May 7, 2009 at 6:52 pm

Bob Wojnowski

Larry Foote wants to help hometown team, Lions history aside

As good as Larry Foote's time was with the Steelers, he really wanted to play at home. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Allen Park

Larry Foote knew what he wanted and no one could tell him he was crazy, even if it appeared he was, well, sort of crazy.

Foote played seven seasons and started the past five at linebacker for Pittsburgh, winning two Super Bowls. But the Steelers started looking in other directions, and so did Foote. And what followed was a mutual melding of needs, and yes, a smart move by the Lions.

Foote fulfills his wish to come home, and also gets a great shot at the open middle linebacker spot. Perfect for him.

The Lions get a solution to a huge problem, as well as a needed boost of credibility by landing a fiery winner. Perfect for them.

Who knows how much Foote, who turns 29 next month, has left, but by signing a modest one-year contract with the Lions, he did something I love -- he bet on himself. He didn't come here to cash in on his Super Bowl credentials (he'll make less than his $2.8 million salary in Pittsburgh) and he didn't come for a cushy pre-retirement gig.

He came because he's from here and never fully left, and also to prove himself yet again as a valuable leader.

"I definitely got a lot left, I'm saying five years left," Foote said. "I feel great. I'm excited, it's a fresh start. I told (team president) Tom Lewand, 'In a couple months, you're gonna wish you'd signed me longer because I'll be worth a lot more.' "

Happy in Detroit

And then came the words he has wanted to say since his days at Detroit Pershing, and then at Michigan.

"I'm a Dee-troit Lion, and all my friends and family are watching," he said, smiling. "All during my career, the idea was in the back of my head -- what would it be like to play for the Lions?"

How rare (crazy) is this? Here's a guy who asked to be traded, and then released, by the best team in football to sign with the worst team in football. Who wants to come home that badly?

Foote does and always has. He works out in the offseasons at Michigan and has maintained connections to the community.

For the city and for the Lions, improvement comes in increments. Foote won't automatically fix the horrid defense, but all of a sudden, a linebacker corps of Foote, Julian Peterson and Ernie Sims looks pretty decent. All of a sudden, GM Martin Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz look brighter for not drafting a linebacker early.

Foote still must hold off third-round pick DeAndre Levy, and he almost certainly will, although Schwartz rightly said Wednesday the job must be earned. But if you watched Foote fly around in Pittsburgh, and if you've heard him talk, you know he brings a competitive flair.

An engaging guy loaded with charisma, Foote is nervous but also energized by the possibilities here, on and off the field.

"Detroit's on the up and up -- we're starting fresh with the football team and we got a new mayor," he said, referencing Dave Bing's election. "We can't do nothing but go up, to be honest. This is my home and Detroit's hurting a little bit. A lot of our young kids are going the wrong direction. If I can be a part of this organization when it all turns around, the reward's going to be so much greater."

Bringing some fight

The Lions, like Detroit, need all the assets they can gather, and Foote brings a healthy chip. In Pittsburgh, young linebacker Lawrence Timmons was taking on more and more and Foote could see where it was headed. So he pushed for his release, and the Lions got a great deal.

Foote didn't get a great financial deal, but he got a terrific opportunity. The Steelers cut him so late, it dampened demand, but Foote said he fielded a call from Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt at 2 a.m. Wednesday.

Detroit was his No. 1 choice and nothing dissuaded him, not even that little matter of 0-16.

"I didn't look at the record -- I said, 'Shoot, I'm gonna help them,' " he said. "I want to win by any means, and I don't believe that hype of rebuilding. In Pittsburgh, we weren't the most talented team, but we loved to fight. Hopefully, we can bring in enough guys with that mentality and turn this thing around."

The Lions have a long, long way to go, but this is a positive step, putting one Foote in front of the other. Who knows, maybe that's what it takes to change things, just a little crazy belief in something.

bob.wojnowski@detnews.com">bob.wojnowski@detnews.com

Veteran linebacker and Detroit native Larry Foote said at his introduction ... (Daniel Mears/The Detroit News)
Veteran linebacker and Detroit native Larry Foote said at his introduction ... (Daniel Mears/The Detroit News)