Chris Spielman looked around at what was going on around him and he could scarcely believe it.
It was the summer of 1988. The Lions had just made Spielman their second round pick, a wrecking ball of a linebacker from THE Ohio State University. Spielman was a throwback, a guy who could have played with a leather helmet and been nice and comfy.
And he was a winner. He won as a prep student, growing up near Canton, Ohio, where the Pro Football Hall of Fame is located, and playing for Washington High School in football tradition-rich Massillon. The winning continued in Columbus, with OSU.
The winning wouldn’t come so easily in the NFL for Spielman, because he had the misfortune of being drafted by the Lions, who were a little better in 1988 than they are now, but only by a smidgen.
So Spielman launches into his off-season workout regimen and is aghast that precious few of his new Lions teammates want to join in.
The ones that bother to hit the weight room with Spielman are both amazed and bemused by his intense routine. They’d never seen anything quite like it.
Another Lions rookie that summer was safety Bennie Blades, an assassin from Miami of Florida.
Together, the intense and zealous Spielman and the natural-born hitter Blades helped inject the Lions defense with energy and physicality that had been woefully missing.
After his second season in the NFL, I ran into Blades at Fishbone’s in downtown Detroit. I was working for a local cable TV station at the time and co-producing a sports talk show. I gave Bennie my card and asked him to be on the show sometime. He agreed.
A few months later, in the spring of 1990, Blades indeed appeared on our TV show. And, noting that the Lions had a Monday Night Football date that year with the L.A. Raiders, he had a message for the fans.
“Get your tickets early,” Bennie said, looking into the camera, “and watch me hit Bo Jackson in the mouth!”
The Lions haven’t had much of that bravado since, at least not on the defensive side of the ball. Certainly not in the secondary, where good teams separate receivers from footballs routinely.
Blades teamed with another OSU guy, William White, to form a very respectable and physical safety duo in the early-1990s. Blades and White laid some hats on you, while cornerbacks Melvin Jenkins and Ray Crockett disrupted pass patterns. That quartet was a big reason why the Lions finished 12-4 and went to the 1991 NFC Championship game.
The Lions, today, have another Bennie Blades-type in the making.
I love Louis Delmas. Already, and he hasn’t so much as had one training camp practice.
Delmas, the Lions’ second-round pick out of Western Michigan, has the right attitude befitting a feared safety: the bravado and mentality that says, “Warning to all who dare wander in my neighborhood.”
He just might hit you in the mouth, indeed.
Delmas didn’t take long to start talking some trash. Just a couple days after the Lions drafted him, to be exact. Then he kept telling fellow rookie Matthew Stafford, the team’s bonus baby QB, how Delmas was going to intercept him in drills. Which he did, eventually.
But it’s not just the trash talk. Delmas joined a WMU program that was among the dregs of the MAC, and helped lead it back to the top. And he’s supremely confident that he can contribute to a similar resurgence with the Lions.
The Lions haven’t had a true enforcer at the safety position in quite some time. Ronnie Rice, from my alma mater at EMU, was a decent player but didn’t command the same respect as the top hitters in the NFL do.
Delmas, it says here, can be that kind of a difference maker.
The coaches love him, too. Their only concern, now, is how to harness some of his energy and tone him down a bit.
As if THAT’S been a problem around here very much.
Spielman, by the way, was once asked, during one of those NFL Films 1-on-1 interviews, if he had any game day routines or rituals that he’d like to share.
“If I told you, then I’d have to kill you,” Spielman said.
I’m still not sure if he was joking.