Lions CEO Tom Lewand is a difficult man to keep up with. In addition to his duties of overseeing the daily operations of the Detroit Lions he is an ambassador, official greeter, planner and trouble shooter. He is in charge of the inaugural Quick Lanes Bowl to be played at 4:30 p.m. Friday between Big Ten representative Rutgers and North Carolina of the ACC.
Lewand took time out of his busy schedule to bring us up to speed on the bowl and the preparations for the game.
Q. Why did the Detroit Lions decide to get into the bowl business?
A. We thought there was a great opportunity to create an annual winter sporting event in Detroit that would allow the city to roll out the welcome mat for two major conferences in the country and for sports fans all over the community to support some major college football. And it was an opportunity for millions of college football fans from around the country to put their eyeballs on Detroit in late December and see the great things that are happening in our city.
Q. You had the Motor City Bowl and Little Caesars Bowl, did you guys observe what they did and what type of job they did in bringing bowl games to Detroit?
A. Obviously George Perles and Ken Hoffman deserve credit for what they were able to do going back to the Silverdome, going on up to the Little Caesars Bowl, but this is a different game. This is a different partnership with the Big Ten and the ACC. I think the fact we were able to create a whole new bowl around that partnership was a big difference for us. The Little Caesars had reached the end of its agreement with the Big Ten and the Mid American Conference and obviously they didn't have a Big Ten team very often. For us to enter into some discussions with those conferences to secure their participation in a meaningful way for the next six years was the centerpiece of being a long-term, successful bowl in the city.
Q. Some questioned Ford Field being a domed facility. but without it would you probably not be able to pull off events like this, the Super Bowl and the Final Four?
A: When we built Ford Field with the City of Detroit, Wayne County and the leadership of the Ford family it was an opportunity for us to create a venue where we could have more than Lions games and we have proven that to be the case over the existing years. In addition to the events you mentioned we have had dozens of concerts and other entertainment events not to mention the hundreds of smaller events. It really has been a year-round venue that has been the home of many great memories for sporting events and other events.
Q. What is the importance of bowls like this?
A. If you talk to the coaches at Rutgers and North Carolina they will tell you the opportunity to prepare to compete and to compete in the game itself on Dec. 26 is important to the growth of both of their programs. For them to travel to a bowl game to have the opportunity that affords their entire program, their student athletes is very significant and the experience for the student-athlete. I saw some of the videos that some of the Rutgers kids shot when they landed Monday, you could see the energy level and the excitement of the student-athletes who were involved, and some young men and women of Detroit who got to meet them at the team hotel to get an opportunity to interact with some collegiate athletes is significant.
Q. What products will they take with them from Detroit?
A. We have as good of a swag bag as any bowl out there. Each student-athlete will get a life-sized, customed Fathead of those guys playing which is really cool. There are products from Meijer, who is one of our key partners. The coaches and administrators will get Shinola watches. And while they are here they will get a chance to sample some great Detroit fare from Coney Islands to Hungry Howie's Pizza which will be delivered to the student athletes at night for snacks. Our friends at Buffalo Wild Wings will do some things and they have a great banquet at Henry Ford Museum and get an opportunity to see one of Detroit's true cultural icons and set to see the exhibit at the Henry Ford on the gridiron greats on loan from the (Pro Football) Hall of Fame in Canton. It is a perfect opportunity for the stars to align for them to see great things about Detroit and see great things about the game of football.
Q. What has been the toughest part of running a bowl game and the most fun?
A. For us it has been a lot of fun and mostly fun. Obviously there have been a lot of logistical challenges, a lot of moving pieces but the most rewarding thing has been working with the great team of people that we have with the Lions and Ford Field. We have some tremendously talented individuals that have formed a great team off the field in pulling this together. I really feel like they have driven this to the point where both participating schools are going to leave with great memories of Detroit. That makes this fun.
Q. The Lions are in the playoffs and have a huge showdown game against the Green Bay Packers. Have you had time to enjoy the Lions' run?
A. We are pleased with where we are. It is a great tribute to our players and our coaches that we are in a position to play for the NFC North championship this weekend. Our focus is on the Packers and no amount of other activities in this building, including the Quick Lane Bowl, will detract from the foremost mission, to beat the Packers at Lambeau this weekend and heading to the playoffs in the strongest position possible.