For Lions' Don Muhlbach, climb up all-time games list has been a snap
Allen Park — The mule. Greybeard. How about, Mr. Reliable?
Longtime long snapper Don Muhlbach continues to etch his name into Lions’ lore, and now his longevity is gaining national steam.
The 38-year-old played in his 233rd career game on Monday night, moving him into the top 100 of all-time NFL games played.
“It’s been great, it’s been fun, but I’m not done yet,” said Muhlbach, who made his second Pro Bowl last season. “Everyone keeps talking about how, ‘You’re there,’ but there’s still a long way to go. (Jason) Hanson is a few years away, got to catch him.”
Indeed, as second all-time on the Lions all-time list, only kicker Hanson (sixth all-time at 327) has played more games for the franchise.
In his 16th year, does Muhlbach think he can last the 94 games — nearly six seasons worth — to catch Hanson, the longtime beneficiary of his work?
“The goal is to get as many as I can get,” Muhlbach said. “Especially because (Hanson) is my friend, so it’s always good to mess with him like that.”
Muhlbach is now tied with wide receiver James Lofton, punter Rohn Stark, defensive end Jason Taylor and quarterback Vinny Testeverde for 97th place on the all-time list.
With a full 16 this year, Muhlbach would play in 244 career games, moving him into the mid-50s of the all-time list. Where exactly depends on how active players above him on the list — such as kicker Matt Bryant, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, punter Andy Lee, linebacker Terrell Suggs and quarterback Eli Manning — finish this season.
Currently, Muhlbach is 10th on the active player list, having played every Lions regular-season game since 2006.
An undrafted free agent with Baltimore in 2004, Muhlbach was released in training camp. He went back home to Texas, where he played at Lufkin High School and Texas A&M, and found work through a temp agency at a bank.
The Lions picked him up midway through that season, replacing the injured Jody Littleton.
During his tenure, Muhlbach's job has rarely been in jeopardy, but in 2016 he had to fend off the challenge of rookie Jimmy Landes, a sixth-round draft pick. Landes spent one season on injured reserve, was cut the next season, and Muhlbach snapped on.
Of Muhlbach’s 577 career snaps on punts, only one has been blocked. He’s made 25 special-teams tackles in his career, which ranks him fourth among offensive linemen in that span.
Earlier this month, Muhlbach joined quarterback Matthew Stafford as the only two active members named to the 39-player All-Time Team in franchise history, joining Hanson and other former teammates Calvin Johnson and Cory Schlesinger.
Lions coach Matt Patricia said he calls long snappers “hikers,” and was effusive Wednesday in his praise for Muhlbach.
“I’m lucky to see that guy every day,” Patricia said. “Muhl walks in this building every single day trying to earn his job.
“That’s an impressive trait of humility and someone that just comes to work every single to work hard to prove his worth.”
The coach said long snapping has been made tougher over the years, despite rule changes to protect them right after the snap. Patricia said the Vikings, in particular, are aggressive with inside punt block rushes, which could make Muhlbach a focal point Sunday.
“We’re lucky to be around everyone in this room all day, this is our family during the season,” Muhlbach said, as fellow Pro Bowler Darius Slay came from behind him during an interview scrum, calling Muhlbach the “GOAT.” “This is our brotherhood.”
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.