When his season was over, when what would be his best and last chance was taken away from him by a strange picked up flag, Dominic Raiola did what he’d done for the past 13 years as the Lions’ starting center: stood in front of his locker and took it.
He spoke in barely above a whisper, trying not to disturb the silence in that surrounded the locker room. He gave some thoughtful answers, deflected some dangerous questions and dished out solid quotes.
“Like what the [expletive] just happened,” Raiola said of the picked up flag. “But you got to make a decision quick, right?”
This display was Raiola’s routine. The Lions are 69-139 since Raiola took over at center for the 2002 season. He’s talked after losses a lot.
During his tenure he’s also flipped off fans when the Lions went 0-16, stomped on linemen, gotten a (deserved) reputation as a dirty player and gotten fined more than most. But throughout the past 13 seasons he’s always stood in front of his locker and addressed the allegations. Sometimes he didn’t choose the best way to talk about it, or was unapologetic for something that went beyond the rules, but he never ran and hid.
A long time ago, before the Lions had reached the playoffs twice in the past four years, I spoke to someone who covered the Lions. For a while, the offensive line was so bad that that person’s job was to write almost exclusively about how awful they were. One time that person went over to interview a new addition. Raiola was nearby and stepped in.
“She’s going to ask you how much you suck, but she’ll be nice about it,” Raiola said.
He understood his profession. He understood that other people had jobs to do. He understood it was best to address something and get it over with than to let it linger.
The Lions’ front office doesn’t have the same attitude. Martin Mayhew and Jim Caldwell declined to talk about Raiola at the Senior Bowl. Instead the Lions issued a written statement that included quotes from Mayhew and Caldwell, which were probably constructed by the team’s PR staff.
According to Raiola, the team never told him the reason they were letting him go, “Just the team moving forward.”