"The people who grew up around Muslims know that Muslims are good people," Jaafar says. "But if you just don't know any Muslims and you see bombings and shootings on TV all the time, you think Muslims aren't good people."
The crew in the Lava Lounge knew there was something absurd about the metaphor that football had become. But they were in on the joke, like you’re in on the fun of professional wrestling. They relished the absurdity of it all.
"At Crestwood, with the white kids, we'll make race jokes to each other, but nobody ever gets hurt," said Shmay. "We're all together. But you go to Garden City and they say it seriously."
"They bring the American flag out like it's supposed to affect us," said Hass J. "We were born here. We love America just as much as they do.
"Fordson just plays," he said. "You just get to the point, you know. That's just how it is. That's the tradition. We don't trash talk as much."
Hass J's family had moved just so he could play at Fordson. But he liked what happened at Crestwood last season. The center was Christian. The quarterback was Muslim. "As soon you put on the jersey, you're one. You know?"
Away from Dearborn, at Lake Erie, he had become isolated in some of his classes. "We were talking about 9/11. It's a touchy subject. I said that you can't base your thoughts about a religion on one small group of people. And then this guy said, 'Islam is a religion that did 9/11 just to strike fear into Americans.'"
"They bring the American flag out like it's supposed to affect us. We were born here. We love America just as much as they do."
— HASSAN JAAFAR
"I get excited," said Ramy. "I want them to approach me. I want them to talk to me." Ramy wants to be a lawyer. "In my classes at U of M Dearborn, my teachers said, 'I know that a lot of you are scared. A lot of you are threatened by this—but you're not alone.'"
They talked about the halo around Dearborn. "If you're going toward Detroit, I don't feel uncomfortable. But going that way," said Ramy, nodding to the west.
"You start to feel it on both sides."
"It really depends on the people," said Hass J. "There's good and bad everywhere."
"Everything happens for a reason," said Shmay . "If he does kick us out—"
"We're noooooooot getting kicked out," said Hass B.
Hass J began to say, "It's America, you can't—" But he never finished the thought. Screw it. Instead, he cheered: "Interception! Jordan Hicks. He has two today."
✦ ✦ ✦
On that final Sunday of the season, the first day of 2017, Mr. Mosallam found himself out in front of Fordson, looking back at the grounds, as he often does, in awe. It was the first million-dollar high school in America. It was built in 1928 by Henry Ford, who claimed to have invented the modern world. Mr. Mosallam knew every nook and cranny.
He used to walk two miles up Ford Road to get to class. He was eight when he saw Fordson play for the state championship at the Pontiac Silverdome. "Ever since then I was going to be a Fordson Tractor. No ifs, ands or buts about it." His dad didn't understand. Come to work, he would say. I need your help at the store. What do you need football for? "They didn't understand the camaraderie. They didn't understand how it made you into a man, into a leader. I've got four kids—every one of them plays sports."
One morning last year, Mr. Mosallam's children broke down at the breakfast table. "Am I going to be deported?" his daughter asked. Where would she be sent? His youngest, Khalil, had said Trump was "really going to build a wall between Dearborn and China." His wife, who also works in education, brought out an atlas. Everything was a teachable moment.
In six years, Mr. Mosallam helped more than 3,500 students graduate. After his first year in the job, Fordson sent its first student to Harvard. Over the next four years, the school sent another five. Fordson moved up from seventh-worst to the 21st highest academic percentile in Michigan. They had the graduation ceremony on the football field. Out near the 40-yard line, the principal would shake every student's hand.
In his final year as the principal, a new student was mouthing off to him aggressively in the hallway. It began to escalate as he pressed up into the principal's face.
Suddenly, a 240-pound lineman was between them. It was Hussein, whose father was still gone, whose mom was still raising him and his siblings on her own, barreling through the hallway like he was coming off a left tackle. "He says—" and here the principal's calm voice catches. "He says, Don't you ever disrespect Mr. Mosallam."
"Thank you, Hussein," the principal told him. "But I got this." Check in, check out. That was their system.
Before the holidays, he saw Hussein on the street. "I got into Wayne State," Hussein said. "You believed in me." They had the same conversation they always did. Starting with You're not just an athlete, you can make a difference, and ending with Let me know whatever you need, Hussein. I'm proud of you. The principal was quiet for a moment. And then he shook his head in disbelief. "Kid was a monster off the defensive end."
He looked out at the field. Further along Ford Road, toward Ford's world headquarters, the Islamic Center of America had updated the message on its LED board from "Merry Christmas to Our Christian Friends and Neighbors" to "Happy New Year and Peace to All in 2017."
The principal knew one thing for sure: The Lions were never going to stop Aaron Rodgers that night, even after Golden Tate caught a touchdown pass and flung himself joyously up into the faithful at the back of the end zone. He was embraced by a young woman in a Honolulu blue headscarf. "That's Nessrine!" shouted one of the men, watching in one of the Dearborn garages. The woman, an elementary school teacher, accidentally poked Tate's eye with her finger. Her husband, Moe Sobh—one of Mr. Mosallam's former students at Fordson—celebrated beside her. They all traded high-fives. "I got you," Tate screamed, as mayhem erupted around them. "I got you. We’re going to win this!"
It was the first Lions game Nessrine Sobh had ever attended in person. That week, she searched all over Warren Avenue, looking for a new headscarf to wear to Ford Field. She brought along a jersey, trying to match up the exact shade of blue. At the store, she insisted, "If I wear dark blue, I'm going to stand out."
Of course, the Lions would lose the Wild Card Game—of course they lost the Wild Card Game. In Dearborn in the first days of 2017, everything was possible and nothing was possible. And so the faithful would do what they always did: Believe in Dearborn, America.
Correction: This story has been updated to correct a quote attributed to George Atallah: "This is not a judgment—it's just reality. The shield is red, white and blue, literally."