Denver's Paris Lenon, a former Lion, speaks to the media Monday ahead of Sunday's Super Bowl. (Jeff Zelevansky / Getty Images)
Jersey City, N.J. — Paris Lenon paused and chose his words carefully.
The Broncos veteran linebacker was asked about his three seasons with the Lions, specifically his last — the 0-16 2008 season.
“I’ll say this: When you are in a situation like that, you have a certain amount of guys who pack it in,” he said. “That’s difficult for me because I’m not that type of person. I am going to compete until the end. Now, it’s completely reversed.”
Lenon, like the Seahawks’ Cliff Avril, has come about as far away from 0-16 as you can go — competing in Super Bowl XLVIII on Sunday. But the scars from that season still are visible and still motivate him.
“It was a challenging time,” Lenon said. “Not having success as a team, it’s very difficult. But you still have a job to do and you go out there and do it to the best of your ability — you handle it like a pro. That’s what I did.”
Lenon, who made 48 straight starts for the Lions while leading them in tackles in 2007 (116) and 2008 (121), wouldn’t try to estimate how many players packed it in during that winless season. He did say, though, that Avril wasn’t one of them.
“He was young and learning and eager to improve, and he’s developed into a good player,” Lenon said. “But it’s about who you are as a person and what your character is. It’s never been my character to quit. I couldn’t even fathom it.”
It’s Lenon’s character to persevere. Undrafted out of Richmond, cut by Carolina, Green Bay and Seattle, Lenon chased his dream through stints in the XFL and NFL Europe. Finally, thanks mostly to his inexhaustible work ethic and tenacious special teams play, he stuck with the Packers and then signed his first multi-year contract, complete with a $1.8 million bonus, with the Lions before the 2006 season.
And here he is now, at age 36 — with eight teams, 13 contracts and 14 total years of service under his belt — starting for the Broncos in the Super Bowl.
“I don’t think it’s sunk in to the point where I am in awe of it,” he said. “I won’t allow myself to get to that point. Maybe after it’s all over, but right now it is business. There is a big challenge ahead of us.”
The Broncos signed Lenon to be a veteran presence and fill in while Von Miller served out his suspension. But by Week 14, Miller was out with an injury and Lenon was starting. It’s not a complete coincidence that the Broncos defense has been its stingiest in the final two weeks of the regular season and into the playoffs.
“Paris has played a lot of football,” Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said. “He’s played in different leagues and played with a lot of different guys. He’s played on good defenses and he’s seen a lot of football. And the good thing about him, he shares his knowledge.
“When you have a veteran guy, you can trust him. You know he’s going to be there. When you’ve played as much as he has, nothing is new to you. You aren’t fooled by anything. Paris is always where he’s supposed to be on the field.”
Lenon, naturally, wants none of the credit for the late season turnaround for the defense. He said it was a collective effort.
“We just started to pay attention to detail,” he said. “Guys really started swarming to the ball. I think everyone realized the position we were in and what we could possibly do and we decided to go for it.”
At one point, pundits were saying the defense was the Broncos’ Achilles heel. But in the last four games, the Broncos gave up an average of 268.5 yards. That’s 103 yards fewer than their average through 12 weeks. Something has clearly clicked.
“You can’t feed into that stuff,” Lenon said. “People are going to praise you and people are going to say bad things about you. Just keep moving forward. I think what we did was try to consistently improve.”
They didn’t quit — bottom line.
“You could pretend as best you can to try to be all in and invested in what you are doing,” he said, reflecting back to 2008. “Buy you know who is in and who isn’t.”