James Cook: Lions playoff win special in many ways

Jan. 19—My dad had been unresponsive for several days after a long battle with esophageal cancer left him too weak to undergo surgery that could possibly save his life.

After a long, agonizing couple of days, our family made the decision to let him go and take him off the respirator.

When the respirator was removed, he sat up and was immediately responsive.

For a moment, we thought a miracle happened.

The minister on hand — who had undoubtedly seen this happen many times before and knew it was fleeting — tried to find some humor in the moment.

"Well, Jim, the Lions lost."

Dad smiled and then slipped away not long after. That was in 2001.

Being a minister himself, going to Detroit Lions games with my dad wasn't in the cards. Sundays were incredibly busy days for our family, especially in the morning. Still, we'd watch every Sunday, even when the Lions weren't good. Maybe it was a way for Dad to just relax for a few hours after ending another stressful week.

It became a tradition upheld to this day. The Lions must be watched, regardless of how good or bad the team happens to be that year. As most of you know, the bad overshadowed the good most of the last 50 years.

No matter. The game goes on. I watch, no matter what.

My first Lions game in person was way back at the Pontiac Silverdome. A college buddy, Brad Monastiere, took me along with his father. It was amazing. The Lions faced the New York Jets and didn't win, of course, but that hardly mattered.

In the years since, my wife and I usually go to a couple of games a season in person, watching all the rest on TV.

My parents were always there when I needed them.

Awaking from a two-day coma after a severe car accident in 1996, the first thing I saw through blurry eyes was my dad's faint outline.

I don't even know if Dad was really that huge of a Lions fan, but it was something we did together for 16 weeks each fall and winter. That's good enough for me, especially after losing him while still in my 20s.

So I loyally watched for years and years as the Lions toiled in mediocrity, even with some of the league's all-time best players to lean on. Through thick and thin — mostly thin — I kept following a team that usually didn't provide that much in return.

Years passed, and I reconnected with a friend from high school who lives in Lake City. Another friend named Brad, he had a similar devotion to the Lions — and for a similar reason. It was something he did with his dad, who had since passed.

Folks who continually criticized the Lions were unknowingly taking a shot at his childhood memories of time spent with his dad, and that would get Brad upset. I understood that more than most.

Sometimes sports fandom is about much, much more than meets the eye.

Detroit hadn't won a playoff game since 1992, and no NFL championship has been won by the franchise since my dad was at Western Michigan University on the G.I. bill, where he met and married my mom.

Well, Jim, the Lions won.

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