Allen Park — One can easily picture a young Matt Patricia, minus the beard, watching old NFL Films features while home sick from grade school.
The Lions coach, an admitted football history buff, is like Patriots coach Bill Belichick in that way. Patricia’s New England mentor opened up this summer about his deep appreciation for NFL history after visiting the Pro Football Hall of Fame en route to Allen Park for a training camp visit.
Similarly, when asked this week about playing in one of the league’s meccas on Monday night, Patricia spoke with reverence about Green Bay’s Lambeau Field.
“You feel it when you walk into the stadium,” Patricia said. “It’s no different than when I remember walking into the Orange Bowl (in Miami) back in the day and seeing clips of walking into the spots where you’d see (1969) Super Bowl highlights.
“That nostalgia just throws you right back into those old tapes and those old games that you’ve seen through the years.”
What about a young Kerryon Johnson? Did he spend childhood afternoons in Huntsville, Alabama, listening to John Facenda narrate classics like the 1967 Ice Bowl in the “Frozen Tundra” of Lambeau, watching the steamed breaths of Green Bay legends.
“No, I don’t want to (watch that). You keep all that right to yourself. I don’t need to know any of that information,” Johnson said. “But it’s got a lot of history. Everybody knows about the Lambeau Leap. A lot of greats have played there, a lot of Hall of Famers.
"But yeah, that cold… I’m trying to get — I don’t do all that.”
Green Bay, which joined the league in 1921, is indeed the third-oldest current franchise behind the Arizona Cardinals (originally the Chicago Cardinals in 1920) and the Chicago Bears (Decatur Staleys, 1920).
But Johnson is more concerned about other numbers, namely his yardage and the forecasted brisk temperatures when the Lions (2-1-1) visit the first-place Packers (4-1).
Johnson went over the 100-yard mark for the first time this season in his team’s 34-30 loss to Kansas City in Week 4. It was his third career game hitting the century mark and first career loss in such games.
“You want to be efficient, but going over 100 (yards in a game) is a milestone in this league,” Johnson said. “You do that, your team is more than likely going to win, in my opinion."
Johnson said a 1,000-yard season is also on his radar. A former formality in the Barry Sanders days, the Lions have had four 1,000 rushing seasons since Sanders retired in 1999.
“You’re not going to get there with like 100 carries,” Johnson said. “But any guy that’s starting and getting 15, 20 carries a game, I think those are kind of big numbers for them.”
Johnson’s 251 rushing yards this season have him barely on pace to be the first Detroit running back since Reggie Bush in 2013 to reach that plateau.
To build on his 125-yard performance last time out, Johnson might need to battle freezing temperatures for the first time as a pro, as forecasts list Monday night’s temps dipping in the low-30s.
Johnson, an Auburn product, played one game in the high-30s last season in Chicago before his rookie season ended in mid-November with a knee injury. He is not like teammates and offensive linemen Beau Benzschawel and Rick Wagner, born and bred Cheeseheads who became Wisconsin Badgers and grew up rooting for the Packers on Sundays.
“Historically it’s always been very cold,” Johnson said of Green Bay, sarcastically noting that fact from the past. “I look forward to that continuing this week.”
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is enough, but Detroit also will be surrounded by the ghosts of Vince Lombardi and other Green Bay icons. The franchise’s 13 championships are the most in pro football history.
Surrounded by that history, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford wants the young guys to focus on the present.
“We’ll have some young guys that I’m sure, first time playing on Monday night, will remember it for a long time at Lambeau — it’s pretty cool for them,” Stafford said. “The toughest part of playing at Lambeau, I say it all the time, is playing the Packers.
“It’s not the environment, it’s not the — you have to go play the Packers. They’re a good football team.”
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.