His perseverance finally was rewarded with a playoff appearance two seasons ago, and now the durable offensive lineman is comfortable calling it a career.
"It's time for me to hang up my cleats and retire," Backus said in a statement Thursday. "It's a bittersweet moment, but I'm content knowing I gave everything I had, played as hard as I could and tried my best to live up to the standards I believe in."
Backus was with the Lions his whole career after being drafted in the first round out of Michigan in 2001. He started his first 186 games -- plus one playoff game -- before a hamstring injury forced him to miss last year's Thanksgiving matchup against the Houston Texans.
"He's been a fixture on Saturdays or Sundays in the fall in Michigan for almost half his life," team president Tom Lewand said. "We have nothing but the greatest amount of respect for him and all he's done for this organization as a player and as a person."
With Backus gone, Riley Reiff could step in at left tackle. Reiff was Detroit's first-round pick in 2012. Gosder Cherilus, another former first-round pick, left the Lions to sign with the Indianapolis Colts.
In 2011, Backus broke Hall of Fame cornerback Dick LeBeau's team record when he made his 172nd consecutive start. Detroit went 0-16 in 2008, but the franchise's fortunes began improving after that season, and they finally made the playoffs three years later. Through those ups and downs, Backus took the field with professionalism, weekend after weekend.
"He's got a super-human pain tolerance," Lewand said. "He was always about getting the job done. I don't know that there's anybody whose work ethic better embodied this city and this state than Jeff Backus."
After acquiring free agents Reggie Bush, Glover Quin and Jason Jones on Wednesday, the Lions took some time Thursday to focus on some of their returning players. Detroit re-signed Pro Bowl long snapper Don Muhlbach to a one-year contract.
Before they announced Backus' retirement, Detroit held a news conference for cornerback Chris Houston, who agreed Wednesday on a five-year deal to stay with the Lions.
"A lot of times with the flurry of activity that we had yesterday, the signing of your own player can sort of fall through the cracks," coach Jim Schwartz said. "We wanted to make sure that didn't happen with Chris Houston. He's been a three-year starter for us, and he was someone who was very important for us to get under contract to move ahead with our defense."
Of course, Houston was quickly asked what he thought of Detroit's new signings. He played against Bush in college when the running back was at Southern California. Houston's Arkansas team lost 70-17 to the Trojans in 2005.
"I'm a fan of the game and I've been a fan of Reggie Bush since college -- since he was burning us when I was at Arkansas," Houston said. "I'm just thinking about how special our offense can be with him."
If Bush is known for his flash, Backus was pretty much the opposite. He quietly went about his business for a dozen years -- and it felt appropriate that he retired via a written statement instead of holding a loud send-off.
"To the fans of Detroit, I thank you for the support and loyalty you have shown the Lions and myself," Backus said. "You deserve a winner."