It's been a long time coming for Dominic Raiola and Jeff Backus

Posted Dec 24, 2011

As Dominic Raiola stepped up to the podium following the Lions 38-10 win that handed the franchise its first playoff berth since 1999, it was clear he was full of emotion.

Who could blame him?

Raiola, drafted by the Detroit Lions in 2001, has never experienced a winning season, let alone a trip to the playoffs.

Now, after handedly beating the San Diego Chargers to improve to 10-5 on the season, the Lions have clinched an NFC Wild Card spot.

"(My teammates are) telling me congratulations, (but) I'm telling them thank you," said Raiola. "The culmination of talent just came to a head and we're a talented team now ... and we're in."

Raiola isn't the only 2001 draft pick on the roster.

Tackle Jeff Backus was selected in the first round in 2001 and he and Raiola's names are almost synonymous when talking about the franchise's last 10 years.

The two couldn't have more different personalities. Raiola is outspoken, always with something to say, while Backus is particular about when he speaks up.

True to form, Backus had a short, but sweet, statement when asked about his impending trip to the playoffs.

"It's about time," he said.

The arrival of Head Coach Jim Schwartz in 2009, and then the first-overall selection of quarterback Matthew Stafford in that year's draft, was the launching point for this current team and Raiola and Backus recognize the change.

"The whole staff that Jim brought in, you know, changed the whole mentality of this organization," said Raiola. "(Stafford) was our first No. 1 draft pick when Jim came in and you need a great quarterback to win in League and we got a great one. His numbers were outrageous today. I saw his numbers at half time and was like, 'Wow, let's keep it going.'

"He finished that thing off right - he's the real deal. I always said that and we saw it today."

Referencing the 2009 season to now, Stafford said after the game that, "It's been a long road, that's for sure." But, to Raiola and Backus, this three-year span doesn't even begin to characterize "the long road."

The Lions' last playoff appearance was in 1999 and, if anyone can empathize with how long the fans have been waiting for the culmination of Saturday's win, it's Backus and Raiola.

"We have such a passionate, hard-working city and they've just been begging for a winner," said Backus. "We've struggled for a while but finally here we are. I think it motivates everybody and makes everybody feel a little better."

Schwartz told his players after the game he didn't think anyone could find a single player in that locker room that had the goal of simply making the playoffs at the outset of the season. This is just the beginning.

But for Backus and Raiola - 11th-year veterans who have never even finished with a winning record - there is something to be cherished about the here and now.

"I think Dom said earlier that you don't know how to react to it because it's been so long," said Backus. "It's our first time. We've gone through all the bad here but we're going to experience the playoffs. It's new territory. We're excited.

"We're happy but we have next week and then we have to get ready for a playoff run."