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Friday, October 7, 2011
Lions and Tigers: Bless you boys

By LZ Granderson
ESPN.com

Alex Rodriguez was still swinging the Yankees to their final out of the season when my Twitter feed exploded with the hashtag #BlessYouBoys.

Justin Verlander
Tigers fans, with Justin Verlander on their side, know their team can win.

That was the rallying cry that propelled the 1984 Detroit Tigers to the franchise's last World Series win. It's the anchoring sentiment for a town desperate for things to cheer for.

The Motor City's much-talked-about economic struggles have driven away more than 500,000 people in the 27 years since that championship. There are neighborhoods with far more empty homes than occupied ones and silent schools with locks on the doors, and a national reputation that screams "stay away."

So yes -- bless you boys.

You've given us reason to smile.

Funny thing now is, I'm not quite sure I know which "boys" I want to thank more.

Yes, the Tigers are heading to Texas and will be back home for Games 3 and 4 (and 5, if needed) of the American League Championship Series, but before they arrive, the Detroit Lions are hosting "Monday Night Football" for the first time in 10 years.

And they're good.

We think.

We'll find out Monday.

While the Tigers have proved to be better than advertised, the Lions have proved there is a difference between winning a game and beating a team.

Yes, Green Bay is also undefeated, but the Lions are not in the Packers' class. As happy as we are in the city, fans also know the Lions haven't actually beaten a squad since Week 2-- a 48-3 thrashing of Kansas City.

Matthew Stafford
Matthew Stafford and the Lions could make a statement about the franchise's turnaround Monday night.

Since then, they've been the beneficiary of questionable second-half play calling by the Vikings and the charitable donations of St. Tony of Dallas. (Bless you, my boy.)

I know, I know, beggars, especially those without a winning season in a decade, can't be choosers. But the thing is, who is begging?

Just as Tigers ace Justin Verlander makes Detroiters feel as if we have a chance against anyone, Lions coach Jim Schwartz -- with his trademark fist pumps and smack talk during postgame press conferences -- suggests Detroiters should be upset the Lions have fallen behind early these past two games more so than relieved the team clawed its way back.

In other words -- expect to win.

I want to, but Monday has to be special.

"Starting off 4-0 makes us sit up straight and say, 'Oh, maybe this can happen, maybe we can be taken seriously in the NFL,'" Detroit city council president Charles Pugh said. "But we can't afford to screw it up. The world is watching. If we want to bring Detroit back and showcase it as a world-class city, then we can't afford to suck on national TV.

"What we hope is to be 5-0 and be the only undefeated team left in the NFL. After so many years of being the joke, now is our time to announce our arrival. The Eminem commercial during the Super Bowl started it; we need to continue it, and a big win Monday helps us do that."

When you're on the outside, the idea of a hurting city rallying around a sports team all sounds a bit cliché. And while the impact is never as grand as it's often times reported on national TV, there is something to be said about being associated with a top team in the country's most popular sport.

The Detroit Pistons had a very successful run in the 2000s, but they play 45 minutes outside of the city. The Red Wings are successful, but hockey doesn't matter to casual sports fans outside a few border states. The Tigers and Lions are across the street from one another in the heart of Detroit -- one America's pastime, the other its lifeblood. To finally matter in both sports is like coming out of the cold.

Lions Fans
Lions fans now have a winning team, a rarity in recent seasons.

As fellow Detroiter and NBA player Shane Battier tweeted shortly after the Tigers eliminated the Yankees Thursday night, "People who live outside Michigan don't understand what the Tigers and Lions are doing for people here. It's bigger than just winning games."

He's right.

The winning lifts spirits.

So much so, some folks here have allowed the phrase "NFL playoffs" to slip out of their mouths.

Prematurely, of course.

Remember how we got excited when then-starting QB Jon Kitna predicted the team would win at least 10 games before the 2007-08 season? Then the Lions got off to that fast 6-2 start? Then they lost seven of their last eight, followed by that infamous 0-16 season. Despite being 4-0, USA Today ranks the Lions No. 6 heading into Week 5, reflecting that they very well could be 2-2. Reflecting the knowledge that wins have come against teams with a combined record of 6-10.

No, before we get too far ahead of ourselves and start ordering postseason football tickets, I would first like the Lions to stop relying on the kindness of others to help them win games. Monday I would like the Lions to go out and beat the living snot out of the Chicago Bears in front of the world.

Then I want Schwartz to give a fist pump.

Then I want the Tigers to win Games 3 and 4.

And through it all I want to see #BlessYouBoys trend worldwide … and not know which boys I should be most thankful for.

LZ Granderson is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at lzgranderson@yahoo.com.

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