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Wrestler, Lions fan Kevin Nash: Man on Mars before Lions make Super Bowl

Hall of Fame wrestler Kevin Nash is proud of his Detroit roots despite the frustrations of being a Lions fan. Don Feria/AP Images for WWE

Kevin Nash is a Hall of Fame wrestler, one of the most well-known grapplers of all time. The Detroit native known by many nicknames, including "Diesel" and "Big Sexy," was a world champion multiple times.

He started as a basketball player at Tennessee and in Europe before knee injuries sent him to pro wrestling for the next quarter-century. Since retiring from wrestling he’s gone into acting, notably as Francis in the movie "John Wick." Along the way, he stayed in touch with his roots -- Detroit sports and the Detroit Lions. [Editor's note: Answers were edited for space and clarity]

(Nash also told ESPN on Wednesday that he plans on donating his brain and spinal cord to CTE research after his death, detailed here.)

Q: When did you start watching the NFL and the Lions?

Kevin Nash: I remember, the first Super Bowl I remember being into was the Vikings playing the Chiefs (Super Bowl IV). That was the first. By that time, we were already, like I had a poster of Lem Barney fielding a fair catch. That was his poster. We would play two-on-two or three-on-three kind of touch/tackle, rough-touch, in the street in front of our house. There was probably a 60-yard piece of cement between the two streets and unless you lived on our street [there was no reason to drive down it]. Then we also had a Catholic church across the street, and back then they had a football field. We’d wait until it snowed and everybody had some kind of helmet they bought, and we’d go out there with snow shovels and do from the 5-yard line in and play goal-line stands. It was full-tackle, five-on-five tackle goal-line stands. You gotta realize, when I grew up, the first real quarterback I remember was [Greg] Landry for the Lions and Bobby Douglass from the Bears. Every team, the Cleveland Browns were Bo Scott and Leroy Kelly. Everybody had two backs. Everybody had a distinct fullback who got carries and a 1,000-yard halfback. It was just such a different era of football, pounding running games.

I read your thing where the guy was talking about Mel Farr. Everybody remembers Mel Farr because he sold Fords, but to me he was for years, he was our back, he was our guy. Mel Farr with Altie Taylor, Billy Sims. By the time Sims was there, I was already out of Detroit. I was at Tennessee and then overseas in Europe. When I tore my knee up overseas, the guy that had done Billy Sims' knee reconstruction was a guy named Robert Teitge, and he did my knee. I came back home because my knee was destroyed and figured if he could put Billy Sims’ knee together, I’m pretty sure he did Billy Sims’ knee. That’s what I was told. It was enough to get me. Even when he did my leg, he said I’d walk with a limp for the rest of my life and I was able to get 25 years off it wrestling. So thanks, Doc Teitge.

Q: What’s it like watching the Lions now?

Nash: You get so frustrated because they always seem to be, like the defense was amazing two years ago. It was just amazing and then three or four key players don’t come back. I think [Matthew] Stafford is a really good quarterback. I don’t think he’s in the top six, but I don’t know that because the guy basically throws off his rear foot the whole time. That guy gets hit so much. They talk about Johnny Manziel, what he needs for punishment. Johnny Manziel needs to be the Lions quarterback for a year. That should be Johnny Manziel’s punishment. See how many hits. He gets hit on every play. Stafford gets hit on every play. To me, there were three or four games this year we were up by 20.

Q: There were at least two.

Nash: You look at it and it's like we always come out of the chute horrible. The year before we went five in a row. ... It’s always, to me, one of those things where for years they went out and got the best wide receiver that they could find and they never got a quarterback so we had a thousand great receivers. They never just really said "OK, let’s put together something. Let’s put together an offensive line." If Stafford’s your quarterback, let’s at least protect the guy. Let’s give him somebody who can run the football. Our back’s not bad, he came on pretty strong.

To answer your question, it’s frustrating to be a Lions fan. People say, "Oh, the last time we were in the Super Bowl." I’m like, "Dude, the last time we were in was the '57 championship game." It’s like being a Cubs fan. It really is. You look at it, the Tigers have won a couple World Series in my lifetime. Of course the Red Wings are the Red Wings. The Pistons are really on the right track right now. If they could have kept the big kid who went to Milwaukee, we really would have been nice. But I think [Stan] Van Gundy was a good choice for the Pistons.

Q: And then there are the Lions is what you’re saying?

Nash: Yeah, but it’s just, to me, whatever it takes. We have to get somebody in there as the head coach. Everybody gave Wayne [Fontes] all those years he was the coach, "Oh, he was horrible, they’re 8-8, they’re 8-8." But they had Barry Sanders, made the playoffs a couple times. It’s one of those things where watching those games, you don’t envision the Lions going to the Super Bowl. I think we’ll land a man on Mars before the Lions win a Super Bowl. I’m not talking about Matt Damon in "Martian." I think the team needs to be sold. It’s great that they’ve had it in the family for a billion years but let’s get somebody that knows how to run a sports [franchise]. We can’t have somebody making calls that is 115 years old. It’s time to get people in there. [Matt] Millen and some of the people who have been in there, I just don’t know how people, every other franchise, they seem to just flush the toilet after two seasons and we just seem to not do it.

Q: Is there a favorite memory you have?

Nash: The Sanders years were amazing. Just as far as watching a piece of talent on the football field. But to me, as a Lions fan, it’s those two to 14 years where they still beat Green Bay on Thanksgiving, those are the moments you live for. They never get blown out on Thanksgiving. So now it’s like, you know Thanksgiving is Lions football. You’re going to have a little Turkey Day, catch a little Lions, usually the first game, catch Lions football early before you get the feast going. I don’t know, the fact that they haven’t changed their uniforms. I always call it the Central Division, but the North now -- the Bears, the Vikings, the Packers and the Lions -- are pretty much unchanged since the beginning of time. At least since I've been around. They really haven’t changed their logos, and it’s just, that’s kind of, we just never win the damned thing.