Granderson: It’s finally the Detroit Lions’ turn to dream big

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When it comes to power, Jerome “The Bus” Bettis had plenty.

Over the course of 13 seasons, the legendary Pittsburgh Steelers running back used his 5-foot-11, 250-pound frame to punish would-be tacklers all the way to the Hall of Fame. The highlight of his career was winning Super Bowl XL in his hometown of Detroit back in 2006.

During Super Bowl player introductions, Bettis sprinted out in front believing his teammates were behind him. However, they decided to stay in the tunnel so Bettis could receive the bulk of the cheering solo. It was a tremendous gesture by the players, one that was rewarded with a 21-10 victory.

“I played this game to win a championship,” he said afterward. “I’m a champion and I think The Bus’ last stop is here in Detroit.”

And for years and years that Bettis Super Bowl win felt like it belonged to all Lions fans.

That is, until Matthew Stafford won Super Bowl LVI with the Rams in 2022.

After 12 seasons of playing for Detroit — sacrificing his body, the constant losing — Stafford was traded from the Lions to Los Angeles in exchange for Jared Goff and draft picks. The former Lion immediately found success — hence the “Detroit Rams” T-shirts that vendors had a difficult time keeping on the shelves after the Super Bowl victory.

Those shirts were that popular after the Rams won because it felt like we won as well. And Lions fans were hungry for any kind of success. Even success that really wasn’t ours.

Not fully, anyway.

That’s why Stafford was booed so viciously on Sunday.

The former franchise quarterback didn’t do anything wrong. It’s just that, according to native Detroiter Marissa Johnson, “we’re done cheering for other players and he’s over there now.”

“Even after he was traded, you still saw his jersey everywhere in the city,” said Johnson, who blames her mother for raising her to be a Lions fan. “But it’s really different now. We’re a good team with Goff, so Matthew is like any other enemy, even though we still love him.”

Maybe for other NFL franchises that level of pettiness and passion is nonsensical. But having legitimate rivals is a new sensation in Detroit.

Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff walks off the field after the Lions defeated the Rams 24-23 in the NFC wildcard game at Ford Field in Detroit on Sunday.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

We’re usually the team that finds a way to lose. Or get blown out. Certainly not the team opponents circle on the calendar at the beginning of the season.

Why would they? Not only had we not won a division title in 30 years, we only had won one playoff game in the modern NFL era.

Besides, we were the team that celebrated Stafford after he was traded. We celebrated The Bus just for being born in the city. We did not have legitimate rivals because we were not a threat to take anything away from anyone.

That is until Goff showed up.

Now we have an enemy.

For Detroit is no longer the franchise that’s just happy to be here. When the city hosted the Super Bowl in 2006, it was the first and only postseason game played at Ford Field, which opened in 2002. That’s a long time to be rooting for players who were kind of ours once. That’s a long time to build a diet off of wins that really didn’t belong to us.

But Sunday?

Sunday was ours. All ours. No sharing. No hand-me-down victories. No flow chart needed to justify why a certain win matters to the city. For the first time at Ford Field, it was truly the lion’s den. And while Stafford wasn’t mauled, he certainly wasn’t comfortable either.

“I can’t wait to go home to watch it all over again,” a lifelong fan departing Ford Field told me after the Lions beat the Rams. “I haven’t been this excited since Barry [Sanders] was playing.”

Barry Sanders, wearing a Lions jacket, chats on the field.

Former Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders chats on the field before the Lions hosted the Rams during an NFC wildcard game at Ford Field in Detroit on Sunday.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

That name came up a lot. Not only was the greatest of the Lions in the building, he very much remains a part of Detroit’s heart. As does The Bus.

And as does Stafford. There were boos in the stadium, but no hate for our Super Bowl surrogate. It’s just our expectations have changed. In the past, a talented player coming to the franchise in free agency was enough to get a statue. But now there’s a postseason win. A Detroit Lions win. And now all has changed.

“They went to every game,” Bettis said of his family the day he won the chip. “They had seen all the successes and all the failures. I won a championship, but we all won a championship.”

That’s such a beautiful sentiment. One that used to provide the city sustenance. But not anymore. Detroit doesn’t want anything to do with winning championships vicariously anymore.

On Sunday, as the final seconds ticked away, the crowd chanted the name of its new hometown hero: “Jared Goff, Jared Goff,” as Stafford and company exited.

Keep your moral victories, NFL. Detroit is ready to have a championship ring of our own.

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