In the final portion of my interview with Bill Ford Jr., he discusses the atmosphere surrounding Ford Field this season, what this season meant to the Ford family, an interesting conversation he had with a fan at a coffee shop,
Q: You just finished the Auto Show, you probably get as many comments about the Lions at the Auto Show as you do the cars, what was the vibe there this year?
A: "It’s a very interesting thing. When I am in the state of Michigan, even if I’m at an auto event, I get a lot of Lions questions. But as soon as I leave Michigan, and lets say I give a speech in New York, or obviously if I’m out of the country, I get no football questions. It’s all autos. But I’ll never forget in October of this year. We had just announced earnings at Ford a day before and I was getting coffee in Ann Arbor and someone came up to me and said, ‘Congratulations,’ I said, ‘Yeah thanks, we’re on the upswing and things are looking good,’ and the person said, 'Yeah, completely on the upswing,’ I said, ‘Yeah, it great and we’re selling cars and gaining market share,’ and the person looked at me and said, 'No. I meant the Lions.’
"I sometimes have to recalibrate. I’ll tell you what they have in common. They both elicit passion from people. People are passionate about cars and they are passionate about football and I love that. I love the passion. There are days you don’t love it because people are angry and they’re mad and they’re either angry or mad that you didn’t come out with the car they were looking for, or they’re angry your football team hasn’t played well; but I’d rather have people really care rather than be indifferent."
Q: How did you feel Ndamukong Suh came back from the incident on Thanksgiving and has handled himself since then?
A. “I think he’s handled himself well. My guess is he was surprised at how big a deal it really was nationally and that probably really took him back. He’s a very bright guy and he’s a quick study and I think he has and will continue to learn from that. The coaches think he played well on the field at the end of the year. He obviously didn’t have as many impact plays as he did last year but the coaches thought he played really well when he came back, so that’s good. He’s going to have a long career ahead of him and I think he can and will put all of that behind him."
Q: What was it like walking into that stadium this year, with the Ford name on it, and seeing what it’s become, which is one of the toughest places to play in the NFL?
A: “If I can go back a few years, when we built Ford Field, we really wanted it to be the greatest stadium in the NFL. We wanted to blend old and new and make it uniquely – unlike any domed stadium in the league. I think we were able to do that, but the missing ingredient was a winning team and therefore the atmosphere. There were so many times that it was just flat in there. Just flat. I remember talking to Tom Lewand saying, ‘Do you think the acoustics are not good in here?’ And finally Tom and I realized it had nothing to do with the acoustics, it had had to do with the level of fan enthusiasm, or lack thereof (laughing).
“This year was totally different and I’ll never, ever, forget the Monday Night game. It was just electric. I ended up having to do a radio interview over at HockeyTown half an hour before kickoff, so I walked from the stadium over to Hockey Town and it was shear madness and then did my interview and walked back to the stadium and I remember just looking around and there were bands on certain street corners, people were just in the streets, everyone was smiling and everybody was revved up. I just kept thinking, this is this what this city should be like all the time. Then of course, during the game it was absolutely deafening inside of Ford Field. It was terrific and I loved it.
“I’ll date myself, but I remember that feeling (ears ringing) at the Silverdome a few times when we had 80,000 people in there and again, it was a Monday Night game, we played against the 49ers. I remember it being deafening and walking out still having that ringing in my ears.”
Q: What did it mean for the Ford family and to your dad (chairman William Clay Ford) to get the game ball after the final regular season game?
A: “I think for my dad it was particularly great because this has been his passion for many, many years and it hasn’t always worked out the way he would have liked. The one thing that he’s always consistently enjoyed is the players and the coaches. Through all the years where he took a lot of criticism and all the years where it hadn’t gone as well as he had hoped, I think the one constant was that he always enjoyed his relationship with the players and the coaches. To be recognized by them, probably meant more to him then it would to most other people because those are the relationships that really matter to him.”
Q: What was this season like for you and your family, particularly your younger children who haven’t experienced something like this before?
A: “You raise a very good point. My youngest son has never experienced the Lions being very good. I think as a result he had always kind of held back because it was always disappointment after disappointment for him on Sunday’s. He wasn’t as invested in the team in as many ways as my older children just because he was so used to being disappointed by them. He really, I think more than any of them, loved this year because it allowed him to go to school and wear his Lions gear and not have to listen to any kind of feedback from other kids. My boys grew up working in the equipment room with Timmy (equipment manager Tim O’Neill) and those guys, so they have deep relationships with the guys in the weight room, too, so for them, it’s particularly fun because it’s not just the players they’re excited for, it’s all the people in the organization that they know as well. My older son Will, who plays hockey at Princeton, he worked here for a number of summers for Timmy and he really got to know the training staff, all the weight room guys, then he worked with the weight room guys in getting stronger himself and so, it was just really fun for him. I think in some ways he was happier for all the staff then he was the players because he knows what those staff guys have been through all of those years.”
Q: Describe the atmosphere surrounding that Week 16 victory against the Chargers that clinched a playoff berth?
A: “The atmosphere at really all the games this year was just great. It’s hard to single any game out because the whole year it was magnificent. Even the first half of the New Orleans (playoff) game was great. When you lose in New Orleans it doesn’t feel any better… losing is still losing. I suppose people would say to me and to my father, ‘Oh, you should be so happy about the season,’ I suppose, when you take a step back, yes, but at that moment, no. We lost a game, we lost a game that we thought we had a chance in and our season is over. However you cut it, there’s no feeling good at that moment.”
Q: How different has it been watching these playoffs, knowing how close you were?
A: “I must say that the moment we’re out of it, I lose a little interest. You’re right, I look at the teams that were still playing and I would like to think that we would have a chance; in fact I do think we have a chance, and that’s different. It makes you that much more determined to add the final few pieces and then go at it again next year. I really do think that we’re only a few pieces away.”
Q: Super Bowl week is almost here, how close do you think the Lions are to playing in their first Super Bowl?
A: "I think we are absolutely headed in the right direction. The first step is to make the playoffs and we did that. The expectations going forward, I think, will be higher now, and they should be. I think as long as we can keep our quarterback healthy and we can re-sign a couple of our key players and Martin continues to work his magic, in terms of finding pieces that can fit into our puzzle, I really believe this organization can content for the Super Bowl pretty soon."