When guard Damien Woody signed as a free agent with the Lions in the off-season after playing five years with the two-time champion Patriots, he put a Super Bowl game ball in his locker and reminded all who stopped to look at the keepsake that what happened in the past doesn't matter now. "I'm starting over," Woody said last week. "For me, it's all about the here and now. They brought me in for one reason--to help this organization win."
Entering the season Detroit's past included an NFL-record 24-game road losing streak that dated to December 2000, but Woody and his new teammates needed only one game together to put an end to the dubious run. On Sunday in Chicago, safety Bracy Walker returned a blocked field goal 92 yards for a touchdown to give the Lions a 10--7 lead in the third quarter, then intercepted a Rex Grossman pass in the end zone with 18 seconds left to seal a 20--16 victory for Detroit.
The Lions were supposed to be just the first stop on Woody's free-agent tour last March. But coach Steve Mariucci and team president Matt Millen went after the six-year veteran hard; among the significant things they pointed out was the quality of the area school systems, which was important to Damien and his wife, Nicole, who have four daughters. Before he could leave town, Woody had agreed to a six-year, $30 million contract, including a $9.5 million signing bonus.
"They were just aggressive, very aggressive in free agency," says the 26-year-old Woody. "That's what you're supposed to do: If there's something you want, be aggressive about it. Their sales pitch is very interesting. I bought into it."
These Lions won't be taking home Super Bowl game balls anytime soon, and it seems they still have a dark cloud hanging over their heads. On the team's third play from scrimmage against the Bears, wideout Charles Rogers, the second selection in the 2003 draft, broke the same right collarbone he had fractured in practice early last season and is out for the year. But this is a more talented, deeper Detroit team than the ones that won a total of 10 games the past three seasons. And it's a club with an improved attitude.
Winning is old hat for Woody, whose personal unbeaten streak was extended to 16 straight games--15 with New England to end last season and Sunday's victory with the Lions. "I'm money," he said on Sunday. "I can't lose." Maybe these really are new Lions.
Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback, every week at si.com/football.