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Thank God

9:03 AM EST on January 15, 2024

Jared Goff walks off the field after the conclusion of the Rams-Lions game
Jorge Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The playoffs only matter because everybody dies. On an infinite timeline, with a finite number of teams, everybody eventually wins the big one. The trick—unless Super Bowl parties also happen beyond the material world—is in the timing. Once you leave, your shot at learning how it feels to win one of these stupid little games is gone for good.

I was completely hysterical for a little over three hours on Sunday night. It was the first-ever playoff game I had witnessed take place in Detroit. It was a chance to see the Lions win in the postseason for the first time in my life. And it was the first time, after three prior failures, that I could turn on the playoffs with a legitimate belief that the team had a real shot at winning the whole dang thing. After a 24-23 triumph against Los Angeles, they still do.

I cried just looking at the stadium at 8:00 p.m. ET, feeling familial bonds with everybody wearing Honolulu blue. Throughout the grand journey that began with my first game at the Silverdome in 2001 (a loss, duh), both the Lions' own shortcomings and the culture around that constant disappointment imparted lessons that have guided me far beyond football. This team taught me how to take a knockout punch to the chin and tune in next week anyway, how to laugh when life screws you over, and what it means to look a historical rock-bottom in the eye and not give up. But to articulate why I had tears in my eyes before the ball was even kicked, all I could manage at the moment was, I'm so happy I didn't die before I could see this.

I'll never stop being grateful for that first quarter. Jared Goff set the tone on the Lions' first two drives, where they established a 14-3 lead by both spreading the ball and clearing space up front for David Montgomery. Even though our old buddy Matt Stafford seemed to get stronger every time he was hit, and even though the secondary kept losing its grip on Puka Nacua, the early touchdowns and Detroit's red-zone defense still combined to ensure that the Rams never held a lead through the entire game. A gift within a gift for those of us hanging by a thread.

It was still kind of miserable, at least objectively. My pregame tears gave way to a marathon headache and an endless panic attack. I made one single drink last three quarters, but nevertheless I stayed disoriented and then nauseated as the grind of a second half chewed up my guts. Every time I thought to take a deep breath, I felt like a diver coming up for air. I willed the clock to move faster, and cursed the back-to-back commercial breaks taken when the Rams cut it to one. My muttered "come on" mantra devolved into a more pathetic prayer of "Please, guys."

Then Amon-Ra St. Brown caught a pass for a first down with under two minutes remaining, and the Rams could only rue their wasted timeouts.

The kneel-downs brought back more tears, mixed with some unstoppable deranged laughter—the kind that would come for you if your dog started reciting Shakespeare, or your car sprouted wings and flew. I told outsiders in the buildup to Sunday that the Lions winning the Super Bowl would be like the first moon landing, localized to the fans of one state. In retrospect, I was looking too far ahead. Sunday night was the giant leap I'd been waiting for. With just this one night, the most fundamental truth about the most universal experience from all my time spent growing up in Michigan changed forever.

But it's not over. They actually play more games after the first round of the playoffs. But the Lions, now, will be playing them on equal footing with every other franchise whose fans know what it's like to win these games. We're no longer thirsting for one measly drop of glory. We're no longer thrilled at the privilege of hosting a playoff game in Detroit. Getting one on Sunday night was an unforgettable moment of beautiful unity. Now we want three more.

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