The Detroit Lions have always had a strong tailgating culture. But this season fans say things just feel 'different'

Detroit Lions fans tailgating in Eastern Market ahead of 2023 home opener
Detroit Lions fans tailgating in Eastern Market ahead of 2023 home opener Photo credit Kyle Beery/WWJ

DETROIT (WWJ) – The Detroit Lions have never won a Super Bowl. They’ve never even sniffed the Super Bowl, let alone made it there. Heck, the team hasn’t won a playoff game since January 1992.

Being a Lions fan is not easy. No one could really blame someone for abandoning their Lions fandom.

But in Detroit, most will tell you it doesn’t work that way. It’s ride or die for the team no matter what – it’ll make that day the Lions finally do reach the Super Bowl that much better. Just ask Chicago Cubs fans what they experienced in 2016.

Call it naïveté or ignorance, but Lions fans always show up for their team. That was the case at the Pontiac Silverdome and it’s been the case Downtown Detroit since the team moved to Ford Field in 2002.

And on Sunday with expectations seemingly at an all-time high for the franchise, the fans showed up in full force bright and early to hit tailgates and bars across the city for the Lions’ home opener against the Seahawks.

While Seattle pumped the brakes a little bit on the Lions’ hype train with a 37-31 win in overtime, the excitement is still there. It was very much palpable Sunday morning walking around the parking lots and sheds in Eastern Market, where fans were showing up much earlier than in years past.

By 8 a.m. the area was already buzzing and fans – many of whom were decked out in outlandish costumes – were everywhere.

WWJ's Zach Clark talks to Lions fans in Eastern Market
Photo credit Kyle Beery/WWJ

“I have never seen Eastern Market packed this early before,” Matthew told WWJ’s Zach Clark.

Matthew, dressed in a Honolulu Blue “king’s robe,” sunglasses and chains along with a matching friend, said following the team’s strong finish last year and a season-opening win over defending champion Kansas City, things just feel “different.”

That sentiment was shared by just about everybody in Eastern Market – including the “Tubgaters,” Denny Arney and Mark “The Pilgrim” Mullins. They’ve been bringing a fully functional hot tub to tailgates since the days of the Silverdome.

But the Tubgaters aren’t the only ones who’ve been doing it for decades. The organizer of the Lions “Shortbus Tailgate” has been coming to games since 2011, when he renovated and decked out an RV, Lions style.

The "Tubgaters" -- Denny Arney, left, and Mark "The Pilgrim" Mullins
The "Tubgaters" -- Denny Arney, left, and Mark "The Pilgrim" Mullins Photo credit Kyle Beery
The Tubgaters' setup at Detroit Lions tailgate in Eastern Market
Photo credit Kyle Beery/WWJ

The rig comes complete with his own Lions “Hall of Fame” of his favorite players, a TV, bathroom, fridge and small kitchen. For good measure, the menu every week features the local fare of Detroit’s opponent.

While the Tubgaters and the Shortbus Tailgate are just two of the many Sunday staples in Eastern Market, they’re part of a large community – and they’re all just friendly “neighbors,” if you will.

And Sunday felt like the first day of school as they showed out to catch up with all their friends after a long summer and rally around the team they love.

“We’ve been doing this together and it’s like our own community. Everybody knows each other and we know where they’re gonna park and we all visit each other,” the captain of the Shortbus Tailgate said.

From ribs thrown in the smoker at 7 a.m. to brisket hash, breakfast burritos, beers, blood Marys, mimosas and so much more, Lions fans have the food and drink scene well and covered.

Jamon Hamilton prepares ribs at Eastern Market tailgate ahead of Lions' home opener.
Jamon Hamilton prepares ribs at Eastern Market tailgate ahead of Lions' home opener. Photo credit Kyle Beery/WWJ

While Thomas Magee’s Sporting House – known for opening early every weekend for European soccer games – on the edge of Eastern Market filled up early, Sunday’s excitement went far beyond just one neighborhood.

Bars, parking lots, and parks all across Downtown -- and, of course shuttles from the likes of the Detroiter Bar and Nemo's -- were brimming with excited fans feeling like this may finally be the year the Lions break through.

The game may have left naysayers feeling that these are indeed the “Same Old Lions.” But plenty others feel it was just one game in a 17-game season and there’s still plenty of promise.

Regardless of whether things go the way fans are dreaming of, one thing’s for sure. The “Same Old Lions” fans will be keeping the faith – and the party going strong all season.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Kyle Beery/WWJ