I will get to Brian Burke in a moment.
Right now, I want to talk about the Detroit Lions.
They lost, the Lions did, to Tennessee 47-10 Thursday and the best I can say is they did not blow a lead.
At 0-12 the Lions are steaming towards the first 0-16 season in NFL history.
I grew up in Sarnia, an hour from Detroit. For that reason, I am a Lions’ fan. Sometimes geography proves an even greater curse than genetics.
What you need to know is this: the Detroit Lions are an infinitely worse bet than the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Maple Leafs, Stanley Cup champions in 1967, have had four final four teams since 1993. The Lions won their last championship in 1957. They have won exactly one playoff game in my lifetime and I am really, really old.
And yet, I watch the Detroit Lions. I am somehow comforted by their ineptitude.
There is little we can count on in this world. They updated Betty and Veronica thereby ruining the age-old question. Reasonable prospects for retirement, Bernie Mac, the assured existence of the Big 3 automakers…all gone.
In the face of this, I can count on the Lions to lose and I wonder…
That the Detroit Lions have been this bad for this long is the kind of statistical anomaly that hints, hints I say, at divine mischief-making.
It seems impossible that one factor, human error, could lead to so much losing.
Indeed, pondering the Lions means ruminating on the very nature of life. Are we directed by an intercessionary, occasionally puckish almighty who, for reasons he keeps to himself, likes to kick certain sports teams in the teeth? Or are the fates decided somewhat less soothingly, by a celestial roulette wheel.
Stick with me, I’m getting to Brian Burke.
There are two types of losing teams: perennials and, despite all evidence, temporary.
Both teams inspire radically different beliefs.
When Jackie Gleason died in 1987, someone asked the president of RALPH, the biggest fan club of the iconic show The Honeymooners, why people related so strongly to Gleason’s Brooklyn bus driver Ralph Kramden.
The guy from RALPH answered that there is a persistent, unflagging optimism in people that was summed up perfectly in Kramden, the rotund lovable loser.
When you buy a lottery ticket you are Ralph Kramden. When you dream about winning and then lose, you are Ralph Kramden. And when you buy yet another and believe every bit as fervently, then you are Ralph Kramden more than ever.
There has never been a darker hour for the Detroit Lions than this one. And so, I find true familiarity, even comfort in it. Just wait, it’ll get worse. Someone will make up a longer schedule.
The opposite is true of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Fans remember Doug and Wendel and Mats and Curtis and wonder when a renewal will present itself.
This is not a drought of any real proportion. There has been no Stanley Cup since 1967 in Chicago, or Atlanta, or Buffalo, or Columbus, or Florida, Los Angeles, Minnesota, Nashville, Ottawa, Phoenix, St. Louis San Jose and Vancouver.
Aside from the Hawks, Those teams haven’t won one Cup. The Leafs have won 11.
And now comes Brian Burke, a figure who has won everywhere, an executive with a platinum resume and, just as importantly, a self-belief to match.
Lions’ fans find comfort in defeat. Leafs’ fans, and this is why I love them, have an unshakable belief. They are dead certain they have won the lottery.
Here’s hoping they have.