By: Will Burchfield
At first, Marvin Jones wasn’t sure he heard them right.
There were 65,000 screaming fans inside Lucas Oil Stadium, all dressed in blue, and Jones was hesitant to believe any of them were on the Lions’ side.
“Some plays that we were making we heard the crowd, but everybody’s in blue, sooooo…,” Jones laughed.
So the Lions offense kept moving the ball and the crowd – part of it, anyway – kept responding. Then the “Let’s Go Lions” chants began, gaining steam as the first half wore one, and Jones knew he wasn’t mistaken.
“You go in there and you see all blue and you think, ‘Oh, it’s flooded with Indy fans.’ But then you start hearing stuff when we make a big play and our fans are almost louder than their whole stadium. That was great to see and great to hear,” he said.
It wasn’t just the offense that drew motivation from the out-of-town fans in the Lions 39-35 victory over the Colts. The defense could hear them, too, especially on third downs.
“Their presence was felt, and it was definitely a boost during the game,” said linebacker Tahir Whitehead. “It was a roller coaster – there were ups, there were downs – and they brought the juice at the right times and allowed us to get off the field.”
Given the proximity of Indianapolis and Detroit – the two cities are about four-and-a-half hours apart – Sunday’s season-opener seemed like a prime opportunity for Lions fans to take to the road. It’s something Whitehead has grown accustomed to since joining the organization in 2012.
“I’m used to seeing fans travel out to Chicago and Green Bay and places like that so I wasn’t surprised at all,” he said.
But a newer member of the Lions was a bit more impressed. In fact, upon hearing the “Let’s Go Lions” chants rumble out of the crowd, Ameer Abdullah swelled with pride.
“To hear that was heartwarming, because I come from the University of Nebraska where – I may be biased – but we probably have the greatest fan base. No matter what kind of year we had, we travel better than any team, we cheer no matter what the situation is.
To see the Lions fans kind of resemble what Huskers fans did through my time at Nebraska was great,” Abdullah said.
The Lions treated their strident followers to a thrilling, come-from-behind win on Sunday. The following afternoon, Jim Caldwell was careful not to praise one player more than any other. His voice raspy and sore, he praised the group while stressing the need for improvement.
But he did single out the fans.
“When you’re away, it’s noticeable,” Caldwell said. “Our fans were there in pretty large numbers. You could hear them, particularly when they started to chant “Let’s Go Lions” after one of the scores and it was quite evident to everybody on our bench, our team and the whole bit. Our fans have always done a great job. They do a great job at home and a great job away.”
With the Lions ready to kick things off at Ford Field on Sunday, the fans will get another chance to prove Caldwell right.