I love this team. I love the leaders on this team. I love the makeup of this team, and all the different ways the players set the tone for the others. I love the quiet giants, like Calvin Johnson and Ndamukong Suh. I love the mouthy guys like Louis Delmas and Titus Young. I love the rusty-nail veterans like Kyle Vanden Bosch and Jeff Backus. But all these players, all this talent, all these leaders . . . one is the fulcrum between winning and losing. One can be the difference between another sub-.500 year and ten wins or more. One will be the difference between making the playoffs, and finishing third in the division, again.
Lions fans are loath to admit it, but the NFL is a quarterback’s league. If you have a great quarterback, he can singlehandedly make up for any number of flaws. If you have a great quarterback, even a terrible team is always a threat to win. If you have a great quarterback, a flawed team wins more than they lose. With a great quarterback, a good team is great, and a great team immortal. This picture puts it in perspective: Matthew Stafford holds the ball, he wears the captain’s C, and the responsibility is solely on him to elevate this team from one of the NFL’s Great Unwashed to the playoffs.
Fortunately, it’s a responsibility he’s borne his entire football life, and one he wears well. It was cool to read Mike O’Hara’s piece about Stafford staying “after class” with Titus Young and Mikel Leshoure, and how his tutelage of them doesn’t end at the sidelines of the practice turf, either. But those two are rookie skill position guys, just kids who’ll Stafford will directly interact with. What about all the veterans I reeled off in the first paragraph? What of the men much older than the still-just-23 Stafford, who’ve been doing this for a living for years?
Tom Kowalski said something on the STK Show, and I was driving so I couldn’t write down an exact quote, but I’m going to paraphrase as best I can. He said that when the Lions’ player workouts were being organized, the overriding questions from the vets was, “will Stafford be there?” Because, in their mind, if Matthew Stafford was all-in for the workouts, then they’d be the real—and if he wasn’t, then it’d just be farting around, and therefore not worth their time.
I really can’t imagine a more telling anecdote. Again, these men are leaving their homes, their families, their PS3s, to go work out for essentially no reason. All of them have weight racks,, personal trainers, and dieticians at home. All of them have alma maters, former teammates who’d love to see them, and local gyms they’re members of. All of them are perfectly capable of staying in game shape without these voluntary workouts—and yet, the Lions have had one of the best-attended player camps throughout the NFL, partly because the franchise quarterback was deeply involved.
I'm not trying to say that a bunch of shorts-and-T-shirt-work at Detroit Country Day will be the difference between 10-6 and 6-10. What I’m saying is, Matthew Stafford is already respected by his teammates as the leader he must be, if the Lions are going to fulfill their potential.