Luke Willson grew up in LaSalle, Ont., on the outskirts of Windsor — across the river from Detroit — cheering for the Lions.
The Super Bowl champion and retired tight end played parts of eight seasons in the NFL, primarily with Seattle and one season for his “hometown” Lions in 2018 when they finished with a 6-10 record.
“With the whole coaching staff, especially compared to where I had been in Seattle — where we’ve been to two Super Bowls — it was very disappointing,” Willson said.
“Very unprofessional at times … for that league. I thought it was a very peewee style operation, and we stunk that year.
“To be honest with you,” added Willson, “I got to the point where I thought we were purposely trying to lose. But that was my own conspiracy … all those things kind of added up … that’ll burn you a little bit.”
Since Willson’s time with the team there have been changes, including the hiring of a new head coach and general manager three years ago.
Willson, who splits his time between the Toronto and Seattle areas, does NFL analysis for TSN — meaning he’s able to come back to see family near Windsor.
After an exciting 31-23 win over the Tampa Bay Buchaneers last weekend, the Lions are set to play in their second-ever NFC Championship game, this Sunday in California against the San Francisco 49ers.
But will the boyhood Lions’ diehard fan be rooting on his former team?
“No. I mean, I’m excited for Windsor. Don’t get me wrong. I’m excited for the city itself,” Willson said. “I obviously have a lot of my friends and not a ton of my family members, but a lot of my buddies are big Lions fans and I think it’s great for the football scene. I’m really excited for that.”
Willson said he’s excited for a lot of longtime suffering Lions fans.
“It’s probably going to take … a little more than just a couple playoff wins for me to jump back on the Lions bandwagon — let’s put it that way.”
And while Lions fans are likely going through an emotional roller-coaster, University of Windsor sport management Prof. Terry Eddy previously told CBC News there isn’t much research on the long-term health effects.
“There’s still a lot we don’t know about that,” said Eddy, who is also an expert on fandom.
“I would say the overall benefits of feeling that level of investment and being able to ride the roller coaster generally does offset the negatives that come when we’re on the downside of the track so to speak.”
According to Willson, he’s also glad they’re winning for the players.
“I think the whole Jared Goff story is really cool. And there’s a few guys on the team that I really like playing with through the year, like Taylor Decker … pretty cool moment for those guys. Even the fullback, Jason Cabinda, was kind of a linebacker special-teams guy.”
Willson said he’s most excited for the buzz about football the Lions’ success will create among youth.
“I remember being a kid. I’ve always been a fan, but I remember that when the [NHL’s] Red Wings were winning, it was tough at school if you’re a Leafs guy and the Wings are in the [Stanley] Cup every year,” Willson said. “You know, kind of made hockey really relevant.”
He’s expecting to see a beefed-up minor football registration in the region because of the Lions’ playoff push.
What if the Lions do make it to the Super Bowl and happen to win it all? Will the 2014 Seahawks Super Bowl champ come home to celebrate?
“No. I don’t have anything to do with the team. I’d be excited for the city, but I am a very small speck of people who played for the Lions, and there’s a lot of other athletes that have given a lot more to the Lions organization than I have now.”