We were all behind Dan on the 4th down call. Let’s get that out of the way first. If you could rewind time, we’d all do it again. A hundred times out of a hundred. The offense. The defense. Everybody. If you have been following this team’s journey for the last three years, then you know how we play football. You know the mentality that got us here.
It was the right decision — and I’m not talking about the right decision for analytics or talk radio or whatever. It was the right call for us, especially in that moment. When you’re in that situation, 20 games into an NFL season, it’s not like a video game. You’re not playing Madden. You had guys out there playing with bum ankles. Guys playing with MCL sprains. Guys taking nerve injections and toradol. Guys who could barely get out of bed that morning. It’s a battle of wills at that point in the season. You’re just running on pure belief and adrenaline. I feel like if you shy away from your identity in that moment, then you’re betraying the very thing that got you there.
On 4th down, in that situation, we’re always going for the kill. That mentality took us from 0–10–1 to the NFC Championship game in just a few seasons. Honestly, if anything, when we decided to kick the field goal in the first half, I was more surprised then.
When the chips are down, Detroit is always going to bet on Detroit.
To a man, I think we’d all do it again.
With that said … does it hurt? Hell yeah, it hurts. What day is today? I’ve been in a daze. My phone says it’s Saturday. Well, it still hurts on Saturday. The only way that I can really express my emotions, a week after the NFC Championship, is through my son Cooper’s eyes.
He summed it up best, and he’s only three years old. He took his first steps at our old townhouse here in Detroit, right before Christmas 2021, after we had gotten our first win of the season against the Vikings. We were 1-10-1 and I was on a one-year contract. Fun times. If you would have told me back then, when Cooper was stumbling around our Christmas tree, that we’d be here in Detroit three years later, and we’d be just one game away from a Super Bowl…. Man, I’d have been the happiest guy on the planet.
Fast forward to six o’clock in the morning as I’m pulling into my driveway the morning after the 49ers game, and I was devastated. A few tears were definitely shed in the locker room. A few more on the plane home. When I got into the house, it was a surreal feeling. You have to know a bit about our family’s story to understand. My wife, Lindsey, she’s my absolute rock. There’s nothing I can say here that would sum up how much she means to me, and how emotional the last three years of our lives have been. In 2021, Cooper was born. In 2022, right before our second training camp in Detroit, as we were preparing to welcome our second child into the world, we had a miscarriage. The toll that kind of nightmare takes on a mom is always so so hard, but when you have a one-year-old at home and your husband is always on the road or at work ….. Well, it’s just amazing to me how she was able to be so strong for us all.
I tell guys all the time — especially the young guys — nobody loves football like I love football. But it’s still just football. There’s things that will happen in your life, good and bad, that will make what happens between the white lines seem very small in comparison.
The way that this city and all the fans lifted me and my family up during those dark days added a whole other dimension to this season. When our daughter, Carter, was born right before the holidays, and we were playing such great football, and all the Christmas lights and the Lions flags were going up all over the city, it was such a special time. Probably the happiest I’ve ever been. The only thing that could have possibly made it any better?
You already know …… I don’t even want to say those two words.
So when I got home from San Francisco and walked in the door, I had a quiet moment with Lindsey to kind of process all the emotions and leave them at the door, because I always try to “be where my feet are,” no matter what’s going on at work, for the sake of my kids. I tried to get a few hours of sleep before the little monsters woke up and the madness started. I was lying in bed for probably two hours when I felt something small and warm crawling on top of me.
Daddy, you’re hoooooooome!!!! Wooohooooo!!
Lindsey tried to do the whole “Daddy’s very tired from his game” routine, but Cooper wasn’t having any of it. He literally pulled my eyelids open like in a cartoon.
It took me another 30 minutes to roll myself out of bed, and then I think I just slumped on the floor while Cooper played with his toys all around me.
Dad, I wanna tackle!
“Dad’s got cracked ribs, buddy. Don’t tackle Dad today.”
He’s clearly got my DNA, because his preschool teacher has been sending home reports that are like, “Cooper is extremely energetic and helpful in the classroom. However, he tends to get a little over-excited with his friends at playtime.”
When I pick him up after school, it’s like….
“Cooper, what’d you do today? The teacher said…”
“Daddy, I was tackling. I was tackling!!!!!”
“OK, buddy. We need to talk about personal space.”
