Lions center Dominic Raiola says winning is all that’s left
Allen Park — In the past 13 seasons with the Lions, center Dominic Raiola has experienced all the highs and the lows.
But the lows far outnumber the highs.
He’s been around for 12 losing seasons — including the 0-16 debacle in 2008 — but for only one winning season (2011), which concluded with the wild-card loss to the Saints.
Team success has eluded the Lions, as has individual success for Raiola, 35, who never has been named All-Pro or selected to a Pro Bowl.
The Lions offensive line, seen as a weakness throughout Raiola’s career, now is rated among the NFL’s best. Along with that ranking, Raiola is starting to get some recognition, selected as the preseason All-Pro center by NFL.com’s Elliott Harrison.
“Yes, it is OK to have one sentimental choice, although Dominic Raiola is as good a choice as any for All-Pro honors,” Harrison wrote. “Playing the second-most downs among NFC centers last season (behind only Will Montgomery), Raiola didn’t allow a single sack.”
Raiola was both surprised and amused by the selection and was quick to deflect the praise to the rest of the offensive line.
“It’s a great honor but selfishly that’s good for me. I mean it when I say it’s a reflection of how our group played and it’s an honor we can share as a group,” Raiola said. “It’s preseason but it’s good to be recognized, and we have a big role this year as a group and we’re going to be looked at as one of the better offensive lines and we have to prove that.”
That maturity is a stark contrast to previous years and is a testament to the transition Raiola has made since taking on the role as a team leader. He had a couple of brushes with fans, when he made obscene hand gestures toward the crowd in Miami in 2010 and at Ford Field during the winless ’08 season.
But Raiola has turned that perception around, becoming a captain and stalwart of the offensive line — and the voice of the locker room, as the longest-tenured Lion. Along with that growth has come a focus on winning and an eye toward achieving that success with one of the Lions’ best teams since he’s been around.
“I feel like I’ve been desperate every year. But with this group of guys, with this coaching staff, with this organization, there’s nothing more that I want to do than win,” Raiola said. “Especially with losing Mr. (William Clay) Ford this offseason, that would be something else, to win this year, having all that.
“Having coach Caldwell here, having the group of guys we have, having this tight-knit group we have in this locker room, that would mean the world to me and on top of it to win for the Ford family.”
Raiola admits that there was a time when he was disappointed that he wasn’t getting the same awards and recognition that others got. He might be past his prime in terms of age, but last year was one of his best in terms of production. He’s looking to build on that, as he’s more secure in what type of asset he is to the Lions.
“At this point in my career, I know what I am. I know what kind of player I am and it doesn’t really get to me anymore,” he said. “It might have at some point. It might on that day when the (award) selections are made, but I know what my value is to this team and to this line. That’s what I can control.”
At a position that doesn’t have very many statistics, Raiola has been durable, playing in 204 games — and starting 188 of those — in his career.
But given the wear and tear, especially at his grueling position, he’s managed to stay healthy for the most part, belying his age.
“I try to do more off the field in the weight room and get extra running in, just to feel that youth,” Raiola said. “Just being around these young guys, you can’t act old or they’ll run circles around you.”
The Lions are under the sixth head coach in Raiola’s career and Jim Caldwell has made sure to give him a breather in some of the drills during training camp, hoping to keep him fresh in the regular season.
Raiola, though, isn’t looking to slow down or even start thinking about retiring.
“I don’t like to put a timetable on (retiring). I always say I’d like to enjoy a couple years of winning before I go out into the sunset, whenever that may be,” he said. “Maybe somebody might make that decision for me, but I’d like to go out on my own terms and I’d like to do it wearing a Lions jersey.”