Lions' T.J. Lang tackling grand marshal duties with pride

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Detroit — Lions offensive lineman T.J. Lang was excited with his job as grand marshal for Saturday’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix IndyCar race on Belle Isle, getting ready to tell the drivers to “start your engines,” to get the 70-lap race underway with his wife, children and other family members nearby.

“I’m usually a guy that doesn’t like all the attention or want the spotlight on me so I’m getting a little nervous thinking about it, but I view it as a once in a lifetime opportunity to go out and be able to give that command in a big race like this,” said Lang during a noon news conference before heading to meet the drivers. “I’m definitely excited about it and I think it will be something that I’ll probably cherish or probably remember most from this weekend.

“I’m real excited to get out there and meet the drivers and enjoy the day because I’ve never had the chance to come out here before. I want to know how they got started (in racing) because I think normal people like me just kind of look at it as these guys and say that they have to be a little bit crazy to go out and drive 200 miles-per-hour out on the race track. Obviously, it’s a wild sport just watching in on TV. I think it will be even more exhilarating watching it in person.

“I always get kind of starstruck when I meet other people, other athletes because I never really viewed myself as a celebrity. I’m just a football player so it’s great to interact a little bit and just find out what really drives those guys to want to do what they do and how do they stay on top so long because it’s such a competitive sport.”

Lang also said he compares the pit crew to an offensive lineman, “because they don’t get much of the credit, but they do a lot of the dirty work and if they have one slip up it could cost the rest of the team a couple of seconds and that’s all it takes to lose a couple of spots or lose a race.”

Lang signed a free-agent contract with the Lions in March after playing eight seasons with Green Bay, winning the Super Bowl with the Packers in 2011 and making the Pro Bowl this past season for the first time which aided him to the three-year, $28.5 million deal with $19 million guaranteed.

So, why the Lions, aside from having the opportunity to come home, of course?

“I think, especially in the past couple of years when we played the Lions two times a year, I got a very up close look at how they made growth as a football team," Lang said. "Dating back to 2015 when they had a 7-9 record, but if you looked at their last eight games they were 6-2 or 7-1 and then last year making it all the way to the last game, playing for the division (title), ultimately making the playoffs. I just viewed them as a team that’s ready to compete and contend for not only playoff wins, but our goal is obviously to win championships. We have a lot of work to do, but I truly felt that this is a team that’s capable of doing that.

“It felt like the perfect timing. Everybody's excited, my mom was crying, just a great feeling to be able to stay home and settle my family down and obviously have the chance to play for the Lions, which was my dream growing up as a kid so it definitely was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I missed a lot of family time the last eight years while living in Wisconsin and now it’s time to make up for it and I get the chance to see them all the time now, get to bring them to events like this today, kind of make up on some missed time.”

Lang played his high school ball at Birmingham Brother Rice, then played college ball at Eastern Michigan.

Yes, pretty impressive, going from Eastern Michigan — which was his lone scholarship offer — to an All-Pro guard while protecting star quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Lions general manager Bob Quinn wanted to upgrade the offensive line, so he brought in right tackle Rick Wagner from the Ravens, along with Lang who had surgery in January to correct a degenerative hip issue.

“I’m still doing a lot of watching, taking a lot of mental reps," Lang said. "I won’t be ready to go full speed until training camp, which is a couple of months away, but it’s been a great adjustment for me. All the coaches and all the players have been so helpful, just catching me up with the playbook, kind of building a chemistry a little bit, building those great relationships with those guys which is very vital. You know to any successful football team you have to have guys that really care about each other and are really close friends.

“It’s been great though, definitely a big adjustment for me since I was used to playing in one system for eight years and now coming over to Detroit and calling everything different. It's taken a lot of extra studying and just mental preparation there, but it’s been great, better than I expected.”