Motor City Madness

DETROIT — I’m at my hotel in downtown Detroit, and I’ve walked and driven around town.

I’m quite familiar with the D because my wife is from here, and I’ve visited at least once a year for 14 years.

With all that said, I can say with confidence that people here are amped up. The Detroit Free Press perfectly captured the excitement with its headline.

The two other times I’ve covered the Bears-Lions at Ford Field, it was almost like an alternate home game for the Bears. But I suspect that won’t be the case tonight, since tickets sold out quickly here.

I got a chance to gauge the pulse of the excitement at ESPN’s Chalk Talk luncheon, which was heled at an atrium at Ford Field.

How big was it?

Big enough that Lions legend Barry Sanders was on hand.

Given this franchise’s long-documented struggles — most notably an 0-16 season — Sanders has more invested than most in the Lions.

“For a lot of us Lions fans, this is the type of beginning we’ve been hoping for, for a long time,” Sanders said. “It’s good to see the impact players that you put a lot of hope and expectation in, make big plays and coming through for the team.

“This city deserves it. We’ve been very patient, and hopefully we can just keep it up.”

How big is it?

ESPN president George Bodenheimer, who only makes it to a handful of Monday night games, was on hand.

There’s some skepticism because this is — after all — the Lions we’re talking about.

But even if this season somehow ends up in yet another disappointment, the Lions are clearly headed in the right direction. The club’s top three players are all draft picks: Ndamukong Suh, Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford.

Matt Barnhart has been with the franchise since the late 1990s. Barnhart, now the Lions director of media relations, was thrilled to be at ESPN’s luncheon, setting up interviews and answering questions.

“I think the most exciting thing is, is seeing the success on the field for the players and coaches,” Barnhart said. “We obviously feed off that.

“It’s great to have this opportunity with a great division opponent like the Chicago Bears.”

Another interesting perspective comes from Mike Tirico, ESPN’s Monday Night Football play-by-play man. He lives in Ann Arbor, and he was elated to work a game close to home.

“It’s heightened up because it’s been so long,” he said, referring to the Lions hosting a game in Detroit back in 2001. “It’s like a carrot: 4-0. For the fans, this is incredibly rare, and you can understand their excitement.”

The Lions have been notoriously slow starters. But so, too, have the Bears. If they hope to win this important game, the Bears need to set the tone early, or else things could get ugly at Ford Field.

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