On my way to Ford Field, stuck in traffic on I-96, my finding/parking/walking/set-up time melting away before my eyes. The radio’s pumping pre-draft hype, my heart is pumping Taurine and B-vitamins where my blood used to be, and my mind is racing trying to figure out how I'm going to get there, get set up, and join the Mlive.com NFL Draft live blog before the Lions draft Ndamukong Suh. I hope.
Passing the accident, racing my GPS, hastening the ETA minute by minute as I make time faster than Sprint Navigation thinks I can, thanking God for Detroit drivers as I hurtle down a "55 mph" road at 75 while getting passed on both sides.
Racing through the parking garage, approaching the entrance, praying word got from the Lions’ staff to the security people that I was coming with a laptop. As I enter, a security staffer asks to see my bag. I hold by breath, open the bag . . . and she says, “Are you Ty?” I avoid the temptation to answer, “ . . . YES I AM,” and instead just say yes. I’m directed to someone who tells me to head to the fifty-yard line, and someone will meet me with WiFi credentials. As I race down to the field, the commissioner appears, and tells us the St. Louis Rams are on the clock.
As I see the setup, I desperately want to be small again. Bouncing on the bouncy things, jumping on the jumpy things, running around like a maniac on the Lions’ home turf, it all looks like so much fun. Instead, I sit down at the fifty-yard line, take out my laptop, and get to work. Double-fisting the Internet with my cell phone and laptop, I try to deliver my Twitter followers and Mlive friends a full dose of the happenings. Within seconds, Commissioner Goodell took the podium:
The excitement is electric, the buzz spine-tingling, the thrill unanimous. Despite annual bluster about needing to take a left tackle because OMG Jeff Sackus, as the Lions went on the clock, we all hoped for one player, the best player in the draft, one of the best defensive line prospects ever: Ndamukong Suh. A little of my excitement started to turn to fear.
The vibe I’d been catching from Tom Kowalski, and others, was that if the Lions could find a deal to move down, save money, and add picks in one of the deepest drafts in years, they would. In the middle of this crowd, if the Lions traded down—or worse yet, didn’t take Suh—I would want to be anywhere but where I was. Suh is shown on the phone, and a cheer goes up . . . but then, the commissioner takes the podium, and we hold our breath:
Jubilation. Exultation, adoration, grown men and women acting like children; children also acting like children. Hugs, high fives, clapping, cheering—and SUUUUUUUUUUH. Lots and lots and lots of SUUUUUUUUUUH.
I’ve never been tempted to take up photography; I have no eye, no instincts, no talent for the art whatsoever. I’ve always preferred to be the center of attention, rather than the chronicler of it. But, that moment of anticipation was magical, and I’m glad I was there as much to observe as to participate.
Thousands of men, women, children, from all walks of life, from all races, creeds and colors, from miles around, were all decked out in Honolulu Blue, and all gathered together, united completely in that moment. Every eye focused skyward, every ear straining to hear, every fan’s heart desperately wanting the same thing: hope.
In that moment the commissioner spoke, those timeless few seconds, the blue flame flickered and stirred, like a puff of breath on the flame of a candle. When the name of Ndamukong Suh rang out, the fire ROARED. For a few seconds, we beheld the glorious joy that is still yet to come. That day when every Lions fan wears their gear with pride. When every casual fan, former fan, or not even really a fan picks up a Lions hat or T-shirt while they’re at the mall, because it’s cool. When every empty suit, talking head, and pillar of hair on TV sings the praises of the Lions and their management, and when winning is not a faint and distant someday but a weekly expectation.
On the field, It’s hard to explain exactly how much Ndamukong Suh means to this franchise. After a decade of swinging and missing on high draft picks in an attempt to build a high-powered offense, building instead the worst NFL defense of all time, Suh is something different entirely.
Suh, the breathtakingly powerful keystone of a rebuilt defensive line, gives us hope that the Lions will no longer bleed to death in the fourth quarter, surrendering game-winning drives when pluck and effort crumble at the hands of power and strength. He gives us hope that the Lions will not be Kleenex on third down—no more containing an offense twice, only to helplessly allow their march to the end zone to continue. He gives us hope that finally, finally, the Lions defense has a player that can disrupt an offense, and force them to adjust to us.
