Wednesday, October 10, 2001
[ NFL HAWAII ]
HAWAII'S CENTERS OF ATTENTION
Best friends are rivals in the NFL's Black and Blue division
It's a sure bet Dominic Raiola of the Detroit Lions will never outdo Don Ho singing "Tiny Bubbles."
Raiola sings in Motown, but
his real job is with the Lions
Kreutz has a 'mean streak'
By Nick Abramo
But don't bet against Raiola's quest to be a starting center in the National Football League.
Raiola, the 6-foot 1-inch, 303-pound rookie was prodded to do a little singing recently. He's not someone you push around easily, but, for the sake of tradition, he pleased his veteran Lions teammates by standing up on a chair and singing Ho's famous nightclub tune.
And he was a hit, a least on the laugh-o-meter.
You won't hear many people laughing on the football field when Raiola is around, though. The highly decorated former St. Louis School and Nebraska star is all business.
Raiola now has three games of NFL experience in losses to Green Bay, Cleveland and St. Louis.
"It's a rush (playing in the NFL)," said Raiola, who is currently second string. "But it's really like any other game. You gotta be prepared --just like college, but it's on a different level."
Raiola's personal goal this year is simple and modest because he knows it takes time to learn the ropes.
"At some point in the season, I hope to eventually step in and take some reps with the first unit on game day," he said. "I want to see the field, get my feet wet even more, open the coaches' eyes and show I can get the job done."
Against the Packers, Browns and Rams, Raiola played on special teams as part of the back wedge on kickoff returns and as wing protection on field goals.
He's also the team's backup long snapper for field goals and punts.
Drafted 50th overall in the second round by the Lions in April's NFL Draft, Raiola knows what's expected of him.
"There should be no drop off (in ability and execution as compared to starting center Eric Beverly) when I come into practice or a game and take my reps," Raiola said. "I hold myself to high standards. I'm always trying to get better, trying to reach perfection, even though I don't think that (perfection) will happen."
"No drop off," he emphasized.
Raiola is constantly trying to improve by watching film every day, looking at the overall picture and trying to pick out the many things he wants to work on.
"At some point in the season, I hope to eventually step in and take some reps with the first unit on game day. I want to ... open the coaches' eyes and show I can get the job done." Dominic Raiola
"Any time we gotta move or pull or run screens, that's where I can use my quickness and speed, and we try to find new ways to use it," he said. "I don't single out one thing that I might need to work on, because I'm not at the level where I can focus on one aspect of the game and leave others dangling. Anything I can do to get better, I do it."
Last year, Raiola was a first-team All-America selection by the Football Writers Association, Walter Camp, the Associated Press and the America Football Coaches Association, and he was a finalist for the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award, given to the nation's outstanding lineman.
With one year of eligibility remaining, Raiola left Nebraska to enter the draft, and he doesn't regret it, even though his years with the Cornhuskers are the highlights of his life so far.
"I don't think you can replace those years," he said. "I'll miss it this year and I'll miss it next year. I'll always miss those days.
"I just would have had to come back and tried to do better, to top what I had already done, to do it all over again, and I didn't feel like I had to do it again. How much higher could I have gone? I got done what I had to get done, got out, and I'm happy."
Raiola said the Lions' organization is committed to bringing nothing less than a Super Bowl championship to Detroit, and he points to president and CEO Matt Millen and new coach Marty Mornhinweg as responsible for introducing that attitude.
Millen was a linebacker on four Super Bowl title teams with the Oakland and Los Angeles Raiders, the San Francisco 49ers and the Washington Redskins, while Mornhinweg was an assistant for the Green Bay Packers' championship team in 1996-97.
Raiola shares a bond as a warrior in the trenches with Chicago Bears center Olin Kreutz, who was two years ahead of Raiola at St. Louis School and went on to star at the University of Washington.
Now they're rivals in the NFL's black-and-blue division.
"As a kid, I watched football on TV, but I didn't really have a favorite player who I looked up to," Raiola said. "I always watched Olin, and I was always interested in how he progressed.
"We're best friends, so it's not hard to try and be like him. He's helped me a lot."
Raiola has heard lots of people in the pros say how great Kreutz is as a center in the NFL. And if the pattern holds to its course, Raiola will soon be earning that same kind of respect around the league.
In his spare time, Raiola plays Playstation football, and he mainly keeps to himself, although he has become close with some of the Lions players, including tackle Jeff Backus, the team's top draft choice out of Michigan.
He tries to talk with his family members in Hawaii at least every other day, and he misses the islands.
"But home is always going to be there," Raiola said.
For now, he's a roaring Lion, and very much at home in the middle of the line, deflecting or flattening any opponent who comes his way.
And if he ever needs a moment away from all the intensity, he can always break into a rendition of "Tiny Bubbles."