MIKE O'HARA

O'HARA'S NOW AND THEN: Travis Swanson and Kevin Glover

Posted Jun 16, 2014

Kevin Glover is a good role model for anyone who arrives at his first NFL team after a successful college career and finds the path to a starting job blocked by a veteran.

Kevin Glover is a good role model for anyone who arrives at his first NFL team after a successful college career and finds the path to a starting job blocked by a veteran.

Glover got to the Lions as a second-round draft pick in 1985 after an outstanding career as a center at the University of Maryland. Glover was a first-team All American, the 34th pick overall in the ’85 draft and the second center drafted.

It made for a good resume – but it didn’t improve Glover’s chance to dislodge Steve Mott, a former Alabama captain who was headed into his third season as the starting center.

Glover was confronted with the reality that he would be a backup at guard and center until a starting  position opened.

“I realized early on that I had to play a double role, as far as backing up at center and guard,” Glover said in a telephone interview from his office at the University of Maryland. “The challenging part is, in most cases we all come in as all-conference and All-American. We were two- or three-year starters in college.

Travis SwansonC Travis Swanson (Photo: Detroit Lions)

“You have to be patient.”

Travis Swanson, a rookie drafted in the third round out of Arkansas, is learning how to be patient in the jump to the NFL.  Swanson started all 50 games at center for Arkansas from 2010-13 and is the heir-in-waiting at center behind Dominic Raiola, who’s beginning his 14th season with the Lions.

Swanson has worked at center and guard in the offseason workouts. The Lions are set at guard with Rob Sims and Larry Warford.

Swanson’s mindset is to do whatever the coaches tell him to do – just as Glover did 29 years ago.

“I’m going to try and contribute as much as I can, whether that’s on offense, special teams – you know, whatever the coaches ask me, I’m going to do it,” Swanson said after a minicamp practice.

Swanson asks for advice from all the veterans – whether it’s Raiola with 13 seasons on his log or Warford going into his second year.

“They went through what I’m going through now,” Swanson said. “You have to ask questions. Everyone’s different. I’m a question type of guy. You come out to practice every day with something to learn and just focus on that.”

Glover, who turns 52 this week, is executive director of his alma mater’s M-Club Alumni Association. He’s been on staff for 10 years.

As he looks back at how his career began with the Lions, patience was an important in helping him get through is first two years until he established himself as a starter.

The payoff for Glover was a 15-year career, the first 13 of them with the Lions. He played on consistent playoff contenders in his last seven seasons with the Lions and was a Pro Bowl center the last three years.

Because of injuries and the presence of veteran starters at center and guard, Glover played only 14 games in his first two seasons, with one start at left guard.

He became a full-time starter at guard in the 1987 strike season and remained there through 1988. He became the starting center in 1989 and never vacated the position, except for injury. He departed for Seattle as a free agent in 1998 and retired after two seasons with the Seahawks that were shortened by injury and illness.

Some of the most rewarding lessons came when he was fighting for playing time and battling through injuries.

“I ended up having two knee surgeries in my first two years,” Glover said. “I’d never missed a game and never missed a practice. All of a sudden, I go from being an All-American in college to having to fulfill the backup role, and getting injured.

“I learned a lot. I was fortunate that there were good players there. I learned a lot about preparation, mental toughness and staying in great shape.

“They were very, very positive learning opportunities for me from the people I was around – teammates and staff. I think in  those years – tough times like that – I learned as much from those years as I did making the Pro Bowl or going to the playoffs.”

One lesson was from Bill Muir, a respected 30-year NFL assistant who coached the offensive line in Glover’s first four years as a Lion.

Glover mentioned to Muir one day that he might need to take a day off of practice.

“My knee was really bothering me,” Glover said. “Before I could say anything, he said, ‘You can’t afford to have a day off. If you want to make the team, you have to practice.’

“I never took it as him being a jerk about it. It was the reality of the business.”

It was not part of Glover’s character to ask for a day off or take a short cut. He never took his career for granted.

In fact, he never bought a house in the 13 years he spent as a Lion, and not because he didn’t like playing in Detroit.

“If I knew I’d be there that long, I would have bought a house,” he said. “I didn’t know if I was going to be in the league two years, three years, five years. I still tell people that Detroit is my second home.”

Glover played on Lions teams that made the playoffs five times from 1991-97, won division championships in 1991 and ’93 and had double digit wins three times.

Barry Sanders was the super star of the group, but other Pro Bowlers drafted by the Lions in that span included Glover, Lomas Brown, Jerry Ball, Herman Moore, Robert Porcher, Jason Hanson, Luther Elliss, David Sloan and Stephen Boyd.

Glover and Sanders were close friends, and it was fitting for both that when Sanders rushed for 2,053 yards in 1997 there was a picture of the two of them together in uniform – Sanders wearing No. 20 and Glover No. 53.

“It was a lot of fun,” Glover said. “We really enjoyed each other as teammates. We enjoyed playing for the Lions’ organization. Mr. Ford (William Clay Ford, the owner who died in March) was outstanding.

“I don’t think people realize how close you become as teammates. We enjoyed being around each other. Sometimes there are challenging times when players aren’t getting along.

“Sometimes we had players-only meetings. We always came out on the same page.”

The Lions were regulars on Monday Night TV, and the Silverdome rocked on game day.

“We talk about those games,” Glover said. “The Silverdome was so loud, you could be standing next to somebody screaming and you couldn’t hear what they were saying.

“We never made it to the Super Bowl, but we were always competitive. We enjoyed our experience there.”