ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Before Joe Nathan gave Detroit Tigers’ fans "the chin flick" and Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny "Football" Manziel "flipped the bird" to the Washington Redskins’ sideline, there was Dominic Raiola.
Raiola, entering his 14th season as a center for the Detroit Lions, has had his share of run-ins over the years, including when he gave Lions fans the finger during a particularly frustrating moment in the winless season in 2008.
"I’ve grown up a lot since that," Raiola said. "You just can’t do that. I think of myself as an idiot back when I was a hot head."
As for his reaction to what Manziel did during a preseason game Monday night, Raiola said, "Enjoy the Fed Ex," referring to the packages the league sends players to inform them of their fines. "It ain’t pretty."
Told that Manziel’s fine is reportedly for $11,000, Raiola replied, "I got 15 (thousand). That might have been the third or fourth offense."
Raiola also had a memorable exchange with Lions fans who were ridiculing quarterback Matthew Stafford five years ago.
"I don’t even respond to the crowd anymore," said Raiola, 35. "Maybe that’s the old side of me. I put so much more energy and focus into my game now.
"We have so much more going on (than) to respond to other players or the crowd. It’s not worth it. Concentrate on playing, concentrate on getting better."
As recently as last season, though, Raiola had to apologize after being accused of making rude comments to University of Wisconsin band members who were performing during the Lions-Packers game in Green Bay.
That’s Raiola — not a lot of political correctness.
He’s outspoken and controversial, but he has a very good sense of humor, too.
Lions fans often associate the franchise’s decades of losing with Raiola, but that’s something he dearly wants to correct before he retires.
"I’d like to enjoy a couple years of winning before I go out," he said. "I feel like I’ve been desperate (to win) every year … but it would mean the world to me to win for the Ford family (in the wake of owner William Clay Ford’s death during the offseason)."
Despite starting every game during 11 of his first 13 seasons, Raiola has never made a Pro Bowl team.
A story on NFL.com, however, is projecting him as the league’s All-Pro center this season as a "sentimental choice."
Raiola, who allowed no sacks while having one of his best seasons as a pro last season, said he’s always "embraced" the underdog role and no longer is bothered by any perceived snubs.
Enjoy the Fed Ex. It ain’t pretty.
A year ago at this time, there were many skeptics questioning whether he could still play in the league.
"At this point in my career, I know what I am," he said. "It doesn’t really get to me anymore. I know what my value is to this team. That’s what I can control."
At the same time, Raiola added, "It’s always good to be recognized."