It's been said that even a journey spanning countless miles begins with one single step.
The Detroit Lions journey from laughing stock to contender would seem to rival any trek, but the metaphoric first step was taken with Sunday's 19-14 win over Washington when the Lions snapped a 19-game losing streak.
It was late 2007 when the Lions last tasted victory and, with each mounting loss, increasing negativity and criticism applied additional pressure to a team attempting to erase a losing culture.
With one win, a huge burden is lifted.
"The monkey is off (our) back," said head coach Jim Schwartz. "Not only the guys that have been here but the organization, the city of Detroit. It was well deserved"
The encumbrance of 0-16 and of 19 consecutive losses was shared by the entire roster and coaching staff although many were not part of the majority of the streak. This win enables those players to separate themselves from the futility of previous seasons and focus on improving in 2009 – and beyond.
"It wasn't easy to do but we did a good job of it," said Matthew Stafford about not focusing on the streak. "You hear about it every day and I just am happy it's over with and you know what? it's a brand new season. We go out here and keep playing from here on out."
It wasn't only the players who benefited from the win, as fans were able to cheer a victory for the first time in over 20 months. The Lions organization, and players, who took the field after the game to show their appreciation to the remaining fans, recognize that their fans have been suffering with them.
"All those people out there have been through a lot more than we've been through," said Dominic Railoa. "They're fighting for their life out there, buying tickets to come to the game, losing their jobs. It's something very little that we did just to show our appreciation."
This single win will not rid the organization of a losing mentality and will not get the Lions to the playoffs. However, by beating the Redskins the Lions turnaround is officially underway.
When the 1977 Tampa Bay Buccaneers won their first game, ending the league's longest losing streak (26 games) it spurred a streak of six wins in their next 10 games (over two seasons). They also recorded their first winning season and playoff appearance soon after, in 1979.
Whether or not the Lions enjoy a string of victories or if their turnaround process is a slower one, they can keep their attention focused on the task at hand rather than answering for failures they may or may not have been associated with.
"It lets this team be this team and it takes the past away," said Jason Hanson speaking about the victory. "We started 0-2, and any time you couple that with last year it seemed like it was a weight that wasn't for these guys, and it isn't anymore. So now they can focus on becoming a good football team and we have a lot to prove."
The 2009 Lions can now separate themselves from the teams of the past and create their own identity as they attempt to resurrect the franchise – a task that will not be completed over night.
Although this journey may be a long one, Lions' fans can take solace in the fact that the first step was taken today and the team is finally headed in the right direction.