An inspiring night with the Lions


Anyone who says today’s NFL players don’t have an appreciation for those who came before them should have witnessed the Detroit Lions visit to the Pro Football Hall of Fame last night. Coach Jim Schwartz secretly arranged for the team to visit the Hall Thursday. The team busses took an hour detour en route to Cleveland for tonight’s preseason game to visit us.

Not only was it a great experience for the players, coaches, and team personnel, but it was a rewarding time for those Hall of Fame staff members who were around to show the Lions the Hall of Fame. The Lions’ genuine interest, awe, and inspiration in walking through the Pro Football Hall of Fame validated all that we stand for here in Canton.

From the start, I was so impressed by how the trip impacted the team. I was talking with Hall of Fame tight end Charlie Sanders, now the Lions Assistant Director of Pro Personnel, when second-year defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh walked up and asked when he could see Charlie’s bronze bust. With the dinner line looking fairly lengthy, I offered to take them right then. So, up we walked to the Hall of Fame Gallery. Along the way, Suh rattled off the names of legends like Bob Lilly and Alan Page. Then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw something and wandered away in another direction. He had caught a glimpse of the uniform worn by Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Famer Joe Greene. Suh just had to take a look. No doubt, this phenomenal young player appreciates the contributions by those legends who share his position.

We then made our way in the Hall of Fame Gallery and walked up to Charlie’s bust. Suh asked him what it feels like to look at it. Sanders shared that he gets emotional every time he sees his bust. It’s not because it’s him but that it’s in a room with all of these great people. Wow. It was a great moment for anyone who loves football.

About an hour later, after dinner and some hooting and hollering while watching Lions highlights of the franchise’s Hall of Famers (the biggest applause came for running back Barry Sanders’ unbelievable running style), a good portion of the team congregated inside the Hall of Fame Gallery. Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham was overwhelmed by the room. That’s because he’s lived so much football in his lifetime. He brought the bronze busts to life. First, he stared into the eyes of Class of 2009 linebacker Derrick Thomas who was like a son to him during their days together in Kansas City. Cunningham shook his head and just muttered what a shame it was that Thomas’ life ended so prematurely.

He then made his way to the Class of 1970 and lit up when looking at the bust of the Lions’ Jack Christiansen. Cunningham shared personal stories about the man. Gunther spent time on Christiansen’s staff at Stanford in the mid-1970s.

I then turned and saw my favorite “snapshot” of the night. Lions Senior Vice President of Communications Bill Keenist directed quarterback Matthew Stafford to pose with the bust of Lions great quarterback Bobby Layne.

And there it was – the past connecting with the present. It doesn’t get much better than that!

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