The National Football League has long stopped trying to hide the fact that it hates you, wants you and your relatives dead, and wants you to remember it in your estate planning. The parade of felonies, courtroom obstinacy, a rulebook that may as well be written in Middle English with nobody available to interpret it, and a new reliance on gambling money that will absolutely lead to fixed games (hurray!) and a puritan backlash (boo!) have all combined to make it a slot parlor with adjoining weight room. Why the owners haven’t replaced Roger Goodell with what remains of the rotted-out corpse of Lee Strasberg as Hyman Roth is a bafflement.
Thus, this coming Thursday. 12:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, 11:30 a.m. in the midwest, 9:30 on the West Coast, 2 p.m. in Newfoundland. Your Chicago Bears at Someone Else’s Detroit Lions for three-and-one-half consecutive hours. If this doesn’t show you what they think of you, nothing will.
This will dredge up the usual complaints about the Lions’ hegemony over the early Thanksgiving window, to which we say in all love, “Fall down a well.” This isn’t about the Lions. It’s about who’s been matched against the Lions, and these Bears are as brackish a goulash as has ever been served out of a fisherman’s hip waders.
Still, it is fashionable to blame the Lions, and has been since the glory days of 2008. The Lions were 0-11 under the blank expressions of Rod Marinelli, Dan Orlovsky, and the aged-out Daunte Culpepper and Jon Kitna en route to becoming the first team to go 0-16, and they’d been matched against a Jeff Fisher Tennessee team that was 10-1 at the time. The Lions were edged at the final gun, 47-10, and people demanded to know and why Billy Ford’s misfit menagerie automatically got such a prime viewing spot.
The logic was simple. Thanksgiving is allegedly a time to gather with loved ones and pretend that family still matters in the Mad Max days upon which we are embarking. People bring foods you wouldn’t normally eat in quantities that would make children explode, argue about deep-frying as opposed to spatchcocking, bring up sensitive events everyone works hard not to raise, fall asleep in the easy chair then wake up half-hung over for the drive home, then harbor fresh estate-based resentments that carry on through the gantlet of religious holidays and into the new year. And to these people in desperate need of the kindness of strangers, you present the Detroit Lions? Bastardy has never shown its hand so brazenly.
Since the team left the fallow mudboggery of Tiger Stadium in 1974, which made every Thanksgiving game potentially fun viewing, they have had to make their football do the talking, and as we all know, Lions football talks in an asthmatic wheeze. People didn’t seem to mind that much when they took a 2-8 record against Kansas City, 1-9, in the 1987 game (Lions won, 20-0), just because we were more acquiescent folk back then and not every matchup was expected to be gold.
But Thanksgiving morning is on a run of zinc here, as Texans-Lions (3-7 vs. 4-6) showed last year, and Football Team–Lions (1-9 vs. 3-7-1) did the year before. Usually, the league would be more skilled at providing better competition on the theory that if you give the folks a mansion on one sideline, maybe they won’t notice that the garage across the field is on fire. And even if there was the odd stinker, the schedule pigs would take care not to go back-to-back. Now, though, the league strings bad matchups together as though nobody cares who plays the Lions, and putting a long-predicted eyesore Bears team is just a new knuckle-and-phalanx addition to the world’s longest middle finger.
I mean, everyone saw Bears-Lions coming from Day One, and Justin Fields would have had to rush for 347 yards to save it. He’s probably not playing, though; battered ribs from all those games trying to rush for 347 yards. No, this little gem starts with Andy Dalton, who was supposed to be Fields’s on-field mentor and lasted 88 minutes and 10 seconds. Across the field, the Lions will give you Tim Boyle, whose Sunday performance in service of his ridiculous team was so rough that his quarterback rating was five points lower than if he had thrown 1,000 consecutive incompletions.
These teams are genuine eyesores joined at the face, because they are so alike in their obstinate inertia. They are both owned by nonagenarian widows who have understood their limitations but have still managed to repeatedly turn the football operations over to a series of nincompoops. There are rumors the Bears might be for sale to avoid having to spend family money to replace Soldier Field, but Ford just turned the franchise over to her daughter Sheila, and her first idea was Dan Campbell.
Their fanbases are plentiful but disgusted. Campbell’s grand plan to change the team’s culture of losing started with Jared Goff and hasn’t gotten any closer than a comedy tie against Pittsburgh a week ago. The most notable thing about the season is the record, as the Lions try to become not just the only team in NFL history to have two winless seasons but to pad their lead by completing a third.
To the west, Bears coach Matt Nagy has been hailed, then distrusted, and is now loathed in the normal Bears cycle—a year of forgiveness, a year of impatience, and then drinking games surrounding when he gets fired, amid debate over whether there are double points for firing general manager Ryan Pace.
In a year devoted to the twin tenets that no team is good but many are bad, the Bears and Lions are the worst combination of them all, in tandem a declaration of entertainment war. The only thing one can be thankful for, to be honest, is that Jacksonville has never been asked to play on Thanksgiving Day, and a Campbell-Meyer matchup would make Satan switch to prescription sunglasses.
Anyway, that’s how your Thursday starts, you poor slobs. That puts a lot of pressure on the turkey to be great and the wine plentiful, and by plentiful, we mean vat-depth. Don’t let Bears-Lions destroy you, is all we can say, because it definitely can. Roger Goodell may hate you on behalf of his 32 flesh-devouring overlords, but that’s no reason for you to hate yourself. You have plenty of other reasons on your own.