Lifelong Lions fan Ryan Riess wins WSOP

November, 6, 2013
11/06/13
6:30
PM ET
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Ryan Riess was at Ford Field, cheering his favorite professional team, the Detroit Lions, three rows up on the 50-yard line. He saw his favorite Lion, Calvin Johnson, have the second-best receiving game in NFL history.

Johnson’s 329-yard day sealed a decision for Riess. Less than two weeks later, he would be one of nine players at the World Series of Poker final table in Las Vegas, his sport’s own version of the Super Bowl. He saw Johnson, watched the Lions come from behind to beat Dallas and knew he had to do it.

On national television, he would wear his white No. 81 jersey at the final table, hoping his faith in the Lions would bring him his own good fortune.

Around $8.4 million worth.

[+] EnlargeRyan Riess
AP Photo/Julie Jacobson"I thought maybe wearing a jersey is the thing to do at the final table," Ryan Riess said. "So I was like, 'I'm going to wear the Calvin one.'"
When Riess -- nicknamed Riess The Beast -- won the World Series of Poker late Tuesday evening, he became forever immortalized wearing the No. 81 he bought almost two years ago, the only Lions jersey he owns.

"Yeah, I know," Riess said Wednesday. "It’s pretty cool."

The idea initially came from the 2012 World Series of Poker, where Riess saw Greg Merson win in a Baltimore Orioles jersey. Riess went through his own jerseys: a Michigan State basketball jersey, a Red Wings jersey and a Pistons jersey.

But he went with the Lions. And Johnson.

"I thought maybe wearing a jersey is the thing to do at the final table," Riess said. "So I was like, 'I’m going to wear the Calvin one.'"

One small detail -- the jersey is actually signed by Johnson, even though he has never met him. See, Riess was busy the day of an autograph signing at a local mall about a year ago, so he had to drop the jersey off and pick it up the next day, where Johnson had signed his name on the “1” on the back of it.

At the time, the lifelong Lions fan, who has been to four games this season -- all Lions wins, he said -- thought that might be the coolest thing to happen with the jersey. Not anymore.

Now, because of the jersey, Johnson knows who Riess is. Johnson told ESPN.com on Wednesday he did not watch it, but had heard all about the poker pro representing, well, both of them.

“Somebody just sent me a text message with a picture of the dude wearing my jersey,” Johnson said. “And told me the situation.”

The win made Riess the grand prize in his sport, but still less than Johnson’s salary this season. And the meeting that couldn’t happen at the mall when Riess was just a fan could now occur with some bigger context around it.

He said someone from the Lions -- he didn’t know who -- contacted his father saying the team would like to have him on the sideline for a game.

“That would be an honor,” Riess said. “It would be the coolest thing ever.”

Cooler than winning the World Series of Poker? Than winning enough money to set him up for life, to put him in a position, as he said, to make sure he is never broke again.

“A close second,” Riess said.

Riess already had plans of attending the Lions’ game on Thanksgiving Day against Green Bay, although he wasn’t sure if that was the game he’d end up on the sideline for. His first Thanksgiving Day game was two years ago against the Packers because most Thanksgivings growing up were spent with 30 or so relatives carving turkey and watching the Lions on television.

The 23-year-old Reiss has been a Lions fan his whole life. He remembers watching the Lions when they went 0-16 in 2008, but his favorite memory came thanks to his father, who took him to a game in 1997 so he could watch Barry Sanders play.

His father, Frank, loves Sanders and has a signed helmet and football. And the passion for football rubbed off on his son. The Michigan State grad tweeted about the MSU-Michigan game last weekend -- obviously cheering for the Spartans -- and spends most of his weekends watching football on TV.

“Every Saturday and Sunday, that’s all I really do, sit at home and watch college football and the NFL,” Riess said. “Growing up it was kind of tough, but I stuck with them and they have something good going now, I have a feeling.”

How much of a feeling?

The Lions were 4-12 last season. Yet Riess said the day after the Super Bowl he made a bet. He dropped $1,200 on Detroit. To win the Super Bowl. This season. At 40-1 odds.

“If we win it, I win $50,000,” Riess said. “I have a lot of faith in our team this year.”

After what Riess managed to do in his sport this summer, there might not be much reason to doubt him.

Michael Rothstein | email

ESPN Detroit Lions reporter

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