, currently on the Physically Unable to Perform List (Sponsored by Cialis). They brought in massive disappointment (massive in both senses) Greg Robinson to try and shore up left tackle. Pro tip: if the Rams offer you a young #2 overall draft pick after declining to pick up his 5th-year option, they are saying the shitty 6th round pick you offered is more valuable to them. He is not good enough to even be a backup for the Rams. What does that say about you? The Lions lost quality young tackle Riley Reiff to Minnesota, but signed TJ Lang away from the Packers. They also signed a “Ricky Wagner” at right tackle, who is apparently a refugee from Baltimore. If you had asked me, I would have assumed he was a NASCAR driver- in one of the lower series where they drive Midget Trucks or something. Either way, that’s a lot of shuffling.
The other line is not doing much better. Ziggy Ansah is also on the PUP list, and the slowly decomposing corpse of Haloti Ngata is beginning to give off a smell that you cannot ignore, collecting 11 solo tackles and 1.5 sacks in 13 games last season. A’Shawn Robinson is pretty good though. The success of the back of the defense will turn largely on how much their secondary is asked to do. If they play normal Lions football (i.e. playing from behind, allowing the other team playing conservatively), they should be fine, although Glover Quin continues to bravely play after having an “n” amputated. If the truly unlikely happens and the offense is clicking consistently, these guys are going to break under the strain and every game is going to become a Saints-style shootout.
Fortunately for the secondary, it’s unlikely that the offensive “skill” positions will give them large leads to blow. Golden Tate is still pretty good. Marvin Jones continues to benefit from not being in Cincinnati. They have a training-camp hero third-round receiver named “Kenny Golladay.” The backfield, however, is going to be an Ameer Abdullah/Theo Riddick/Zach Zenner shit sandwich, with each one vying to be the first one put on injured reserve so he can escape Detroit and go somewhere decent for the winter. They also brought in Matt Asiata from the Vikings, who you may remember as the answer to the question “Why Do The Vikings Put Up With Adrian Peterson?”
And then there’s Matt Stafford. I’m going to put away the Fat Elvis jokes and acknowledge that he is a mid-career serviceable NFL quarterback, which is a rare commodity. Unfortunately, “serviceable” presents its own set of issues, because he’s eating up $22 million in cap space (and fried pies…sorry, sorry) for not actively killing his team’s chances at winning. Not that Detroit would do anything intelligent with more cap space if they had it, but he’s about to get a hefty (goddamnit, stop it with the fat jokes, Mayhem) raise in a contract extension or franchise tag. So even if the Lions do finally drag their carcasses to the “one player away” point of success, they’re going to have a hard time actually getting that player.
Then again, who knows? There’s always the draft, and the chance that they’ve somehow lucked into another future Hall of Famer instead of needing free agents. Of course, given the Lions, they’ll probably drive him to retire in disgust by Thanksgiving.