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Lions playoff run can affect fans' health

Fans of the Detroit Lions before the 2024 NFC wild card game against the Los Angeles Rams at Ford Field. The Lions' continued playoff success can positively affect the health of their fans, say experts from the University of Windsor. (David Reginek/USA TODAY Sports/Reuters Connect - image credit)
Fans of the Detroit Lions before the 2024 NFC wild card game against the Los Angeles Rams at Ford Field. The Lions' continued playoff success can positively affect the health of their fans, say experts from the University of Windsor. (David Reginek/USA TODAY Sports/Reuters Connect - image credit)

As the Detroit Lions' playoff run continues, not only will it positively affect businesses across the Detroit River in Windsor, it will also impact the mood Lions fans everywhere.

Craig Greenham is an associate professor in the department of kinesiology at the University of Windsor. He says there is a shared negative experience among fans who are used to losing.

"This shared negative experience leads to a bit of an identity fusion where one feels an intense or a visceral belonging with a group," Greenham said.

"But when it comes to fandom itself, it's socialized and it's generally something that's passed down from our parents or a combination of our peers or our proximity to sports groups; access to their games on broadcasts."

That negative experience has recently given way to a positive one.

Assistant Professor Craig Greenham teaches a course about hockey in Canada at the University of Windsor.
Assistant Professor Craig Greenham teaches a course about hockey in Canada at the University of Windsor.

Craig Greenham is a kinesiology professor with the University of Windsor. He says a fan's perceptions of a team are generally passed down from their parents, but also comes from their peers and the broadcasts of games. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

The Lions won their first playoff game in 32 years two Sundays ago, beating the Los Angeles Rams 24-23.

And this past weekend, they followed it up by beating the Tampa Bay Bucaneers 31-23 .

Detroit now goes on to face the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game on Sunday. The winner heads to the Super Bowl.

But the Lions' run is a rare moment in the team's history. The team has only made it to the NFC Championship game once in its history.

While Lions fans are likely going through an emotional roller coaster, University of Windsor sport management professor Terry Eddy says there isn't much research on the long-term health effects.

"There's still a lot we don't know about that," said Eddy, who is also an expert on fandom.

"I would say the overall benefits of feeling that level of investment and being able to ride the roller coaster generally does offset the negatives that come when we're on the downside of the track so to speak."

Terry Eddy is a sport management professor at the University of Windsor. An expert on fandom, Eddy says there isn't much research on following a sports team throughout its historical ups and downs.
Terry Eddy is a sport management professor at the University of Windsor. An expert on fandom, Eddy says there isn't much research on following a sports team throughout its historical ups and downs.

Terry Eddy is a sport management professor at the University of Windsor. An expert on fandom, Eddy says there isn't much research on following a sports team throughout its historical ups and downs. (University of Windsor)

Greenham says there are things about cheering for a longtime losing team that aren't healthy.

"I think, in some ways, cheering for the Lions defies logic and perhaps swims against the stream when it comes to emotional well-being," he said.

But how much a win or a loss can affect a fan's mood depends on how deeply rooted they are with the team, according to Eddy.

"Some people, even though they enjoy watching the team and it's clearly their favourite team, for whatever reason, when that connection was being developed, it just didn't reach that emotional level," he said.

"If you've been a fan since you were a kid, that's a little bit different than if you pick it up later in life."

Greenham says shorthand terms are often used among the collective, especially among long-suffering fan bases.

"In the case of the Lions, SOL is very prominent: Same Old Lions," he said.

But these aren't the same old Lions. Since the hiring of Dan Campbell as head coach three years ago, the team has undergone a significant culture change.

"This place has been kicked, it's been battered, it's been bruised. I can sit up here and give you coach speak all day long…none of that matters and you guys don't want to hear it anyway. You've had enough of that s---," he told assembled media on January 21, 2021 after being hired.

"This team is going to take on the identity of this city. This city's been down and it's found a way to get up. It's found a way to overcome adversity."

Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell argues a call during the first half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Los Angeles Rams, Sunday, Jan. 14, 2024, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)
Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell argues a call during the first half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Los Angeles Rams, Sunday, Jan. 14, 2024, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell argues a call during the first half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Los Angeles Rams, Sunday, Jan. 14, 2024, in Detroit. Campbell said during his first press conference with the team as Lions head coach that the team would be tough to play against. (Duane Burleson/The Associated Press)

It's difficult to argue that's what's happened since then. While the Lions finished 3-13-1 in Campbell's first season, they followed it up with a 9-8 record year. This season they won the NFC North with a 12-5 record.

Despite the Lions' deep playoff run this year, Greenham believes a loss on Sunday on the road against the 49ers might not hurt too much.

"At the outset [of the season], the forecasts were that the Lions were likely to win their division and maybe win a playoff game and they've already exceeded that," he said.

"They've won two playoff games that they've hosted. So from that perspective, they've already exceeded expectations. Perhaps a loss in San Francisco, while it stings, maybe isn't going to linger all that long because Lions fans will already be turning the calendar to next season, where optimism runs wild."