Paul’s season tickets had been in his family for years.
The clan first got comfortable when the Lions were playing at Tiger Stadium. They kept the tickets when the team moved to Pontiac and the Silverdome; and did likewise when Ford Field opened in Detroit.
They held at least eight season tickets, and because they had been in the family so long, the seats were outstanding. They were at the club level, and they rested right at the 50-yard-line.
Consequently, Paul spent so many seasons steeped in abject frustration he nearly wound up in therapy. Give him a Rorschach Test and every ink blot would have resembled some of the team’s long-held ineptitude.
That blot is a fumble. That smudge is an interception. Those drips are an opposing team’s late drive for the winning touchdown.
And so it went until Paul finally snapped a few years ago. He gave up his tickets.
I wonder how he’s feeling these days, when the Lions are about to play their most important game in recent memory? San Diego comes to town for a 4 p.m. kickoff Saturday, and the contest definitely has playoff implications.
If the Lions (9-5) win, they will clinch a wild-card berth in the playoffs. It will be their first trip to the post-season since 1999.
The regular-season closes with a game against the Packers in Lambeau Field on January 1.
Leo was a huge fan of the Lions. He bought his season tickets so long ago that I am not sure the players were even wearing facemasks. I know they pre-dated names like Schmidt and Karras and Plum.
He loved going to watch the Lions play, but they drove him nuts. He saw way more losses than wins, but he would still drive that small camper of his to the stadium hours before game time, tailgate and enjoy the atmosphere.
Leo would take his only grandson, Andrew, with him on occasion. It was a thrill for both. Those are memories that Andrew embraces to this day. He took it hard when Grandpa Leo died.
Andrew kept those season tickets. There are two on the rail at about the 20-yard-line. He’ll have an excellent vantage point tomorrow at Ford Field.
Paul’s the exception. Despite the historical incompetence of the organization, fans of the Lions have been incredibly loyal.
They have embraced supremely talented players like Barry Sanders, Billy Sims, Charlie Sanders and Joe Schmidt. They have also cheered on those with names like Komlo, Hilger, Ware, Boden and Pinner.
They were there when the team went 0-16 in 2008 and 2-14 in 2001. They were there in 1991 when the team went 12-4, beat the Cowboys 38-6 in the divisional playoffs and then got trounced 41-10 by the Redskins in the conference championship.
It’s been like a wedding vow. For better or for worse. Only worse has been much more prevalent than better.
Rather than a Who’s Who of coaches, it’s mostly been a Who’re They? Rick Forzano, Tommy Hudspeth, Monte Clark, Darryl Rogers, Marty Mornhinweg and Rod Marinelli.
Still, the fans came to cheer on the team. They came when Russ Thomas was in the front office and stayed even when Matt Millen was unleashing his reign of inept terror. Millen was president and CEO of the Lions from 2001 to 2008. During that eight-year stretch, the team won 31 games and lost 97.
But that is all ancient history. Like Coach Jim Schwartz tells his players, it is one day at a time. That is a sane approach for a coach who inherited a 0-16 team just three seasons ago.
In incredibly short order, Schwartz and Martin Mayhew have somehow managed to erase a lot of the historical ineptitude. They have done it with smart drafts, good personnel moves during free agency, and a competent coaching staff.
Sure the Lions have weaknesses. Their running game, especially without the oft-injured Jahvid Best, is mediocre at best. Defensively, they have trouble stopping the run. Their secondary is susceptible.
But every team has problems. Nobody knows that more than fans of the Lions.
Paul sold his tickets a few years’ back. Leo would’ve loved to see Saturday’s game.
It will be a festive holiday atmosphere at Ford Field. Merry Christmas, long-suffering fans of the Lions.