When they’re three, you never know what’s going on in their minds. He’s got his little Lions jersey and I take him to work with me sometimes and he loves it, but I can never exactly tell how much he understands. After the 49ers, I wondered if he was disappointed in me.
So when we were hanging out, I finally asked him, “Hey buddy, did you watch the game?”
He said, “Yup!!”
I said, “Are you sad that we lost?”
He said, “Mmmmmm …… (long pause) …… Nope!!”
If you aren’t a parent, you probably won’t understand, and it will seem like nothing, but that moment meant so much to me. It kind of re-centered me for a few days. But you know how kids are….
A couple days later, we’re all hanging out in the living room. The whole gang. Cooper just woke up from his nap. I’m holding Carter in my arms. My wife is next to me on the couch. Out of the blue, Cooper turns to me and innocently asks, “Daddy, did you go to the Super Bowl?”
I looked at Lindsey, and I almost lost it. It hits you right in the heart. Everything kind of came back in that moment, you know? I mean the whole journey. Coming here to Detroit because Dan took the coaching job and believed that I could be a leader on our defense. All the heartbreaking losses in 2021, when the world was laughing at us, and Dan was telling us: F the world. It’s about the guys in this room.
Thanksgiving 2022 when we played Buffalo down to the wire and lost another heartbreaker and were sitting at 4–7, and we got to practice the next Tuesday and our linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard looked us all in the eyes and said, “Hey, just so you all know, we’re winning out. We’re winning out. That’s our expectation now.”
Opening night this season against Kansas City, when we spoiled their big banner raising party. A lot of young teams would have seen that schedule come out in the summer and thought, “Awwww man. Kansas City???”
Our guys thought, “Awwww man. Kansas City!!!!!”
The Wildcard game. Stafford and the Rams coming into Ford Field with all the buzz around them. Pundits picking against us, thinking we’d blow it. Running out of the tunnel with three fractured ribs, feeling absolutely no pain. Eminem in the building with 65,000 people singing “Lose Yourself.” Jared Goff with ice water in his veins in such a big moment for the whole city. Banishing all the ghosts of 1991, which is about 10 years before a lot of our young guys were even born.
Then after the game, seeing the incredible video of that Lions fan crying in the stands, and just how much it meant to him. Learning his story, and how his late father was a life-long Lions fan who actually helped build Ford Field…. It’s just Detroit, in one image.
The Tampa game. You thought we were done? How about Amon-Ra fighting for the first down with three guys on his back on third and 15. Derrick sealing it with an unbelievable read. The random lady coming up to David Montgomery at the gas station and giving him a hug and breaking down into tears.
All of it. That’s what I thought of when Cooper asked me so innocently….
“Daddy, did you go to the Super Bowl?”
No, buddy. We didn’t. But don’t worry. We’ll get there.
What we’re building here is extremely special. You can talk about it all day, but the proof is in the pudding, as they say. It’s one thing to say that a city, and a team, and a culture is unique. It’s a whole other thing to actually turn down the cheddar. (Great to have you back, Coach Ben and Coach AG.)
We will get there.
I look at this roster and I see so much to be excited about. Jared. Aidan. Amon-Ra. Penei. Jahmyr. David. Frank. Sam. Dogs everywhere, up and down the roster. But it goes beyond talent. It’s not like a catchy saying you put up on the walls of the facility. It’s not something you can put into words.
It’s something we feel in our bones. We want to make history next season. Anything less is failure.
So, to all the Lions fans out there…. Before I go … I have a final question for you….
Are you going to watch it on Sunday?
It’s funny…. When we had our exit meetings with Dan the other day, he actually asked the same thing. I didn’t know how to answer. I honestly hadn’t even thought about it yet, and it kind of made me sick thinking about going to some Super Bowl party and standing around like an idiot, trying to pretend to be happy.
But Dan said, “No, you gotta watch it, man. Use every second of it as motivation. I’ll sure as hell be watching.”
I can’t help but have this image of Dan sitting in a dark room this Sunday, all by himself, gripping his coffee cup for three hours straight, staring daggers at the TV, just counting down the milliseconds until training camp starts and we can run it back.
You’re gonna have 53 dogs out there doing the exact same. You’re gonna have a whole coaching staff doing the same. You’re gonna have a whole city doing the same.
This year, it sucks.
Next year, it’s us.