Dino Cacciola was leaving to attend a Lions game when his youngest son offered up a question: Why are you going to the game if you know...
Dino Cacciola was leaving to attend a Lions game when his youngest son offered up a question: Why are you going to the game if you know they’re going to lose?
“When your 6-year-old stumps you, what do you do?” he asked.
You decide to take a stand. Or a walk. Or perhaps a combination of both, which is exactly what Cacciola and 15 or so of his closest tailgating friends plan to do today in Detroit, and they’re inviting anyone else who’s sick and tired of suffering through the NFL purgatory that passes for Lions football to walk out of the stadium with eight minutes left in the second quarter.
Hey, it’s only a quarter earlier than fans usually start leaving, Cacciola joked. He is 39, a business consultant who works in intranet development, and his tailgating group has promoted the walkout on various Web sites. He has a family, two sons and an affection for a team that can feel more like an affliction.
The Lions are 2-12, tied for the worst record in the league. They’ve won a single playoff game since their NFL championship in 1957. They are 23-71 since president Matt Millen came to the franchise in 2001, and at some point logic starts to overwhelm any level of loyalty.
“You ever go to the movies?” Cacciola asked. “And the movie really sucks and you get up and leave. You want to ask for your money back, but you can’t get your money back. You’ve already sat through it.”
Instead, they’ll turn their backs and walk out. They’ll be the guys in Detroit jerseys, “Nineteen” written where the last name should be and numbered 57. That was the last year the Lions won a championship, and the next one doesn’t appear imminent.
It’s not Millen they’re mad at so much as the guy who gave him all the rope to strangle a franchise for the better part of a decade, and that’s owner William Ford. Millen fired two head coaches, drafted three wide receivers in the first round, only one of whom has panned out, and still the guy gets a five-year extension.
Maybe now it’s clear why there were so many Steelers fans in Detroit for last year’s Super Bowl. The city tired of the hometown franchise’s stench.
But the world already has enough fans who change allegiances as often as the players change teams. Eric Alessandri doesn’t see cheering for the Lions as a choice.
“Your home team is an accident of birth just like your family,” said Alessandri, part of the same tailgate group as Cacciola. “You don’t choose your home team.”
He compared being a Lions fan to being born into a hostage situation, and he’s not sure how much more he’s willing to take. But for now, he still holds season tickets, which he equated to the little old lady in a casino, sitting in front of the same slot machine.
“They keep pumping their silver dollars into the one-armed bandit,” Alessandri said. “And they’re unwilling to give up their seat because somebody else will come along and get the jackpot.”
Allegiance is one thing, acceptance something else. This summer, Orioles fans walked out of a game in Baltimore, and some of the Lions fans found it a pretty powerful statement.
Then came the low point of Detroit’s season, a Thanksgiving game against Miami that made every Lions fan feel like an absolute turkey. Joey Harrington came back to beat the team that drafted him No. 3 overall in 2002, watched him go 18-37 as a starter in four years in Detroit and then traded him to the Miami Dolphins.
So it wasn’t the quarterback after all, and it wasn’t the coach because Rod Marinelli is the Lions’ third since 2001. The problem is somewhere upstairs, but the fans feel the ultimate trickle-down effect. That’s what today’s walkout will be about.
“I’d love to see 40,000 people walk out,” said Jason Baxter, who tailgates along with Cacciola. “I have no illusion that’s going to happen … our tailgate group expressing our displeasure in our way.”
And that will be going out to the parking lot for a final tailgate and heading home to be with their families, and Cacciola will be going home to a pair of sons who are 6 and 7 and already starting to cheer for the Lions.
“I can’t tell them they need to root for the Bears,” Cacciola joked.
Danny O’Neil: 206-464-2364 or email@example.com