By Will Burchfield
T.J. Lang admits there was a time, during his days with the Green Bay Packers, when he would size up the schedule, pick out the Lions and bank on a W.
“When I first started off, 2009, 2010, I think it was you could kind of chalk that one up to the win column,” Lang told the Valenti and Foster Show on 97.1 The Ticket on Monday.
But things have changed in the years since, so much so that Lang was willing to switch sides in the NFC North rivalry. The free agent right guard agreed to a three-year deal with the Lions over the weekend.
“When that defense started to get really good, when (Ndamukong) Suh and (Nick) Fairley and those guys were just dominating in the middle, that was when it was like, ‘Okay, now we’ve got a real legit challenge in the division.’ For the past five, six years, those guys have been giving us some trouble,” Lang said.
In Lang’s first four seasons in the NFL, from 2009 to 2012, the Lions went 1-7 against the Packers. But Detroit has been more competitive of late, splitting the season series in 2013, 2014 and 2015 and pushing Green Bay for the division title in both 2014 and 2016.
“So I think that everybody in that building over in Green Bay understands that, especially now, Detroit is the main challenger in the division,” Lang said.
Then he paused and corrected himself: “I can say ‘we’ now. We are the biggest challenger.”
If there’s one thing Lang hopes to bring from the Packers to the Lions, it’s the height of expectations.
“The one thing I learned being in Green Bay is nobody’s satisfied with just winning the division or winning a playoff game. The expectation is to win the championship, and that’s something that hopefully we can develop here,” Lang said. “I wouldn’t have come here at this point in my career if I didn’t really feel like they were ready to contend for those championships.
“That’s one thing that I don’t know if they already have — hopefully they do — but if not, hopefully we can build those (expectations) up to where nobody’s satisfied with just winning games. We’ve got to be satisfied with ultimately competing for those championships.”
Lang, who was born in Royal Oak and grew up a Lions fan, was drafted by the Packers in the fourth round of the 2009 draft. That instantly thrust him into a rivalry with the team he cheered for as a kid, something he said took some time getting used to.
“It was really weird I think the first year. After that you kind of forget about it. I just had to keep reminding myself that back in 2009 the Lions passed on me about five times in the draft and if they didn’t want me, then why should I feel sorry for competing against them and trying to beat them?” Lang said with a laugh. “So you get over that pretty quick.”
But Lang, 29, may be as close to the end of his career as the beginning. That realization shaped his motivations in free agency.
“Going into my ninth year now, this might have been my only opportunity to come back home and play for the team I grew up watching,” Lang said. “So I was definitely thrilled when that opportunity came up.”
And he’s looking forward to that first matchup with the Packers.
“We’ve had some good battles throughout the last couple years,” Lang said, thinking back to Green Bay’s Hail-Mary miracle in 2015. “Hopefully we get some good payback on ‘em this year.”