A Long-Awaited Redemption for the Detroit Lions

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Christian Petersen / Getty Images

Fans of the Detroit Lions react in the final moments of an NFL game at Ford Field on Nov. 23, 2008, in Detroit

For many here, the Detroit Lions' surprise victory over the Washington Redskins late Sunday affirmed a regional belief in redemption despite profoundly grim odds. Until that game, the Lions had tortured its most ardent fans with a 19-game losing streak that began in December 2007. Many Michigan residents had come to view the Lions' plight as a reflection of the state's own battle to overcome its economic crisis. So when when the team won 19-14, the relatively sparse crowd in the Detroit stadium roared, and the players wept.

Over the past 21 months, the Lions' persistent losses caused many to hang their heads in shame at the mention of the team's name — or simply stop paying attention. Tickets to Lions' home games, at the 65,000-seat Ford Field in downtown Detroit, are practically given away. The roughly 40,800 people who showed up on Sept. 27 comprised one of the smallest crowds ever to watch a football game there — and reportedly one of the thinnest to attend a Lions home game in 20 years. The game wasn't even televised here: the NFL blocks local television stations from showing home games if tickets aren't sold out at least 72 hours before the kickoff.

Perhaps to dramatize the television blackout in metropolitan Detroit, a Free Press reporter drove some 160 miles across the state to Grand Rapids to live-blog the game from a chicken-wing restaurant. At a dinner party the night of the game, word of the Lions' win sparked mixed reactions. "Say what?" one woman asked upon hearing the news. Another dinner attendee, retired auto executive Mark Reynolds, compared the Lions to the New York Mets of 1969 — the year the Mets eschewed their status as one of professional baseball's worst-performing teams by winning the World Series. "They had fans wishing, and praying, that this year, finally, they'd win. But of course, until 1969, they never did," Reynolds said yesterday. (Even Reynolds, however, seems to have given up on the Lions, having channeled his sports attention toward the more successful Red Wings.)

A local columnist likened the scene in the moments after the win at Ford Field to Lourdes. "Wounds were washed clean. Souls were healed. Fans and players, some near tears, thanked each other for enduring," wrote Mitch Albom on the Free Press's website. "It was as if some mystical prison doors had been sprung, and everyone was getting to go home." Ultimately, the Lions may prove to be something for this beleaguered region to believe in.

Sean Gregory contributed to this report