ALLEN PARK -- The Detroit Lions will open their 2012 season at home on Sunday against the St. Louis Rams.
As with any home opener, there is no need for extra motivation.
"It’s definitely exciting to open at home,” said head coach Jim Schwartz. “The last game experience we all had at Ford Field was San Diego on Christmas Eve. Our crowd has been there for us not just last year; it’s been building for a while. So a home-opener is very exciting. An opener in any sport is exciting, football you only have 16 (games). There are very few opportunities for it. So the crowd will be there. We have to do our jobs to give them something to cheer for and keep them in the game and affecting the game.”
Despite the natural excitement created from an opening week home contest, the Lions will have additional incentive to leave the field with a victory.
They want to win one for the coaches.
Not only will Schwartz be facing his old boss – St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher – offensive coordinator Scott Linehan will be facing the team that employed him previous to joining the Lions.
Linehan was hired by the Rams in 2006 as their head coach. In his first year he finished with an 8-8 record. The Rams regressed in 2007, winning only three games and Linehan was fired the next year after a 0-4 start.
Similar to Schwartz, Linehan downplayed the game.
“My feeling is I’m just so excited about this season,” he said. “You know, what we’ve been able to do over the course of three years, getting ready to open up our fourth year as a staff, same staff since I’ve been here. Regardless of who we’re playing it’s just an exciting time for everybody, I think, around here to have that opening week, opening game, finally get here. Let’s see what we can do on Sunday.”
Despite the indifference of those subplots shown by both coaches, Lions players know that this game is important to them.
“I’m sure they have some kind of motivation,” said linebacker Stephen Tulloch. “They want to compete and win but we have to win as a team. It’s a big game for us. Obviously the bar is set high for our team and our organization and we have to come out and play ball. Anything less than a W is unacceptable.”
The main focus will of course be getting a victory but there is a bond between the coaches and players within the Lions organization and it is not difficult to see the team’s desire to win – not only for themselves but for their coaches.
“Schwartz going against his old boss basically and Coach Linehan going against his old team, you want to win every game but sometimes there’s a little extra,” said linebacker Justin Durant. “Especially for them, I know they won’t say it out loud but you know it’s in their heart and in their head they want to get it especially for themselves. We’re going to play our game regardless, we’re not going to go out there and do anything differently than we normally do but getting a win for our coaches would mean that much more.”
During last season’s home opener, the team was in a similar situation. They faced the Kansas City Chiefs. Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham held the same position with the Chiefs and was also formerly the club’s head coach.
The result was a 48-3 romp by the Lions.
Cunningham draws a lot of attention because of his fiery demeanor and interaction with players -- but don’t think the team thinks any less of the more reserved Linehan.
“Just because Scott Linehan isn’t as fiery externally as Gun, he’s just as fiery internally,” said wide receiver Nate Burleson. “He’s excited about this game but the great thing about Scott is that it’s no different than any other game. He doesn’t put more emphasis on it because it’s the Rams. As a guy who has known Scott ten years, I’m going to go out there and put everything on the line so he can go home and rest with a victory over his former team.”
The Lions want to win this weekend. Not just go start the season off on the right foot, not just to appease the home crowd and not just to wash the sour taste of last season’s conclusion out of their mouths.
They want to win one for their coaches.