Super Bowl fans in Dearborn area take pride in 49ers' Robert Saleh
Dearborn Heights — It's an understatement to say it was not a normal night at Lava Lounge Too on Sunday. And not your normal Super Bowl Party, either.
More than 200 fans showed up Sunday night to cheer on favorite son Robert Saleh, defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers who grew up in Dearborn and starred on the Fordson High School football team before graduating in 1997. He went on to play at Northern Michigan University and coach at Michigan State before moving into the professional ranks.
But on Sunday, even as the 49ers ultimately fell to the Kansas City Chiefs, the crowd beamed with pride and shouted out their admiration every time a camera shot showed him on the sidelines, talking with players or shouting into his microphone head set.
The Dearborn community has a large number of residents who are of Arab origin.
"I don't know him but I know his family," said Wayne Circuit Judge Helal Farhat, enjoying a cigar between bites from one of several mezze trays set up between smoking hookah bowls.
"This city is so proud that one of their own is in the Super Bowl," Farhat said. "Everyone is cheering for him. We're happy for him."
Farhat described Saleh's involvement as "historic" not just for Dearborn and Fordson High, but for Arab Americans.
Another collective shout went up, just before halftime and a 10-10 score, as the game camera focused briefly again on Saleh congratulating a teammate on his play as the player came off the field.
Mike Jaafar, chief of operations with the Wayne County Sheriff's Office, recalled how Saleh's older brother, David, played on one of his brother's teams. Like others, Jaafar fantasized about how Saleh might one day find his way back to Detroit, coaching the Detroit Lions.
"You feel like he's representing us," said Jaafar, echoing the sentiments of many of those in Lava Lounge Too. "With the Lions, things have not been so good for several years. This might be as close to a Super Bowl as any of us here will ever get."
Dearborn Heights Councilman Dave Abadallah eased back in his chair, enjoying a hookah pipe while surveying the first half of the game on one of 15 large, elevated TV screens broadcasting the game.
"I know of him and his family very well," said Abdallah, a 1994 graduate of Fordson. "This is very exciting for everyone."
Abdallah said he planned to recognize Saleh at an upcoming council meeting.
Lava Lounge Too owner-operator Alex Khalil was all smiles, and not just because his wait staff was busy distributing shawarma plates, kabobs, hummus and a variety of fruit smoothies and other juices to thirsty patrons. He said there were no alcohol sales at the lounge.
"I am very, very proud, and think this shows to the rest of America we are as football-crazy as any other city, maybe more tonight," said Khalil.