Can we take a moment to appreciate how fate played out this way? Stafford was the Lions top overall pick in 2009. He spent 12 years toiling away in the void that was Detroit Football. He grew a legend for himself in the way only a Lions player can: by being Sisyphus. A hero who throws himself at an impossible task time after time hoping to succeed, knowing he won’t. Detroit loved Stafford. His gutsy game-winning play with a dislocated shoulder against the Browns is still the stuff of legend. The closest Stafford could get the Lions to playoff success was robbed by a terrible non-call that baffles me to this day. Stafford gave everything he had for that city. For that team. It did not give him much back outside the respect of the fans.

When the Rams decided they wouldn’t stand for Jared Goff anymore and admitted they needed a real QB, they sent for Matthew. The Lions were in a pit again, Megatron was gone and the future looked grim for the aging veteran. Stafford was shipped to Los Angeles to live out the good life in the sun and Jared Goof was banished to the harsh northern climates of the mitten to suffer for his crimes of being mid.

It’s rare to see a trade work out for both sides but that’s what’s happened. Not immediately, at least not for Detroit, but at this point it’s clear both sides got something out of this. Stafford immediately tuned the Rams into a better team and led Los Angeles to a Super Bowl, completely vindicating every Detroit fan that threw their fists at the sky for him in every Elite QB discussion as an unappreciated master of his craft. They were right all along of course. Stafford was underappreciated after so long pushing that impossible boulder up that hill. He deserved that ring. Most Lions fans openly rooted for Stafford that year and I can’t blame them.

Jared Goff, poor Jared Goff, banished to the motor city, spent his first season looking even worse than expected. The Lions hired a big emotional gorilla as coach to guide them through the rebuild and things were taking some time. It took them most of a season to finally win a single game. But it worked. They pushed through. Goff started to play better football. The maligned Goof who was best known for losing a Super Bowl in an offense nobody gave him an ounce of credit for was suddenly out there playing like a real QB. He was flawed but he was winning. After two years of toil and trouble the Lions broke through the wall and won the division for the first time in 30 years. They get to host a playoff game. And look at that. You’ll never guess who is also coming back to town for that game. Matthew Fucking Stafford would finally see a Detroit playoff game in Detroit. He would be there. His chapter in Detroit history wasn’t done yet, it was still being written.

Stafford was the enemy now, of course. The obstacle in the way of the Lions achieving even greater catharsis. The battle was hard-fought and easily the best actual game of the weekend. The Lions didn’t roll over and bow under the pressure. When the time game for late-game heroics though, Goff was the one who would answer, throwing a perfect dart to Amon-Ra St. Brown to get that first down that would ice the game. I’m not gonna lie I felt things at the end of that experience. Watching Stafford graciously walk through the crowd and wish Jared Goff well as Goff was doing his best to hold back tears.

This is the kind of stuff I watch sports for. The long, interlocking stories of people and places that play out in remarkable ways. A movie could write a tighter script than this story, but a movie isn’t real. This is real. This happened. A man who gave his all for a team that never achieved anything only to come back years later and be the very man who was forced to stand in their way to finally achieve something that had haunted them for decades. A different number 1 pick, who never received anything except mockery and derision even when he took his previous team to a championship when no one gave him credit, pulling himself out of the pit of despair to find himself again and deliver that same city a win that the previous hero couldn’t bring, doing it against the very team and coach that had given up on him. The stadium chanted his name. This is what makes sports worth watching.

Congrats to the city of Detroit, you’ve waited a long time for this. Congrats to Jared Goff, who despite having a supermodel girlfriend and millions of dollars, has still spent most of his career being a punchline. You earned this too. Congrats to Dan Campbell, maybe the most lovable gorilla of a coach we will ever see, who achieved legend status after years of meticulous work. I hope the Lions win it all, but even if they lose next week, this was a wonderful chapter in a long story.