After the rapturous joy had subsided into thousands of permanent grins, I decided it was time to stop observing and start experiencing. I'd already had the pleasure of seeing several people come stand and pose on the leaping Lion. But these two dudes, in Cory Schlesinger and Chris Spielman jerseys, arrived and started WORKING IT. Seriously, these guys were naturals. After they took turns doing pose after pose, I asked them if they wanted to be e-famous. They said, “Sure!” and went to work:
They just did this, I didn’t direct them or anything. Amazing work, fellas; drop me a line if this was you. Next up, I attempted a field goal. I debated about using the straight-ahead style, or soccer style . . . I dimly recalled an old Jason Hanson interview where he said that novices should always use straight-on, but I decided to attempt it soccer-style. It went up, and straight, and end-over-end, but not very far. I’d put my plant foot short of the ball, and so my kicking foot bounced off the turf before going up into the ball. Ah well. Next up . . . heading into the tunnel.
This was kind of unreal. I couldn’t believe the Lions opened up the tunnel and the locker room for fans—but, as the fellow guiding the tour, Don, pointed out, the Lions are actually only in Ford Field twelve times a year. It’s not as though any deeply personal stuff is kept in the locker room; the vast majority of the Lions’ working time is spent at the Allen Park facility. Apparently, you can rent out any space in the Ford Field building . . . even the locker rooms . . . even for weddings.
It's impressive. It’s also about five times the size of the visitors’ locker rooms—and, according to Don, this room’s showers work. By the way, in case you doubt the NFL’s commitment to cracking down on blowing up ‘defenseless’ players, check it out:
There are posters and signage like this all over the locker rooms, like the full uniform code and a graphic detailing what is appropriate and what will be fined. But this one jumped out at me:
The NFL takes the sanctity of the game very, very seriously. Finally, the brief tour ended, and I headed back out onto the field. With the event nearly over, people were streaming out, and the field was nearly empty. The draft was approaching pick #20, and I had to get my laptop packed up. I realized the moment would be wasted if I didn’t strike my own pose:
. . . and with that, I left. The fine folks at Ford Field put on an excellent event. The fans went home pleased and fulfilled. A couple of guys were hollering, “SUUUUUUUUUH” in the parking garage and letting it echo and echo and echo . . .
Good night, Leaping Lion. Good night, FieldTurf. Good night, goal posts, and good night, signs. Good night, jumpy things, and good night, bouncy things. Good night video boards, and good night Commissioner. Good night Ford Field, and good night staff. Good night Lions fans everywhere.
Yeah and then while I was driving home they traded back up into the first and took Jahvid Best. @#$%#*@$@%#*$#@$*&@^^#&#**!^^$*$((&$^#&^$&*#(#&$*$(#@&#(#*&&!!!!
Some are complaining about the trade up; the Lions surely could have waited to see if he fell? But the Lions were waiting on the best available runningback or cornerback, and every other RB or CB with a first-round grade was gone. The dropoff from Jahvid Best to Toby Gerhart or Chris Cook is really, really significant—and with a whole night to sleep on it, the risk that a team could trade up and leapfrog them was extreme. No, Best was the only way the Lions get two instant-impact starters out of this draft, and I commend them for putting those seventh-rounders to work.
The Lions got much, much better last night; the offense now looks truly dangerous. The amount of talent at each position is orders of magnitude above where it was two years ago, and much greater than at this time last season. I am pleased; Best will be a good feature back until Kevin Smith is ready, and they’ll be a tremendous combination once he’s full speed again. Ndamukong Suh, along with Sammie Hill and Corey Williams, will form one of the biggest and most athletic defensive tackle rotations in the NFL.
I wonder if the Lions don’t have more up their sleeve; they desperately need a corner who can compete for a starting job. Chris Cook is still out there, but likely won’t last to the third round, and the pickings get even slimmer after him. I’d like to see the Lions dip in to next years’ picks; this draft is one of the deepest I’ve ever seen, and there are still players with excellent grades still on the board. If they could move back up into the second, without sacrificing their third, I think it’d be a truly outstanding draft.
Don't forget: tonight, join me, Killer, Phil, Schottey, and the rest of the crew over at Mlive.com for the live draft chat, part 2!