Allen Park — The Lions are still haunted by their past. Maybe even harmed by it, occasionally.
And as they prepare to face one of their old demons this weekend, venturing into Lambeau Field with the stakes as high as they've ever been, maybe it's best they're being asked to leave some baggage back home.
Dominic Raiola won't play Sunday when the Lions travel north to face the Packers, vying for both the NFC North title and a first-round bye in the playoffs. The veteran center was suspended one game for stomping on the ankle of Bears defensive tackle Ego Ferguson in last weekend's win in Chicago.
Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks, a mediator appointed by the league and NFL Players Association, heard Raiola's appeal Tuesday afternoon before upholding the suspension, leaving the longest-tenured Lion home watching the game on TV.
Detroit hasn't won a division crown since 1993, hasn't won a game in Green Bay since 1991, and hasn't won a game anywhere without Raiola in uniform since December 2000, four months before Matt Millen selected the undersized center in the second round of the draft.
Since then, Raiola has been a mainstay in the Lions' lineup, through 14 seasons, six head coaches, 11 different starting quarterbacks, a franchise-record 203 starts and a mind-numbing 152 losses.
Addition by subtraction?
But while he's lauded as one of his team's hardest workers and one of the game's most durable players — missing just four games with a broken thumb in that winless 2008 season — he's also one of the last vestiges of all that ignominy: Millen's reign of terror, the 0-16 season, and so on.
So while there's ample reason to worry about his absence — replaced by rookie Travis Swanson, who was 11 months old the last time the Lions won at Lambeau — there's also something to ponder. Wouldn't it be just a little bit symbolic if the Lions unloaded one final burden without a player who has been their anchor, for better and for worse, for so many years?
Raiola is as polarizing a player as any we've seen in Detroit in a generation or more, praised by teammates as a heart-and-soul leader and yet pilloried by fans — and foes — as a hot-headed loudmouth.
And whether you view this latest run-in of his as the ultimate injustice or the ultimate irony, coming as it does at the end of a season built around the promise of accountability in Allen Park, I think you also could argue it's the ultimate opportunity.
Not just for Swanson to prove himself in a freezing-cold crucible, asked to replace Raiola's savvy in his first NFL start at center. But also for this team, to finally move beyond the last decade of foolishness, the inescapable track record of poor decisions and predictable results, once and for all.
A couple of weeks ago, after a win over the Vikings, Raiola was talking wistfully about the long road to respectability: "My mind just said, 'There's going to be one day where we're not going to be like this anymore.' "
So, yes, as that day finally dawns, this has to be a bitter pill to swallow for Raiola. But maybe it's the best medicine for this team.
And to be clear, Raiola put himself in jeopardy with his own actions over the years, racking up fines for his childish and churlish behavior.
He famously flipped the bird to hecklers in his own stadium in the middle of the worst season in NFL history, then refused to apologize and instead challenged angry fans to a hypothetical street fight. He repeated that middle-finger gesture and shouted obscenities to fans as he left the field in Miami a couple of years later. And he berated Wisconsin band members before a game in Green Bay last season, though Raiola denied saying some of the vile things he was accused of afterward.
Last month, he was docked $10,000 by the league for an illegal club to the head of New England Patriots defensive tackle Zach Moore at the end of a frustrating loss. And then came Sunday's on-field incident that didn't draw a flag but drew plenty of attention after replays showed Raiola stepping on the back of Ferguson's ankle after a third-quarter running play. Raiola apologized and said it was inadvertent, but the Bears weren't the only ones who weren't buying it.
"There's no need for that," said defensive end Jared Allen, a four-time All-Pro who had words with Raiola immediately after the play. "That's how guys' careers can end."
Luckily for Raiola, this isn't how his career will end. Win or lose Sunday, the Lions are guaranteed a playoff game in January. And Raiola, who will be a free agent after the season, will be back for that, presumably as the starting center again.
But in the meantime, his team has a chance to show it has done something he has struggled to do himself. Something Raiola yelled repeatedly in the visitors' locker room after a penalty-filled loss in New Orleans in December 2011 — the last time the Lions made good on a playoff push — with Ndamukong Suh serving a two-game suspension for his own stupid stomp.
"Grow the (expletive) up — period," Raiola said. "That's all. That's all I got to say tonight. Should there be anything else? I don't think so. Grow the (expletive) up. Grow the (expletive) up. Grow up! Everybody! Grow the (expletive) up!"
Sunday, in his absence, they'll have a chance to prove they've done just that.