It becomes an annual tradition for the 30 teams not playing in the Super Bowl to scour the roster of the two competing teams to see if there are any former players competing in the big game. We look to see the mistakes of the past, or the redemption stories in the waiting. We look to condemn our team for giving up on a player too soon, or not recognizing the talent they already had.
For the Detroit Lions, this 2017 Super Bowl doesn’t bare much fruit in that narrative. Of the combined 106 active players on both teams, there are just two former Lions players.
The first, and by far the most notable, is linebacker Kyle Van Noy. Van Noy was a former second-round pick in Detroit, and had even earned a significant starting role with the team in 2016—albeit, because of injury. The Lions were desperately thin, and although Van Noy wasn’t playing great, he was essentially all the Lions had.
So it came as a surprise both to the fans and Van Noy himself, when the Lions dealt him to the New England Patriots in October for less than a sixth-round pick. “I was shocked,” Van Noy said the week after he was traded. He expanded on that this week with the media, saying, “I felt like I wasn’t playing that bad. I felt like I was improving each week.”
The Lions didn’t see it that way, and traded Van Noy away, despite having little options behind the young linebacker. Van Noy seemed to have gotten the last laugh, however, as he has found a nice, non-starting role with New England. In 30 game appearances with the Lions, Van Noy tallied 39 total tackles and 1.0 sacks. In 7 regular season appearances with New England this year, Van Noy has 29 tackles, 1.0 sacks and his first career interception. In his two playoffs games this year, he has added an additional six tackles and his first forced fumble of his NFL career.
But Van Noy doesn’t hold any grudges against the Lions. “I’ll take the blame,” Van Noy said of his struggles in Detroit. “I don’t want you to ever blame coach Caldwell, because he’s a great coach. He doesn’t get enough credit for how good of a coach he is because those guys fight for him till the death, and I respect coach Caldwell.”
The other player that will contend for a Super Bowl ring is LaAdrian Waddle, former undrafted pickup in 2013. Waddle spent some time in Detroit as a relief starter at right tackle. But when the Lions could no longer deal with his struggles after starting six games in 2015, they simply released him in the middle of the season. The Patriots swiped him up from waivers as they were desperately thin at offensive tackle.
Since then, however, Waddle has been active for just three games, spending most of his time as a healthy inactive on game day. Waddle hasn’t made an appearance in a game since Week 5, and isn’t likely to be active for the Super Bowl. Still, he’s excited for the game. “That’s why you play football in the first place, to get to the Super Bowl,” Waddle said. “So I’m beyond happy and excited to be here.”
The Patriots also have undrafted rookie Chase Farris on their practice squad, who spent some time on the Lions’ practice squad early in the year, but Farris has yet to be promoted to the active 53-man roster.
The Atlanta Falcons do not have any former Lions players, however, some of their front office staff, including general manager Thomas Dimitroff and defensive coordinator Richard Smith once served roles as part of the Lions organization.