WHO: Detroit Lions fans and the Deshaun Watson Foundation.
WHAT: A fund-raising drive inspired by an unlikely turn of events.
WHY IT’S SO GREAT: Every Thanksgiving, the Detroit Lions—like the Dallas Cowboys—face off against an opponent in front of a national audience. The game is a big deal for the team. The tradition of the Lions playing on Thanksgiving dates back to 1934, more than two decades before the Cowboys even existed. It’s not necessarily a spotlight that has shone kindly on the team, however, as the Lions have lost more Thanksgiving games than they’ve won—and on Thursday, they received their most recent L, this time to Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans.
For much of the game, the Lions were competitive with the Texans, trailing in part because of rotten luck (a pass deflected by J.J. Watt dropped right into his arms, and the mountainous lineman waltzed into the end zone for a pick-six). But in the fourth quarter, Watson threw two more touchdowns, and the Lions—who had consistently disappointed fans under the leadership of head coach Matt Patricia, hired in 2017 as a defensive guru—surrendered 41 points to a Texans team that has struggled throughout this season. The final score was Houston 41, Detroit 25, and the Lions fell to 4–7.
Normally, fans tend not to be thrilled with the team that just beat their guys, but Watson’s triumph in Detroit had a benefit to frustrated Lions fans. Patricia, who had been 13–29–1 as the team’s head coach, was ousted along with general manager Bob Quinn following the Thanksgiving thumping. Fans who’d yearned for a change in leadership received their wish. They searched for an outlet to celebrate the possibility of brighter days ahead, and they settled on an unlikely candidate—the Deshaun Watson Foundation. The philanthropically minded quarterback founded the organization to provide housing, education, and health care assistance in underserved communities, and Lions fans decided to kick in more than a few shekels to thank Watson for the whupping he gave their team. According to NFL.com, Lions supporters raised more than $1,000, largely in $13 donations (one for each game Patricia won with Detroit). Watson agreed to match the sum—and included free lunches for one hundred hungry visitors to the Detroit deli chain Lefty’s, a franchise Watson owns a stake in.
All of this celebrating because a couple of guys lost their jobs may feel a little unhinged, but job losses in the world of football coaching aren’t like those suffered by folks in other industries. Only the all-time greats have anything approaching long-term job security, and most young head coaches who flop in their first bids end up working as coordinators again, before eventually getting second chances to lead teams. Cowboys fans cheered when Jason Garrett was finally replaced as their team’s head coach, only to see him emerge as the offensive coordinator for the hated New York Giants, who currently lead the NFC East. Firings are part of football’s circle of life, and Patricia and Quinn are likely to land on their feet.
In the meantime, Detroit Lions fans—like Texans diehards who saw their own struggling head coach replaced in October—have a glimmer of hope for future seasons. Watson’s foundation has a little bit of unexpected fund-raising (and some good PR), a hundred hungry Detroiters will get a free cheesesteak, and Watson got to show off his considerable on-field talents to a Thanksgiving audience. In all, there’s a lot for fans to be thankful for in how the Texans-Lions game played out.