Will Matthew Stafford be the Lions' version of Red Wings' savior Steve Yzerman?
The strangest question hit me out of the blue the other day: Is Matthew Stafford the Lions’ equivalent of Red Wings’ Hall of Famer Steve Yzerman?
We really won’t know the answer to that for several years. Yzerman won three Stanley Cups so Stafford has some catching up to do.
Still, there are plenty of similarities early on.
Yzerman was the fourth overall pick in the 1983 draft and immediately was on the Wings’ roster. He was smart, a good leader and the hardest worker — always.
Covered the Wings and Yzerman for many years later in his career. The day in 2003 that the Red Wings beat writers told him we’d nominated him for the Bill Masterton Memorial award he was profusely sweating while riding an exercise bike, don’t think he even slowed down when we asked for comments. It just seemed fitting. He won the award after coming back from radical knee realignment surgery that could have ended his career. The award is given to the NHL player who best represents perseverance, sportsmanship and a dedication to hockey.
Stafford, of course, is early in his career. Already he’s had a chance to show how tough he is — that win over Cleveland in his rookie season was the first major indication. He truly got up off the turf on the sidelines with a dislocated shoulder, bolted past the medical personnel and back onto the field to win the game. Since then repeatedly he’s been knocked around and gets up and goes back to work. He had a tough sophomore season playing in only three games due to injuries, but came back in 2011 and played them all. He’s a nominee for the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year which will be awarded on Super Bowl Eve.
Like Yzerman, Stafford is smart, hard-working and very much a student of the game. His teammates respect him, even at a young age. He’s a natural leader. Stafford is just 23. Yzerman first became captain of the Red Wings when he was 21.
Both started when their teams were in the dumps. Yzerman joined a group not so fondly known around town as the Dead Wings. In 1982-83, the season prior to Yzerman’s arrival, they were 21-44-15. In his fourth season they lost in the Stanley Cup Conference Finals to the Oilers. In Yzerman’s 14th season he won his first Stanley Cup with the Red Wings.
Stafford was drafted following the 0-16 season in 2008. He had just turned 21 but had little trouble handling the immense expectations placed on his shoulders because he was the No. 1 overall pick.
It’s difficult to compare NFL and NHL playoffs, they are such different animals. In Stafford’s third season he got the Lions to the playoffs. More will be expected each year. If Stafford and the Lions create a dynasty of sorts like the Red Wings did (three Stanley Cups in six years) with Yzerman, then the comparisons will be stronger.
It should be interesting to watch.
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