The Detroit Lions are coming off their first playoff birth since the Barry Sanders era. That obviously gives fans in Detroit a lot to love.
Matthew Stafford threw for 5,000 yards, Ndamukong Suh brings the nasty attitude that Detroit fans have always loved, and Jim Schwartz has turned an 0-16 disaster into a team opponents have to respect.
But when it comes down to it, the simplest answer is usually the best one. Calvin Johnson is the most beloved player on the Detroit Lions.
Johnson had a lot to live up to when he was drafted No. 2 overall in 2007. Drafting bust wide receivers Charles Rogers, Roy Williams, and Mike Williams had turned the team into a laughingstock.
Taking yet another wide receiver was more than many fans could stomach. Believe it or not, there was a large contingent of fans in Detroit who pined for the team to trade down to take Gaines Adams. Another group of fans hoped that the Oakland Raiders would draft Johnson so the Lions could take JaMarcus Russell.
I'm guessing none of those fans would own up to those desires today. Megatron has been everything he was projected to be and more.
Despite playing on an 0-16 team and catching passes from Shaun Hill and Drew Stanton due to Matthew Stafford's history with injuries, Johnson has never failed to deliver. He's the type of player who lays out to make a six-yard catch on third-and-12.
He goes up to pull balls down when tripled covered. He made the cover of Madden 13 and got Ford Field pictured on video game covers throughout the country. Nobody can deny the man's talent.
But Johnson also represents something else about Detroit. We like our boisterous or brash athletes, but we love the soft-spoken workmen. We like Sergei Fedorov, but we love Steve Yzerman. Johnson fits the latter mold perfectly. He's dominant, but he's soft-spoken. He puts up stats, but he doesn't showboat. He fits right into Detroit's culture of sports excellence and the city will continue to embrace him for it.
Even if Detroit has had a lot to love lately, they've had a lot to hate for a lot longer.
While Matt Millen's era of complete incompetence has largely been purged from the roster, there are still remnants that Detroit fans will find hard to forgive.
The most hated player in Detroit was the second pick Matt Millen ever made: Dominic Raiola.
Much of the vitriol thrown toward Raiola isn't his fault. By all measures, he's been a decent starter for ten years in Detroit. But being a starter for ten years in Detroit means that he's seen a lot of losses.
When fans in Detroit think of Joey Harrington, they remember Raiola snapping the ball to him. When they think about James Stewart or Kevin Jones getting blown up in the backfield, they remember Raiola getting pushed into the backfield by a defensive tackle who outweighed him by 30 pounds. When they think about the 0-16 season, they remember Raiola flipping off the hometown fans who were deservedly upset with the hapless team.
Raiola will probably never get a fair shake from the fans in Detroit. His diminutive size and fiery personality have made him a scapegoat for the futility that has characterized the Lions for decades. Time will tell whether or not the Lions current upswing will improve Raiola's relationship with the fans, but the ten-year record tells me people will find a reason to hate him no matter what.