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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Man Named Suh . . .

Count me as a big fan of Lions 'BY JEFF SEIDEL

Over the years, I have grown to hate several professional football players.

OK. Hate is a bit strong, and I used to put my kids in a time-out if they ever used that word. So my bad, put me in a time-out, and let me explain.

Years ago, in my first lifetime, I covered the NFL. I was the beat writer for the Minnesota Vikings. I went to all their practices and games, and I know this might sound like a dream job, but it was harder than you might think, mainly because, um, for most of the time I was in Minneapolis; my fingers were frozen together because Minnesota is so close to the North Pole.

Being a sports writer can make you hate sports because the relationship between the news media and the players is like a bad marriage. Basically, the players looked at sports writers as vultures, a characterization I can't dispute.

One time during the off-season, I was on deadline and needed to interview a player, but he was in a rush. Another writer and I were brought into an off-limits area, and we interviewed the player as he showered. Rub-a-dub-dub, three men in a tub.

I held my tape recorder into the steam, praying I wouldn't drop it. And he was one of the good guys. Other players were jerks. They wouldn't even talk when they were fully clothed.

Over time, I grew cynical about all professional athletes.

But that quickly changed after spending some time around Ndamukong Suh, up close and personal, and best of all, it didn't involve a shower.

A few weeks ago, the Detroit Lions rookie showed up at my son's football practice. Seriously. Suh is friends with one of the players' dads and he came out to watch. "Good luck in the playoffs," Suh told the boys. "I'm going to try to catch one of your games."

Of course, I didn't believe him.

Then something surprising happened. A few weeks later, Suh came to a game. He sat in the front row on a cold Saturday afternoon, cheering for a bunch of 9- and 10-year-olds.

"Come on ref," a voice screamed. "You suck pickle juice!"

Whoops, that wasn't Suh. He's too classy. That was me.

Anyhow, Suh bought all the boys hot dogs and hot chocolate. Granted, this guy makes a gazillion dollars a year, but the gesture was touching. And I stood there thinking, this guy is seriously cool.

"He is all about the kids," said parent Terri Markray. Her son Tyler talked some trash to Suh. "Did you see my touchdown?"

Suh just smiled. It's like he has turned into an honorary member of the Lakes Area Hawks.

After the game, Suh walked onto the field and the team circled around him. "You did a great job out there," Suh said. "You played hard."

The boys were in awe, looking up at this giant. Suh patiently signed autographs and posed for pictures. It was just a small moment, but it was real and genuine, an amazing opportunity to see a different side of a pro football player.

And now, I have an admission to make: This old, cynical, crusty reporter has turned into a big fan of a man named Suh.

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