MARQUETTE -Munising's Joe Paquette brought a little taste of "sisu" to the Detroit Lions.
After struggling through the last few dismal NFL seasons with the Lions, Paquette, 63, decided to show his dedication as a life-long, die-hard Lions fan by walking the 425 miles from his home in Munising to the Lions practice facility in downstate Allen Park.
To complete his journey on Wednesday, Paquette entered the practice facility flanked by family, friends and Lions fans, as well as a host of media.
Detroit Lions fan Joe Paquette reacts as he arrives at the team’s NFL football training facility in downstate Allen Park on Wednesday. Paquette walked some 400 miles from his home in Munising to the Motor City because he’s a die-hard fan of the Lions. (AP Photo/Detroit Free Press, Kirthmon F. Dozier)
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, left, shakes hands with Paquette. (AP Photo/Detroit Free Press, Kirthmon F. Dozier)
"This has been unbelievable, just beyond words," Paquette said. "I stopped a mile short (on Tuesday) so that family, friends and fans could walk the last mile with me on Wednesday."
Paquette said he was welcomed into the facility by players and coaches, and was surrounded by media who tried to get photos and asked a lot of questions.
"They (Lions representatives) took me out on the field to meet the players, and I even got to go upstairs and meet Mr. Ford," Paquette said.
The players were interested in Paquette's walk, and many of them asked him how his legs and feet were doing.
"One player said he wouldn't even be willing to drive that far," Paquette said.
"Then they took me into the training room where all the players are worked on, and they treated blisters on my feet and adjusted my back, and then we went on a tour of the facility," he said.
Paquette got to check out the post-game news conference room, then posed for pictures and did a handful of TV interviews.
"I'm overjoyed with the reception and very appreciative of it," Paquette said. "But, I have to keep this all in perspective; all I had to do was walk."
His trip may have come to an end on Wednesday, but his experience certainly did not. Paquette will be on hand in Detroit for the Lions preseason game on Saturday against the Browns, where he will not only get to watch the game from a luxury box above the field, but where he will also be an active participant in the pre-game ceremonies.
"They're letting me greet the players on the field for the coin toss," Paquette said, "and I get to bring the ceremonial first football onto the field.
"It's a great accomplishment, and I'm just overwhelmed," Paquette said. "I had tears running down my cheeks when I got to the facility, and it was a great feeling. They're (the Lions) treating me so nice."
Paquette got to meet head coach Jim Schwartz, starting second-year quarterback Matthew Stafford and cornerback Dre Bly, and the Lions presented Paquette with a personalized jersey. It has his name on the back, and his number is 425, the distance in miles he walked.
"I'm also getting a hat signed by every player for my uncle," Paquette said. "He's 80 and just a die-hard Lions fan."
The organization also gave Paquette a box loaded with gear including T-shirts, sweatshirts, shorts, shoes and other memorabilia.
"They've been very, very good to me," Paquette said. "I'll be passing a lot of these things on to all those who helped me."
Paquette said the journey was a difficult one, both mentally and physically, but he did it to help light a spark with the Lions.
"I'm only a fan," Paquette said. "I'm not the best, just one, and my job as a fan is to cheer the team on. I hope this will help put some fire into them."
Paquette said that at times - he mentioned the Seney Stretch in particular -walking was just as mentally challenging as it was physically.
"There were spots where I could see straight ahead for six miles, and there were a lot of hills," Paquette said. "But there was a lot of support along the way."
Paquette said people driving by would honk their horns and yell things like "go Yooper," and "sisu," and "go Lions," at him as he was walking, and it encouraged him.
Paquette added that competing his walk is only the first phase of what he hopes will happen.
"None of this will come full fruit until we bring home the trophy," he said.
Bill Harris can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.