Lions finally giving fans, including Eminem, chance to cheer for a winner after decades of futility

From left, former Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders stands with musicians Eminem and Big Sean and former receiver Calvin Johnson during pregame of an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Los Angeles Rams, Sunday, Jan. 14, 2024, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

By Associated Press

January 19, 2024

DETROIT—Eminem stood alongside Pro Football Hall of Famers Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson before the Detroit Lions hosted a playoff game for the first time in three decades, soaking up an electric atmosphere at Ford Field.

“The energy in the building was amazing,” Johnson said in a telephone interview, taking a break from snowboarding in Utah. “You could feel it. I wish we could’ve had that kind of experience.”

He’s not alone.

Detroit was an NFL powerhouse a long time ago, winning three league titles from 1952 to 1957 in the pre-Super Bowl era, and the franchise had only one postseason win and that was with Sanders in the backfield 32 years ago and didn’t have success after the regular season with Johnson catching passes from Matthew Stafford.

Until last Sunday’s victory.

The Lions beat the Stafford-led Los Angeles Rams 24-23 in a wild-card game that whipped the crowd into so much of a frenzy that the decibels were almost as loud as a jet engine.

Lions finally giving fans, including Eminem, chance to cheer for a winner after decades of futility

Detroit Lions fans celebrate a touchdown by running back David Montgomery during the first half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Los Angeles Rams, Sunday, Jan. 14, 2024, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Detroit’s party might get kicked up a notch.

The Lions are hosting Tampa Bay on Sunday, playing a second home playoff game in one postseason for the first time in team history.

Singer Bob Seger, actor Jeff Daniels, actor, writer and producer Keegan-Michael Key — all from Michigan — are expected to attend the divisional game along with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and one of the team’s biggest fans: Eminem.

The rapper has expressed himself and shared his fandom recently on Instagram, saying his New Year’s resolution was for the Lions to win the Super Bowl and asking Stafford for a favor.

“Can you just let us have this one?” Eminem asked in a post last week.

Now, Eminem is playfully asking coach Dan Campbell to put him in the game.

“I’m going to be there that night,” Eminem said. “I will suit up, and I will score us the winning touchdown in the third quarter.”

If Detroit, which is favored by almost a touchdown by FanDuel Sportsbook, beats the Buccaneers it will move a step closer to potentially reaching the Super Bowl for the first time.

While there are scores of long-suffering fans in the Motor City, it has also attracted some new ones and engaged with them in the digital age.

Sweta Patel, who was born in India and lives in suburban Detroit, didn’t know what a first down was about a decade ago. The 41-year-old Patel has developed her knowledge of the game and affinity for the organization thanks to some interactions on social media and in person as a season-ticket holder.

When she posted on social media about having knee surgery, Lions players wished her a speedy recovery. When Patel shared that she had a miscarriage in 2021, she heard from Campbell himself shortly after he was hired.

“He’s just a man of the people,” she said. “His voice was almost cracking in that video, and it just really brought some comfort to me.”

Mike McCord and millions more in Michigan have waited a long time for their favorite team to bring them joy.

The 68-year-old McCord was a toddler when his late father, Darris, a Pro Bowl defensive lineman, helped Detroit beat Cleveland at Briggs Stadium, which was later known as Tiger Stadium, for the NFL title in 1957.

McCord began attending games six-plus decades ago and his family has had season-tickets for more than a half-century, passing the passion for the Honolulu Blue and Silver down to his 36-year-old daughter, Riley.

“It’s been a long 50 years,” he said. “We’ve been through thick and thin — mostly thin.”

The Lions hit rock bottom in 2008, becoming the NFL’s first 0-16 team, during the worst nine-season stretch in the league since World War II. During a particularly putrid stretch of futility, football historians had to go back to the Dayton Triangles during the 1920s to find a team that lost so often.

When coach Matt Patricia was fired during the 2020 season, Mike McCord was ready to give up his tickets on the 40-yard line in the 22nd row behind Detroit’s bench.

McCord’s daughter, hoping to seal the deal to renew the family’s four tickets, had a custom coffee cup made with the words “One More Year” under the team’s logo.

“We didn’t know what that next season was going to look like,” Riley McCord said. “So, I got that cup.”

Team owner Sheila Ford Hamp began to turn the team around three years ago when she finally landed a winning combination in the front office and on the sideline, hiring general manager Brad Holmes and Campbell.

The Lions built momentum by closing the last season with eight wins over the last 10 games and lived up to unusually high expectations in 2023, tying a franchise record with 12 wins in the regular season and earning a division title for the first time in three decades.

“Detroit’s a great sports town,” McCord said. “We’ve seen the Tigers win it. We’ve seen the Pistons win it. We’ve seen the Red Wings win it. We’ve seen a lot of good things, but never from our Lions.

“We hope this is the year to finally relieve that pain, and I think they could do it. That’s the good thing. We’re still in it, and we could go all the way.”

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