Raiola’s Long Wait Is Finally Over

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - January 11, 2012
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Detroit Lions center Dominic Raiola (51) hugs teammate wide receiver Calvin Johnson during the closing minutes of an NFL football game against the San Diego Chargers in Detroit, Saturday, Dec. 24. The Lions clinched a playoff spot with their 38-10 win. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Moments before the Lions played the Saints, Detroit center Dominic Raiola took a few moments to enjoy the atmosphere.

He should. After 11 steady seasons in the NFL, the former Saint Louis Crusader was standing on virgin ground on the cusp of a playoff game.

There are no moral victories in sports, but one would hope that win or lose you’ll know before reading this that the veteran lineman could at least enjoy the greatest success of his professional career.

Coming off an AllAmerican career at the University of Nebraska, and high school where losses were even less common than, well, Lions’ victories, Raiola couldn’t have imagined what lay ahead.

Raiola has lost 134 games (perhaps 135 with a Saturday loss to New Orleans) in his NFL career. That works out to a winning percentage just over 30 percent. It could be worse. His teammate, kicker Jason Hanson, holds the NFL mark with 201 (202?) losses. Surprisingly, his winning percentage is just a bit higher than his 300-pound teammate.

Raiola has never made the Pro Bowl and has only one professional playing award, the Chuck Hughes Most Improved Player Award in his second season. He did, however, however,, win the Rimington Trophy for the nation’s best center as a college senior. He’s never been flashy, just a tough and consistent performer which in Lions terms makes him a near Hall of Famer. He’s also been the barometer of team success and frustration.

Following their loss to the Saints on Dec. 4, in which the immature team gained 102 yards in penalties, including three offensive pass interference calls by wide receiver Nate Burleson, he went off. The complete text of the message cannot be printed in a family newspaper, but his answer to a reporter’s question began with “We’re undisciplined,” before moving to “People just need to grow the (expletive) up!” It got worse from there as Raiola walked away from the reporter and continued his verbal assault on teammates. During the game he grabbed rookie wide receiver Titus Young, who just got flagged for unnecessary roughness, and gave him a loud verbal reminder about not picking up needless penalties. The locker room reminder wasn’t the first time Raiola made his opinions known.

He made a sexual suggestion to a taunting fan in Miami, flashed a middle finger at Lions’ supporters during the team’s 0-16 season and even said he’d like to give out his home address should anyone care to make such comments in person. He didn’t and no one did.

Following the team’s 3810 win over San Diego, which put the Lions into the playoffs for the first time since 1999, Raiola, beaming like a proud father, thanked his teammates who had just congratulated him for achieving something many take for granted. Finally, after years of being part of the problem Raiola was part of the solution, and he rightfully basked in the glow of accomplishment. But to think those few minutes of pre-game appreciation will last beyond the final whistle should the Lions lose in the first round, would be a mistake. There seems to be a certain commonality among Hawaii-born centers (Olin Kreutz): they don’t like losing, can be quite vocal when they do and it’s best to stay clear when things go bad. That goes for opponents, fans and even teammates.

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