FORT WORTH, Texas -- It all became clear as Ndamukong Suh circulated among promotional events and media tours this week, walking confidently and making bold statements about the Detroit Lions' prospects for 2011.
Suh, named the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year on Friday night, is the national face of this franchise.
Ask Lions fans the first thing that comes to mind about this team. I'm guessing they mention their hope that quarterback Matthew Stafford returns healthy in 2011.
Ask a national observer about the Lions, however, and the first thing they're likely to mention is the man who became only the second rookie defensive tackle in NFL history to record at least 10 sacks. Suh is the first defensive tackle in 16 years to win the DROY award, and his impact on the Lions defense -- not to mention their personality -- has been undeniable.
Longtime Detroit-area writer Jerry Green had the same thought. Wrote Green: "Suh is a bona fide star -- not only in Michigan and Nebraska. He truly now is the face of the Lions -- just as Barry Sanders was in the 1990s."
There is no reward or much significance to being the face of a franchise, but it's a victory itself for a Lions defensive player to even be part of the national conversation after years of roster futility. Their young star has earned Pro Bowl, All-Pro and now DROY honors, and is currently Reason No. 1 for a more hopeful future.
We all know that Stafford's health is key to any immediate success for this team. But in Suh, the Lions have a player who thinks bigger than most others and is trying to set a bar higher than what this franchise is used to.
He starred for a Nebraska team that won the Big 12 North title in 2009, and during interviews this week, Suh has repeatedly suggested the Lions are closer to a Super Bowl appearance than people might think.
"Everybody watches this game from the U.S. to Asia to Russia," Suh said in a statement distributed by the team. "It is huge. It is something that everyone's eyes are going to be on during the big day. I would love for me and my teammates to be in the Super Bowl and win it in the near future -- maybe next year, you never know."
You can't get there if you don't dream it first. Suh has the latter taken care of already.