Rod Beard/ The Detroit News
Detroit— Amid an 11-year playoff drought, the Lions are looking to capitalize on last season’s momentum — four straight season-ending victories — and the enthusiasm created by three exhibition wins.
And it showed Wednesday.
More than 1,000 Lions fans got up close and personal with the players and coaches at Ford Field for the 15th annual Kickoff Luncheon, hosted by the Detroit Economic Club.
Each player was introduced, and several individual awards were given to the standout players from last year’s 6-10 season.
President Tom Lewand, who has been with the Lions 17 years, reflected on how the team has improved and the talent he and general manager Martin Mayhew have assembled.
“We’ve never had (10) guys that all 31 teams would trade their eye tooth for and we wouldn’t give up for anything,” Lewand said. “That tells you something about where we’ve been, but more importantly, where we’re going.”
The Lions are two years removed from the only 0-16 season in history, but during that time, they’ve turned from laughingstock to contender.
“We all hear the expectations — we welcome the expectations — but it gets under my skin when I hear them couched (in certain ways),” Lewand said. “People who were starting to say positive things were saying, ‘We’re starting to buy what the Lions are selling.’
“If there’s one thing that Detroiters don’t do, it’s fooling anybody. They show up, they work hard and they expect good results.”
After a 34-10 exhibition victory over the Patriots last weekend, many national pundits lauded the Lions as a surprise team.
“Where we’re going to go as a team is a tribute to the hard work of this team,” coach Jim Schwartz said. “When your best players are also your hardest-working players, it makes it easier for the coaches and other 80 guys on the roster to fall in line.”
Schwartz also applauded the fans for their support — including selling out that exhibition game, and sellouts in all but one of last season’s home games.
“We need to make it where selling out a game isn’t a big announcement or something that gets on the news — it’s understood,” Schwartz said.
Before the program, there was moment of silence in honor of longtime Booth Newspapers Lions beat writer Tom Kowalski, who died Monday.