Detroit — As the Detroit Tigers prepared to play the New York Yankees in Game 4 of the American League Division Series last Tuesday night at Comerica Park, a handful of Detroit Lions players made their way to their seats and were immediately gripped by versions of the same thought: This was the atmosphere all professional athletes crave. This was what it means to bring a city together. This was what it felt like to play on a national stage — one that doesn’t fall on Thanksgiving day, with the Lions playing the role of the turkey. ¶ “It was crazy,” wide receiver Calvin Johnson said. “People were waving towels and stuff. The game hadn’t even started, but it was already bonkers in there.” ¶ Not far away, veteran wideout Nate Burleson and running back Mo Morris were sounding jealous tones, lamenting the Lions’ own hype deficit in recent years — the local television blackouts and the national invisibility: “Sometime our games aren’t even shown on the highlights on ESPN,” Burleson said, shaking his head. ¶ But all the Lions had to do to remember how far they have come and what lies in store for them was to look over their left shoulders. Next door to the baseball stadium, Ford Field, the Lions’ own 65,000-seat coliseum, sat dark at that moment. But in a matter of days it would be the center of the NFL universe.
On Monday night, the Lions, 4-0 on the season for the first time in three decades, will host the Chicago Bears in the franchise’s first “Monday Night Football” game since 2001. A team that hasn’t had a winning season since 2000, and that just three years ago endured the only 0-16 campaign in NFL history, has officially arrived. No more visits from Fox’s fifth-team announcing duo for the Lions. This is the real deal: Tirico, Gruden and Jaws.