May 28, 2009 at 1:00 am

Terry Foster

This Lion official beats odds

The odds said Ricky Sandoval, director of security for the Lions, would be dead by now.

But the odds didn't take into effect Sandoval's heart. He's dealt with pancreatic cancer for three years. He's lost some weight, needs oxygen and his 90-100-hour work weeks have been reduced to 40-50 -- you know, the hours the rest of us work.

He still shows up to work at 5 a.m., ever-present smile in place, to enjoy another sunrise and to tackle another crisis.

Sandoval plans to celebrate his 49th birthday on June 30, and he'll probably do it in his first-floor office at the Lions practice facility, helping the team prepare for the season.

He'd be forgiven for taking some days off. But he doesn't. Everybody knows where to find him.

"This is what I get paid for," he said. "That is part of me."

When Sandoval was diagnosed with cancer in 2006, he thought only about returning to work and fighting the disease. While staffers were sad and upset, they advised him to stay home. But Sandoval smiled and kept working. He views it as medication.

He also loves the Lions.

The Ford family has gone out of its way to offer support. Players peek into his office to see how he's doing and offer lunch. Staffers wear T-shirts of support for Sandoval's struggle.

Chances are, half those people have been yelled at by him. He takes his job seriously, and if you violate the rules, you hear it from Sandoval.

But he also soothes, which is why he's so popular.

"For a lot of guys I am their mother, father, sister, brother, go-between," Sandoval said. "Some of the guys who come in here play. Some don't. I treat them all the same."

As he spoke, punter Nick Harris plowed through the door to see what was up for the weekend.

"See," Sandoval said when Harris left. "This happens all the time."

Sandoval is partial to the big guys -- among his favorites is center Dominic Raiola -- because Sandoval is an old defensive lineman.

"Dom is nasty," Sandoval said. "I wish he was a couple inches taller. But he has that tenacity."

Sandoval said he's excited about this season. He sees a new attitude and believes it will translate on the field. Whether the Lions make the playoffs or not, there are plenty of folks rooting for Sandoval to be there for the duration.

He's the big Lion with the warm embrace.

"People don't understand the philosophy here," he said. "It's a team and it's a family-like atmosphere. We spend more time than we do with our own families. The Fords, everybody have been great to me. I appreciate every day."

Check it out

The folks at Fort Street Brewery in Lincoln Park have asked me to be the celebrity tapper tonight (at 8) for their Pistons microbrew. The micro brewery has made a number of brews for Detroit sports, including Red Wings red, the Brown Bomber brown ale named after boxer Joe Louis and the Piston ale.

They launched the brew to coincide with the Pistons playing in the Eastern Conference finals. This is the first time in seven seasons the Pistons have not played in the finals, but FSB decided to continue with the tradition anyway.

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