James Ihedigbo, Golden Tate stoke Lions kickoff luncheon crowd with confidence

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Detroit — Since the Lions hired Jim Caldwell in January, the coach has talked about developing a championship mentality and the desire to win immediately.

Seven months later, Caldwell’s plans for a winning season in 2014 haven’t changed, and he, president Tom Lewand and some players talked about how they’re going to accomplish their goals this year at the team’s annual kickoff luncheon, hosted by the Detroit Economic Club at Ford Field on Wednesday.

“I wouldn’t have said it if I didn’t believe it,” Caldwell said. “When you have character and talent and you put those things together with some direction, I think the sky’s the limit.”

Nobody promised a Super Bowl, but Lions safety James Ihedigbo came close when answering a question about what it was like to win one with the Baltimore Ravens two seasons ago.

“When you sit there and say that you are the best in your field, that you are No. 1, that there’s no gray area, that you’re the cream of the crop, there’s no better feeling,” he said. “And I’m really looking forward to experiencing that again this year.”

Ihedigbo and wide receiver Golden Tate drew cheers from the nearly 800 Detroit Economic Club members in attendance at the Ford Field atrium for their optimism.

“The plan here is to win the NFC North. Once we win the NFC North, then we’ll worry about everything else,” said Tate, who won the Super Bowl last season with the Seattle Seahawks. “But when we win the NFC North, that means we’ll get home games, we’re playing on our home turf, we have our fan base behind us.

“What we put into it is what we’re going to get out of it. And with that being said, the only team that can beat us is us.”

The Lions shot themselves in the foot, so to speak, several times last season when they wasted a 6-3 start with a 1-6 finish. The collapse cost the Lions a shot at their first division title since 1993, and it should’ve been attainable with the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears losing their starting quarterback for seven and five games, respectively.

Lewand said after the season ended he spoke with late owner William Clay Ford Sr. and his wife Martha Firestone Ford -- the owner since her husband’s death in March -- and the goal moving forward was clear. The hope is that Caldwell is the right man to lead the Lions.

“The first thing out of their mouth, Mr. and Mrs. Ford, was, ‘How do we win the NFC North in 2014 and take it from there?’” Lewand said. “And that’s where it starts, and that’s what the mission is. That’s the goal that everyone in this organization has.”

Neither Martha Firestone Ford nor Bill Ford Jr. attended the event. Ford Jr. addressed the crowd at the event each of the past two years.

Sneak peek

The Lions gave the crowd a sneak peek at this year’s introduction video, which will be shown before the team runs out of the Ford Field tunnel at each home game.

The 45-second video starts with some lion roars and player appearances, starting with All-Pros Calvin Johnson and Ndamukong Suh. Among the other players who make appearances are quarterback Matthew Stafford, center Dominic Raiola, right guard Larry Warford, defensive end Ziggy Ansah, defensive tackle Nick Fairley, linebacker Stephen Tulloch, safety Glover Quin, and running backs Joique Bell and Reggie Bush.

The new feature of this year’s video, though, is that Caldwell provides the narration. The video then closes with the coach flanked by players on both sides with him saying, “One team, one Detroit, one pride.”