ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) — Jim Caldwell's first game as coach of the Detroit Lions will be on quite a stage — at home on a Monday night against the New York Giants.
That's a prospect so exciting his face lit up a bit after he was asked about it.
"It's a great platform for our team, for our city, for our organization," Caldwell said about next Monday's game. "It is a unique opportunity. It doesn't come around very often, and for us, obviously, it's the only night game we have."
The season opener would be big no matter the circumstances, especially with Caldwell new in charge after the Lions replaced coach Jim Schwartz in the offseason. Now, the spotlight will be even brighter. Detroit has not opened the season on a Monday night since 1971.
The Lions have recently been included in Monday night games with more regularity. A 2011 home game against Chicago was their first regular-season appearance on Monday night in 10 years, but Detroit has played at least one Monday night game in every season since.
That's added a bit more buzz to a schedule that annually includes a marquee game on Thanksgiving. Detroit will also play a game in London this year, on Oct. 26 against Atlanta.
The Monday night opener will be part of a big day in Detroit. The Tigers start a crucial series with Kansas City at Comerica Park, and the Lions will kick off their season across the street three hours after the beginning of the baseball game.
"It seems like it's going to take forever to get here, but I'm excited, I'm looking forward to it, I'm excited for this city," said center Dominic Raiola, who began his NFL career with the Lions in 2001 and has been with the team ever since. "To come from a Tigers' game straight to our game — it's compared to that game against the Bears on Monday night, the electricity in the building."
The prime-time opener underscores how far the Lions have come since their 0-16 season in 2008, but they've still had their share of exasperating moments. Quarterback Matthew Stafford, wide receiver Calvin Johnson and defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh weren't able to push Detroit to the playoffs last season, and Schwartz was fired after the team collapsed down the stretch.
There's pressure on everyone in 2014. Suh is in the final year of his contract, and fellow defensive tackle Nick Fairley was demoted during the preseason, although he was listed with the first team on a depth chart Monday.
Fairley stressed the fact that on longer drives, backups have to come in anyway.
"The group of guys that we've got in there now, we're working to get better as a unit, and to have our rotation down to where when the fourth quarter comes, everybody's fresh," he said.
Elsewhere on the depth chart, second-year tackle LaAdrian Waddle is listed as a starter. He started eight games last season, while offensive linemen Raiola, Rob Sims, Riley Reiff and Larry Warford started 16 each.
Detroit made a handful of additions this offseason, such as wide receiver Golden Tate, but overall, the core of talent won't look much different than last year. What has changed is the coaching staff — and what better way for Caldwell to make his debut with his new team than in a nationally televised game?
"My first Monday night game was when I was (an assistant) with Tampa and we actually played against the St. Louis Rams, I believe," Caldwell said. "I just remember the buzz in the air. People had all day to get ready for the game. It didn't happen in the middle of the afternoon where they only had a few hours, maybe they went to church and then ran to the ballpark or whatever. You have literally all day to get ready for it, so there's a huge buildup."
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