Raiola to play 200th regular-season game

November, 26, 2013
11/26/13
8:00
PM ET
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Dominic Raiola will strap on his helmet Thursday afternoon, squat down, grab the football and snap it between his legs to quarterback Matthew Stafford.

Just like he has done 199 times before in the regular season for the Detroit Lions.

Raiola will play in his 200th regular-season game Thursday against Green Bay -- actually his 201st career game including the 2011 playoff appearance -- and he’s become the man of familiarity within the city, within the franchise.

[+] EnlargeDominic Raiola
Tim Fuller/USA TODAY SportsThe 35-year-old Dominic Raiola showed this season that he can still play at a high level.
He’s been through and seen it all. He was drafted out of Nebraska in Marty Mornhinweg’s first season with the Lions in 2001. Then he played for Mornhinweg, Steve Mariucci, Dick Jauron, Rod Marinelli and Jim Schwartz.

He’s seen one playoff appearance and one season where the Lions failed to win a game. He’s seen lows, lows and more lows. And all along he’s been right there, right in the middle of the Detroit offensive line.

The faces around him, the people coaching him, may have all changed but Raiola remains. Heck, even the venue the Lions play in has moved.

“Back in ’01, back in the Silverdome,” Raiola said. “Last year in the Silverdome. A long time ago.”

Yes, Raiola is the last active Detroit player to have played in the Silverdome.

He had two quarterbacks -- Mike McMahon and Joey Harrington -- in his first start. Along the way he’s snapped to Harrington, McMahon, Jeff Garcia, Dan Orlovsky, Jon Kitna, J.T. O’Sullivan, Daunte Culpepper, Drew Stanton, Drew Henson, Shaun Hill and finally his current starter, Stafford.

Raiola has more tenure than anyone else in the Detroit locker room. Raiola is the link to the Lions struggling past, their attempt at breaking out of it in the present and, since he’s playing perhaps better than he has at any point in his career, part of the team’s future, too.

“I was telling him it’s a big accomplishment,” safety Louis Delmas said. “Not too many people can be healthy enough to play 200 games. I don’t think I’ve played 200 games in my life, from Optimist [youth football] to NFL.

“But it’s a big accomplishment. And that goes to tell you how far hard work can take you.”

It’s an accomplishment Raiola will officially hit Thursday, coincidentally on Thanksgiving, perhaps the biggest game every year on the Lions schedule. It’s also a sore spot for Detroit.

Raiola has won on Thanksgiving just once in his career -- in 2003 -- despite that the Lions play on the day every year. That game came against Green Bay.

Thursday’s opponent? Green Bay.

But when you’re a veteran like Raiola, especially one who has seen so little team success in his career and has not been part of many playoff chases, he’s aware of the implications of the 200th regular-season game of his career.

And mostly, they have nothing to do with his actual accomplishment.

“The state we’re in right now, it’d mean a hell of a lot more to win this game,” Raiola said. “It’d mean a lot to celebrate this game after.

“We don’t do it the right way, it’s just another game.”

If the Lions are able to “do it the right way” -- meaning winning -- they’ll have a lot to celebrate. Raiola’s accomplishment. Breaking a Thanksgiving streak spanning a decade.

And most importantly, staying in the divisional race and playoff hunt, which could land Raiola in the playoffs for only the second time in his career.

Michael Rothstein | email

ESPN Detroit Lions reporter

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