The Lions Are Roaring Back

Bob Hogue
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Wednesday - October 19, 2011
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I have to admit that the most fun I’ve had this NFL season is watching the resurgence some would say resurrection of the Detroit Lions. From week one, I’ve been answering anyone and everyone who asks me who is going to the Super Bowl with the same answer: the Lions!

At first I was saying that in jest. Now I’m quickly realizing that this is a legitimate possibility. Fans of the Packers and Patriots might disagree, but it’s obvious from the results of the first several weeks of the season that Detroit is for real. A league doormat and NFL joke for years; the Lions are proving week in and week out in 2011 that they truly are an outstanding team.

Just think what that means for Honolulu-native Dominic Raiola, the Lions’ starting center for the past decade. Since he came out of Saint Louis School, and then the University of Nebraska in 2001, Raiola has been one of the very few bright spots on a team that was mired in last place for years.

I remember sitting in the banking loan office of Wendy Raiola Dominic’s mom in downtown Honolulu several years ago, right around the time that Raiola came up with the Lions. Wendy, her husband Tony and the rest of the Raiola family (including younger brother Donovan, who has been with several NFL teams and who now plays for Omaha of the UFL), were thrilled to be a part of such a respected franchise.

Then came the long and frustrating journey to the bottom of the standings. Dominic was there in 2008 when the Lions went 0-16 and became the butt of jokes all around the sports world. “It was so frustrating getting booed,” Raiola told reporters in Detroit this season.

But Raiola, who has been known to be outspoken and who has sometimes criticized Detroit fans, showed what the city meant to him when he turned down a chance to go on the free agent market a couple of years ago, and instead signed a contract extension with the only franchise he has ever known. He proved that loyalty is something that means a great deal to him.

His parents show that loyalty, too. They made the trip to the Mainland this month to watch Donovan play in Omaha and then Dominic play on Monday Night Football in Detroit.

“The energy was flowing in that stadium!” says Tony, recently retired after a long career with the phone company. “We’re really happy for Dominic. He works his butt off day in and day out.”

As for Dominic, he’s having a blast. “This is awesome,” he told reporters recently.

You can see why. When he was growing up in Kaimuki, winning was almost taken for granted. Raiola was part of Cal Lee’s great Saint Louis Crusader teams in the mid1990s, and then became an All-American on national powerhouse Nebraska Cornhusker teams, where he was named the winner of the Dave Rimington Trophy as college football’s best center in 2000.

Reality struck in his first season in Detroit, when the Lions were throttled so badly on Monday Night Football in 2001 that their fans began a chant of “Let’s Go RedWings!” It took a full decade before Detroit made it back as a host city for Monday Night Football, but this time everyone was wildly cheering on the Lions every step of the way in yet another impressive win in the magical fall of 2011.

Perhaps smiling the broadest in his Honolulu Blue Lions uniform was Dominic Raiola, the center who has seen the bottom and who is now reveling in being at the top. “I love this city,” he says. Dad Tony was just as proud: “I told him, ‘Dom, your fans are back!’”

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