Ex-Hoya in command
If anyone embodies the Lions’ newfound swagger and attitude, it may be Schwartz, a 45-year-old who tweets the musical selections on his iPod from the team bus on Sundays (in Dallas, he went for local flavor and hair bands: Pantera’s “Cowboys From Hell” and W.A.S.P.’s “Blind in Texas”) and who doesn’t, under any circumstances, take any bull from anyone.
Already this season, Schwartz has been caught on camera shouting an expletive at Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant, has taken a verbal jab in a news conference at Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and has called out one of his own players publicly for a “stupid” penalty.
Schwartz’s resume, among other things, includes stints as defensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans during a stretch of four playoff appearances for the franchise; a scout for the Cleveland Browns whom Bill Belichick once called “probably the smartest guy” on the Belichick coaching tree; and a linebacker for the Georgetown Hoyas in the late 1980s.
At a time when the Lions are looking ahead to playing on the “big stage” of MNF, that last bit from his biography offers ample ammunition for inside-the-locker-room ribbing from Schwartz’s players. Georgetown was a Division III program when Schwartz played there, and the school hasn’t had anyone play in an NFL game since 1956. What, pray tell, was the biggest stage Schwartz ever played on — those epic Georgetown-Catholic clashes at Kehoe Field in front of a couple thousand spectators?
“Sometimes I’ll tell him, ‘I don’t remember seeing you guys play on TV,’ ” Lions backup quarterback Shaun Hill, a University of Maryland product, said with a grin.
A pulse remains
If anything, Schwartz’s humble beginnings give him a plucky, underdog veneer that resonates in this broken but resolute city. Detroit’s economic plight has been well-chronicled — the struggles of the automotive industry, the corporate abandonment, the 25 percent population loss during the 2000s. For the Lions, that reality has strengthened their ties with their community.
“I think [the players] have a lot of belief in themselves, but also belief in their teammates,” Schwartz said. “And the city is sort of the same way. People believe in themselves, and they believe in their city. And when you have those ingredients, you can bounce back from a lot of bad times.”
The night before home games, the Lions stay in a restored luxury hotel downtown, and a five-minute walk from there to Ford Field takes one past block after block of abandoned office buildings and retail space. On one such block last week, a solitary figure stood on a corner looking at one of those buildings for a good, long time. What could be so riveting?
It was this: A crane was humming and screeching, carrying steel and concrete to a building being torn down and built back up. The man watching was named Dave Sucharsky of nearby Gibraltar, Mich., a retired engineer who worked downtown for 25 years and who had returned to visit some old friends and do some shopping.
A new Lions hat stood perched on his head, and a Tigers pullover across his chest. More team-logoed merchandise poked out of shopping bags in his hand.
“The Tigers in the playoffs, the Lions on ‘Monday Night Football’ and cranes on Woodward Avenue — we haven’t seen those things around here in a while,” Sucharsky said. “It just proves, Detroit’s heart is still beating.”