When I went to school at Central Michigan University, I majored in journalism, but one of my topics of study was supporteris Leonis, the Detroit Lions fan.
There were, of course, encounters with Lions fans throughout my childhood, but they were easily marginalized.
Back when NFL kickoff weekend took place on Labor Day weekend, family staying at the nearby cottage on the lake came into town to watch the first Lions game of the year at our house, since there was no cable at camp. As I've said before, my family's equally divided between Packers and Lions fans, but this was our house, so the Lions fans watched on the alternate Fox channel in the upstairs bedroom.
Downstate, I lived on the 'terrace,' which is CMU's word for 'basement,' but I was essentially in the upstairs bedroom. I got to see the Packers only if the Lions weren't playing at the same time, or if the Packers were in prime time or one of them was on CBS.
In my four years in the residence halls, I remember only two Packers fans - one of whom was Phil, who later went on to study experimental nuclear physics in graduate school. I like to think the two are related.
Anyhow, I became well-versed in the cycle of despair that the Lions put their fans through. Every year, the season would start and talk in the dining commons would be about how much better the Lions were going to be this year, and there would usually be a few encouraging results. Then the Lions would lose a close one, inevitably blamable on the officials or fate or both. The annual tailspin began in October and before we all went home for Thanksgiving, they'd given up on the season.
The WCHA picks return to print this week after a couple of weeks on the web. It's a great occasion to do so, since all 12 teams return to league play this weekend. Here's a look at what to expect:
Alaska-Anchorage at Michigan Tech
Prominent in recent season of Michigan Tech hockey has been bad news - loss of major recruits, the injury bug, etc. However, it's UAA that got a bad break recently, as its leading scorer, Mickey Spencer, left the team over the Christmas break. A silver lining for the Seawolves is that more than a month without a game (UAA last played Dec. 10 at Colorado College) has healed up a team that lost 53 man-games to injury in the first half. Even with their leading scorer, UAA was struggling in the WCHA at 3-10-1 in the league. Add the rough trip and you see Tech has the tools to get back on the right track.
The Verdict: Tech 5-2, 4-1
Wisconsin at Minnesota State
It's hard to believe that we're already to this point, but this weekend's series in Mankato may eliminate someone from the race for home ice. The Badgers are 4-8-2 in league play, but just four points out of the sixth spot currently held by North Dakota. MSU is in last at 2-11-1 in the league - wins might not get them out of a playoff road trip, but they could get the Mavericks out of the cellar. Wisconsin has yet to win a league road game (0-5-1), but will finally break its skid, not without some effort.
The Verdict: UW 3-2, 5-2
Minnesota at North Dakota
Those who missed last week's picks on the Web may have also missed that North Dakota has officially retired its Fighting Sioux nickname and will not be using one for the next few years.
Just their luck, one of their biggest rivals, Minnesota, comes to town, and I'm sure Gopher fans will be talking a little smack about the newly-renamed North Dakota _______.
However, UND looks capable of defending itself, as yet another second-half surge is underway. The _____ are unbeaten in four and 7-1-1 since Thanksgiving. Minnesota, on the other hand, has lost back-to-back games. The _____ get their revenge.
The Verdict: UND 5-3 Friday, Minnesota 3-1 Saturday
Minnesota Duluth at Nebraska-Omaha
There doesn't appear to be much stopping the UMD Bulldogs, who mowed down Western Michigan 4-1 and 5-2 in Kalamazoo to extend their unbeaten streak to 16 games. UMD's eight-game road trip ends this weekend at UNO, where Dean Blais returns to the bench after piloting the U.S. team to a disappointing finish in the World Junior Championships.
UNO had a decent outing two weeks ago, taking three points at home from ECAC Quinnipiac, but the Bulldogs appear to be an entirely different animal.
The Verdict: UMD sweeps 4-1, 5-4
St. Cloud State at Colorado College
This series is all about keeping in contact. For CC, it's about keeping in contact with Minnesota and Minnesota Duluth, four points ahead of the Tigers at the top of the league standings. For St. Cloud, it's about that precious sixth place. St. Cloud is tied with Michigan Tech for seventh, but with Tech and fifth-place Denver hosting point-getting opportunities, the Other Huskies don't want to get out of step before the second half barely begins.
CC will be looking for a bounce-back after getting just a point from last weekend's home series with Cornell. I like their chances.
The Verdict: CC sweeps 4-3, 4-2
Bemidji State at Denver
In what must be the most shocking result in college hockey this season, Denver lost to Alabama-Huntsville 3-2 Friday. In a way, the whole WCHA lost a little, because the league's overall strength as it relates to NCAA Tournament Selection, which wasn't great to begin with, is all but shot now. Bemidji State had no such trouble with the Chargers, blanking them twice just before Christmas as part of a five-game win streak that begin with a win over, you guessed it, Denver, in Bemidji Dec. 10. Unfortunately for BSU, four of the five wins were non-conference. Back in league play, an angry Denver team reminds Bemidji what it's been missing.
The Verdict: DU sweeps 5-3, 4-3
For the season:?72-49-14 (58.5 percent)
Soon after I graduated, it didn't even get that good. On Dec. 29, 2008, my boss was out of town, and the task fell to me to commemorate the worst season in NFL history. I went with "Poor Lions," except I spelled it with 16 L's.
Given those depths, you'd think the 2011 season, which ended Saturday in New Orleans, would still be considered a success.
However, I have seen much of the same weeping and gnashing of teeth that accompanied the bad old days.
My message to you Lions fans is this: You're better than you think.
Just as the pundits predicted, Matthew Stafford had a brilliant season when given the chance to play all 16 games. Calvin Johnson may be the most difficult man to defend in football today. The Lions' front seven is full of tenacious young players that will learn quickly to channel their aggression within the rules.
There are flaws - at some point, the Lions will have to develop a secondary or block someone and a healthy running back or two would help, but having limited and easily recognizable flaws is often a stepping stone to success. After all, in this day and age of free agency, all the Lions need to do is go out and get it.
The Lions are out of the quest for Super Bowl XLVI, but there are few teams, if any, I fear more as a threat to the Packers in the years to come.
Green Bay was here a couple of years ago: painful road loss in the Wild Card round.
Most Packers fans have to be reminded of that game in Arizona in which the Packers gave up 51 points and lost in overtime on an Aaron Rodgers fumble returned for a touchdown by Karlos Dansby.
It turned out to be a momentary blip. Within a year, the championship belt was theirs, and it can be yours, too, Lions fans. Well, unless you get hosed by the refs again.
Brandon Veale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter at twitter.com/redveale.