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Life on the Blind-Side

The most under appreciated Lion of all-time will be sorely missed

by Published: Mar 20, 2013

Jeff Backus is one of my least favorite foot­ball play­ers of all-time. Much of the city of Detroit, as well as “Lion Nation,” share in that sympathy.

The ques­tion is not why he is so wildly unpop­u­lar, but rather, what may have been had Backus never come to Detroit?

Backus was drafted by Detroit with the 18th pick in the 2001 NFL draft by the worst gen­eral man­ager in Lions’ his­tory and arguably NFL his­tory, Matt Millen. The draft included offen­sive line­men stand­outs such as long­time Patriot’s left tackle Matt Light and future hall-of-famer Steve Hutchinson.

Was it the fact that he was a Millen draftee that caused fans to turn their noses up at Backus? Or was it the fact that there were so many other good line­men in that draft? Lions’ fans will give you dif­fer­ent answers, none con­sis­tent with the body of work he put in.

The other offen­sive line­men who weath­ered a storm with Backus in the NFL was the Lions’ sec­ond round draft pick, cen­ter Dominic Raiola, who remains with Detroit to this day.

Raiola was recently inter­viewed by Detroit Free Press sports writer David Birkett about Backus’ recent retirement.

“He was very sim­ple,” Raiola said.

Those four words, taken from the con­text of a longer inter­view, are so telling in why Backus was disliked.

Detroit needs a hero. It needs a Calvin Johnson and a come­back win on open­ing day. The fans of Detroit teams are fickle (see The Detroit Pistons) and refuse to set­tle for any­thing that isn’t a superlative.

Backus was not going to pro­vide the wow-factor. He was anchored on the blind-side of some of Detroit’s more awful, and later in his career, more suc­cess­ful quarterbacks.

Blocking for an out of shape, 280-pound Daunte Culpepper is no small feat. Once a decently mobile quar­ter­back, Culpepper was forced to stand back and sling, hop­ing Johnson was open.

Try fend­ing off one of the NFL’s most con­sis­tent defenses over the last 10 years in the Chicago Bears while Joey Harrington runs wildly back­ward, unable to throw the ball out of fear and lack of arm strength.

Backus is not a super­star, but a model of con­sis­tency. He started 192 of 193 NFL games for Detroit, miss­ing only Thanksgiving 2012.

Before Thanksgiving 2012, the last time Backus had missed a start was 1996, as a true fresh­man at the University of Michigan.

Detroit will return just Raiola and guard Rob Sims as starters on the offen­sive line. Second-year left tackle Riley Reiff is expected to take over for Backus in 2013. The hole to Matthew Stafford’s back will be wider with­out him there.

Lions’ gen­eral man­ager Martin Mayhew made noise when he signed high pro­file run­ning back Reggie Bush, and then pro­ceeded to bring back safety Louis Delmas just days later.

While Lion Nation rejoiced, the con­sis­tent man ducked qui­etly out of the locker room, gym bag in hand as he rode off into the sun­set, unno­ticed for now.