Highlights from a long phone call last week with Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, who just finished a rookie season in which his team went 2-14:
Question: You come from a background of winning. How did you handle all the losing this year?
Answer: It’s tough to deal with, for sure. I’m proud of how the guys dealt with it. We always believed we could win when we went out there on Sundays, no matter what the record was.
Q: Did the season get old?
A: I wanted to be healthy more than anything. I think I was tired of being dinged up.
Q: But as far as playing?
A: Oh, yeah, I love it. It’s still a dream.
Q: How was it being the youngest guy on the team?
A: It takes a little getting used to. But I knew the No. 1 thing the older guys cared about was if I knew my stuff. If I did, it didn’t really matter how old I was. You put those pads on, it’s a great equalizer.
Q: Did you befriend your linemen?
A: Oh, yeah. I ended up being pretty good friends with Dominic Raiola. He saw something in me, and it meant a lot that he really put his neck out there for me.
Q: Were you thrown by all the fan negativity surrounding the Lions?
A: It’s different, something I haven’t really been around before. But it doesn’t mean it can’t change.
Q: What must you do better?
A: I gotta learn and not make the same mistakes. Get to know the guys even more. Be the leader of the team.
Q: Are you glad next year someone else will be the No. 1 draft pick?
A: To tell you the truth, that never really bothered me. But I’m definitely glad not to be a rookie anymore.
Q: Anyone you played against really make an impression?
A: Charles Woodson. He’s impressive. Extremely smart. Great ball skills. Really savvy. The two picks he got on me in that (Green Bay) game were both really good plays.
Q: How about an offensive player?
A: Brett Favre was really fun to watch. He talked to me before and after the game. He said he liked the way I threw the ball.
Q: What did you say back?
A: I said, “I’ve been watching you forever. I’m the one who’s supposed to like what you’re doing. I’m the fan here!”
Q: How did NFL players treat you in general – seeing as you made all that money?
A: I guess they could have resented me but they didn’t, which was nice. The ones I ran into were all good dudes.
Q: I take it you don’t plan on having the same TD-to-interception ratio in the future that you had this year?
A: If I do, I won’t be around for long. (Laughs.)
Q: What was it like living in Detroit as a rookie?
A: A learning process. I’d lived away from my parents for years, in school – but I never lived by myself. It wasn’t terrible. In some ways it was good for me. You have to be happy where you’re living. It all goes into how you end up playing.
Q: You lived in a condo in Royal Oak. What was that like?
A: It was good. But in college, you always have people around. Here, a lot of times it was just me.
Q: Did you ever get lonely?
A: No. I wouldn’t say that. More like bored. But everybody gets bored now and then.
Q: Did you ever use your celebrity status around town?
A: Nah, that’s not something I would do. Like, if I make a reservation in a restaurant, I just use my first name.
Q: Any favorite new Detroit hangouts?
A: I went to a Red Wings game, a bunch of Tigers games. Drove around Royal Oak. Went to the mall in Troy (Somerset). As far as eating, I really like J. Alexander’s and Cameron’s in Birmingham.
Q: How was your relationship with Jim Schwartz?
A: Good. We understand each other. I think he trusts me and I trust him. I can’t really think of any real disagreement we had.
Q: How was dealing with Daunte Culpepper and his unhappiness at playing time?
A: It was difficult at times. But I’m not sure how I would have taken it if I was the No. 2 guy. He’s always been a starter, always won a lot. He and I talked. It wasn’t like he held a grudge against me.
Q: Would you be all right if he came back next year as your backup?
A: That’d be fine.
Q: How about your relationship with Calvin Johnson – both on the field and off?
A: I felt it was good. We only played like 15 plays together before we started the season. Then we were both dinged up for a while. I’m looking forward to us playing together more. The rules of throwing the ball to him are kind of different.
Q: How so?
A: Well, like the radius of where you can throw with him is different. The area where he has a chance to get it is different than anyone else. There’s a fine line in getting that right and what chances you want to take. And then, talent-wise, I mean, the guy’s a freak. He’s a different breed.
Q: He seemed to get more frustrated as the year went on.
A: I don’t know. There’s frustration for everybody (when losing).
Q: How are you in the huddle? What do you see your role there as being?
A: Well, I wouldn’t say I cheerlead. I’m more like a tips-and-reminders guy. Sometimes, a situation calls for you to be more emphatic than others.
Q: Do you ever try to be funny?
A: I don’t really try, but sometimes, you know, you make jokes to relieve the tension. I remember in the Cleveland game, a tight game, I threw a crossing route to Calvin in the third quarter, he made a guy miss and got down to the 1- or 2-yard line. I went up and told him if he was any good, he would have scored.
Q: Are you envious of Mark Sanchez’s rookie opportunities?
A: Not really. We’re in two completely different situations. I’m happy for him; he’s playing great.
Q: Has it been strange becoming suddenly rich?
A: It’s different. Everybody thinks having that kind of money, it creates problems, but I’m blessed to have what I have. I don’t think my lifestyle has changed hardly at all. I bought a car before the draft, that’s about it. I’m wearing the same clothes from college or even high school. Same jeans, polo shirts, Air Force ones. I really don’t see that changing. I don’t think I’m cool enough to pull off the stuff that other guys wear.
Q: How cool are you?
A: I don’t know. I’m fun to hang out with. I think.
Contact MITCH ALBOM: 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. www.freep.com/mitch.