For actor and Detroit native Sam Richardson—who co-created and co-starred in a series literally called Detroiters, and whose Wikipedia page features a photo of him wearing a Detroit Tigers hat—this weekend’s NFC Championship Game is much more than just football. His cherished Lions are competing for their first ever Super Bowl berth, and for a franchise that hasn’t had a ton of success since beginning play in 1930 as the Portsmouth Spartans, that’s a pretty big deal.
This scrappy squad in a scrappy town—both perhaps not taken as seriously as they should be—represents a perfect marriage between a team and its fans. These Lions mirror so many of the things that give the blue-collar city its identity, making it easy for diehards like Richardson to become smitten all over again. (Richardson and his fellow Michigander, Detroiters co-star, and best bud Tim Robinson have emerged as the team’s celebrity psycho fans during this run.) Richardson turned 40 this month, and while his Veep and Ted Lasso credits are major feathers in his cap, it seems like a Lions’ championship might be one of the proudest moments of his life.
This was always expected for Michiganders and Lions fans—no, obviously that’s not true. We are very pessimistic and have been conditioned to be, because there’s always some sort of rug being pulled out from under us, whether it’s a brand new rule being called, weird officiating, or just dumb luck. So right now, I’m just so happy to see Lions fans out in full regalia. That Same Old Lions trope (SOL) has been replaced by Brand New Lions. It’s so fun to see. When that Same Old Lions thing gets brought up now, it gets shot down so quick! I’m so happy about that. It’s a different team; it’s a different world!
I was going to ask if you were also a University of Michigan fan, and if so, how annoying has their success on top of the Lions’ success made you?
Oh my god. I am, but I didn’t go to Michigan. I went to Wayne State University. I wanted to go to Michigan, but I was a bad student. I did spend a lot of time [there]—like when I was a senior in high school we’d be up in Ann Arbor every weekend and I’d watch games at the Big House. If I’m picking a college football team, yeah, it’s Michigan. I’m all about the Wolverines. All I have to say is, there’s been a lot of screaming for this whole month. It’s been wild.
What is that like for someone who’s been historically beaten down by their sports teams?
Well, it is at the expense of the Pistons. I say it’s like a sacrifice. The Pistons are giving us this energy. I’d be a lot more depressed about the Pistons if the Lions weren’t riding high.
The Lions kind of sucked the nutrients out of the Pistons and are using it for themselves.
Exactly! It’s like the movie Twins. The Lions are Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Pistons are Danny DeVito.
Do you have any memories of the 1991 season, which was the last time the Lions were in the NFC Championship?
I was living in Ghana and was not able to watch the games in real time. So, I was not feet-on-the-ground in Detroit for the last NFC Championship Game. But that’s why I have to go to this game. I’m out of the country right now! I can’t watch it on TV here in Toronto. No, I can’t do that. It’s like cheating on your wife. I’ll never do it.
When rooting for bad teams, there is kind of that balance between dumb “anything can happen!” optimism and then, whenever they start actually playing well, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
I tell you what, being in Detroit at the first playoff game [against the Rams] when it came down to the final few minutes, the crowd was so used to seeing that moment where they inevitably lose by a field goal or whatever. For [Jared] Goff to be able to take a knee and that’s how the game ends, everyone went silent for a minute. Did we…win? Did we do it? You’re so conditioned for something heartbreaking to happen and it just didn’t.
We were elated. I’m talking about tears. The screaming. I’m so glad I was there. I missed the last game [against the Buccaneers], but I’m flying from Toronto to San Francisco to go watch the NFC Championship Game and then fly back to Toronto in the morning. Red eye Sunday night, fitting on Monday, start shooting on Tuesday. But like, it’s the most important thing in the world to me. I don’t have plans in place if they make the Super Bowl, but part of my contract for this movie, no matter what—and this was months ago—was if the Lions make the Super Bowl, I’m going. Knock on wood. When, when, it happens, I’m going to be in Vegas.
I’ve been waving this flag. I was born in ‘84, and I remember watching the Lions as an itty-bitty kid. The Barry [Sanders] years were exciting, but emotionally so heartbreaking. And in 2008, I moved to Chicago, right in time for the 0-16 year. I’m wearing a Barry Sanders jersey around Chicago, in enemy territory! I’m going to Lions games in Chicago, and they were vicious. I’ve been through it. I need the other side. Lions fans—myself included, have earned our excitement.
What sort of reactions do you get from people on set or within the industry when they realize how big of a Detroit sports fan you are? Because that can be a pretty bleak existence.
You’re right. I think I wear it on my sleeve, my Detroiter-dom. I don’t really follow hockey, but I used to do little comedy, man-on-the-street videos for the Red Wings outside Joe Louis Arena. But on set, here’s the thing, there’s always another Michigander! Whether it’s on the crew or whatever, that’s instant bonding. On stage, you have markings and they use marking tape. I’m superstitious, and also a crazy person, so I need the tape to be [Lions] blue. If my mark is red, but a different one is blue, I want to go to that one. One time I was going to my mark, and I was like, Wait a minute. That’s Honolulu blue! Someone in the crew was like, “Yeah man, go Lions!” The excitement in me was so out of proportion. It was just tape!
It must be strange for you to watch the Lions become America’s Team.
It really is. I can go on the record and say I’ve never been a fan of the Dallas Cowboys. I have never been a fan of the Dallas Cowboys. Especially this season, man, the understanding that they’re just supposed to be among the elites of football, when in reality they haven’t been! They haven’t done anything! It’s a fantasy, it’s folklore, it’s mythology. The Lions are bad, the Cowboys are good. No! The proof is in the pudding. Right now, that team is entirely just CeeDee Lamb.
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