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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.
How are you feeling about Michigan becoming the unexpected center of the sports universe?
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 That Same Old Lions trope (SOL) has been replaced by Brand New Lions.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.
Watching SportsCenter or First Take, it’s always “the Cowboys are top five.” They treat this Lions team like we’re fucking 8-8! We’re 12-5, and now 14-5! You know what I mean? We had the second best record in the NFL! I say “we” because our sports teams are us, they’re extensions of ourselves. It makes me crazy because there’s still that mentality—not just from us, but from the outside world—that it’s the Same Old Lions. I watch it all, I read it all, and the disrespect is palpable. The only way to prove ourselves is to go and win it, and I really believe they’re going to do it.
[Lions head coach] Dan Campbell said we’re going to take on the identity of the city. He really did. They say what happens to Detroit happens to the rest of America. That’s right. America is seeing this team that is all grit rise above everything. Making it to where they are right now, yeah, they’re America’s Team. Adversity at its finest, still being counted out.
When Dan Campbell was introduced in 2021 and he had that legendary press conference, were you kind of doing the nervous laughter along with everyone else?
He’s a crazy person, but I love that! When he first came, shame on me. I was very much like, Okay, people come in here with their ideas and grandeur. Typically a person isn’t that gregarious and bold but also so smart. You assume it’s one or the other, but he’s both! We’ve certainly seen that and learned that. He’s got a lot of heart, and he truly changed the culture. He’s not from Detroit but he played tight end in Detroit. He knows what the city is. He knows what the team could be, and he made it that! Everyone else is playing Madden, he’s playing football. My hat’s off to the guy. I think he should be Man of the Year.
Do you have a favorite player on this Lions squad?
I am a big fan of Amon-Ra St. Brown. It’s very hard to pick, that’s the thing. We’ve got such a wild roster of characters, stars, and impact players. Jared Goff, man. I love Jared Goff. He’s fucking phenomenal. It feels patronizing to say I’m so proud of him, but I really am! Winning that game against Matthew Stafford, at home, with that support they gave him. I appreciated this about Stafford but I appreciate it about Goff also: when you watch them talk to the press after a game, they fully take ownership of everything. That’s leadership, you know? He’s truly a great leader.
But Amon-Ra St. Brown, man. The fact that he can still list off who got drafted ahead of him and use that as fuel? I love it. When he dyed his hair Honolulu blue, I got so excited. I think he’s the best. We got another all-timer with him. The kid’s a superhero. That’s the thing about athletes, too. These are kids. I want to be him when I grow up! Bro, I’m twice his age. LeBron and I are the same age. All the talk is about how LeBron is getting old. No he’s not! He’s young. He’s a baby. He’s only halfway through his career.
I’m wondering if you can try to put into words just what it will mean for the people of Detroit if the Lions pull this off and win the whole thing?
It will be a true statement of redemption for the city. The city has been rebuilding, and it would be a statement that Detroit is no longer a joke. We’ve been the butt of the jokes, and so have the Lions. That’s not happening anymore. I think it will be a testament to the indomitable will of Detroit and their teams. It’s very analogous to the city itself. When we’re NFC champs, I think it will be a great moment of glory.
Maybe you’ll get another Michael Moore documentary, too.
Hey! I’ll try to be in it, that would be sick.
Originally Appeared on GQ