[CONTENT WARNINGS: Death, grief, drug use, curse words and Detroit Lions football.]
I have no fucking business writing a memorial for Neil Bulson.
First of all, he should still be here. He should not be gone. I should not have heard via mutual friends that Neil died unexpectedly at home
last weekend. But he did, and he would not appreciate my wallowing in bullshit hypotheticals.
Neil Bulson was a brilliant, fierce, singular writer. Well, I say “singular”–but despite all the obscenity-laden epics about elder gods and killing fields, the heart of Neil’s writing was exactly that: heart. He poured his heart’s blood out onto the page, hoping others would see their reflection in the puddle. He took pieces of himself and set them out for the crows, hoping to attract fellow crows. He expressed his passions unflinchingly, unreservedly, just trying to connect with somebody else who felt the same way.
That his passion project, his life’s work, was being completely and utterly honest about how much about things like the Detroit Lions and professional wrestling meant to him didn’t diminish that labor in the slightest. Caring too much was the point. Creating what he wanted to exist but didn’t, in hopes others who knew exactly how stupid and pointless these things were and cared anyway could feel seen.
Why hello there. Welcome to hell, also known as being a fan of the Detroit Lions. My name is Neil and I will be your tour guide during this frightening journey that we will take together, the Virgil to your Dante if you will. It will not be easy, and along the way, there will no doubt be dead bodies left in our wake and drunken ramblings and threats of suicide. I assure you that this is all a normal part of following the Detroit Lions.
The Lions lost every single game that year.
On this morning, the morning, the morning where the Lions are now officially the worst team in the history of professional football, I have never been more ashamed, depressed, dejected, and disgusted to be a Lions fan. And yet—I am surprised and pleased to discover that I am still a Lions fan. Despite the snow and wind and bitter, bitter cold, a little blue flame still dances and flickers on the ashes of what was once a roaring fire. So … now what?
It wasn’t long before we found each others’ work, and became massive fans, supporters, and promoters of each other–even though, on the surface, our approaches were completely different.
His site, Armchair Linebacker
, was a rough-and-ready collaboration with a like-minded guy named Raven Mack (and, off and on, several others). Their stated ethos says it all:
Football. No matter what anyone says, this is the true national pastime, and because of that far too many of us have been swallowed up by the monster storm called fandom, spiraling further and further into the abyss until finally, all we can do is holler back, screaming into the void hoping that someone, somewhere might hear our fool words.
That is what this blog is all about, giving a voice to those who need to just get it all out because their own team has clubbed them over the head one too many times. We are all idiots, utterly without dignity or decency, but we are fans and we believe despite ourselves that somehow this football thing will someday be worth all that idiocy and pain.
Come, join us, and we will gnaw on the bones of the wicked and the foolish together. Football. What can we say? We love it.
Mine, The Lions in Winter
, was a solitary effort made to as professional a standard as I could manage. The literary aspirations were implied in the title–and though I didn’t exactly include this bit in the About page
, I was testing myself.
I wanted to see if the unmentored work of a floundering Gifted-and-Talented Program Xennial was good enough to get attention. To draw a crowd. To open up opportunities. To quit the dayjob. To see if I could be, as I was oft assured as a child, whatever I wanted to be.
I never swore in posts. Neil might not have ever not cursed. For quite a while I avoided politics and religion; Neil introduced himself as our guide to Hell and passionately stood up for the rights of the downtrodden. I actively promoted myself on every forum and social channel I could get a logon for; Neil let the audience come to him.
But in the end, what we were doing was the same thing: writing way too long, way too raw, and way too personally about the Detroit Lions. I once said “I soar through my blue-sky optimism on patched and tattered wings, while he trudges through the marshes of the river Styx, protecting his blue-flame candle from the muck and the mire.”
For a while, both our approaches worked.
We networked, cross-promoted, made friends with all the other Lions blogs. As we all began to pull serious eyeballs away from traditional-media websites, and new forms of connecting to audiences were emerging, people were getting hired left and right.
Neil and I both started doing freelance work; he did culture writing at places like Heavy.com
while I did link round-up posts for MLive
, a regional newspaper site that remains a top destination for professional Lions coverage. And when you’re getting paid good money to write, doing it for free stops being a release and starts being a burden.
Just before the start of the 2012 season, Neil announced the closure of Armchair Linebacker. The “Viking Funeral” I penned
at the time–and the graphic of a longboat being immolated in my site’s famous metaphorical blue flame–hit me much harder now than I ever could have imagined.