For Dominic Raiola, representing Detroit for the last 14 years is easy. "Since I came here, I embrace the city, the blue-collar mentality," he tells Metro Times by phone. "Being a little rough around the edges is good for a person. People work hard and they expect results."
"We're pumped up about what's going on, the changes that were made and what's to come," he says. "I'm not into making predictions, but we've surrounded ourselves with good people and we have good leadership and coach Jim Caldwell."
Caldwell, says Raiola, is instilling in the team accountability and "doing things the right way, every day. You do that enough, it pays off in the end."
Raiola and the team work hard to represent Detroit. "It's glorifying when blue-collar workers notice you and thank you. I appreciate that, and I know they do. My career isn't about making money. It's about what we can bring to the city."
The most exciting part about playing for Detroit, Raiola says, "is definitely playing in front of the home crowd and repping the city everywhere we go. I think there's a lot of pride that goes into that. A simple thing like winning can help the city. Everyone is in such a better mood."
When we ask him about the Lions' curse, Raiola says, "I don't believe in it. Obviously, it's a collection of things. I don't think it's a curse. We just haven't closed the deal."
He's also forward-thinking: "We're beyond it," he says. "At some point, you gotta move forward. It's right that we give Jim Caldwell respect and start from scratch. It's cut and dry with him. We play good enough to win. You either win or lose."
The biggest challenge the Lions face? "Ourselves," Raiola says.
Raiola, who at 6-1 and 310 pounds, is one of the smaller linemen in the NFL, knows that "Anything's possible. People said I couldn't do it. You put your mind on it," and it'll happen.
He speaks to young people in Detroit, encouraging them, and telling his story: "I took advantage of every opportunity given to me. I took it and I blew it up. I worked harder. I didn't take no for an answer. Shoot, I was gonna succeed. There is no failure. If I can give that to young kids, give them hope ..." We could hear Raiola light up talking about it.
"I've been fortunate in my life," he adds. "I don't need anything." And when you don't need anything, "You can just give."
Raiola is active with charity work and teammate Stephen Tullock's foundation, raising money to adopt Detroit public schools. "Whatever people ask of me, time or whatever, I can give my time. Donating money, speaking to people, helping kids. It's not that hard to do."
And Raiola respects Detroit Lions fans. "The loyalty," he says. "I know how hard it is to be a fan. They're as loyal as they come. That's what I like about this city and this fan base. It resonates. It's an instant connection."
Detroit is an easy place to call home, he adds. His entire professional career has been with the Lions, and he plans to retire with them, and keep Detroit as part of his home when he retires.
Before our conversation ends, Raiola asks if there is anything he can do for us at Metro Times. We ask him to win the Super Bowl.
"There is nothing better!" he said. "Nothing I'd rather be doing than be on a float, heading down Woodward! And my float'll be the funnest!"
And we hope to be on it with him. — mt