By David Fleet
Detroit —With 10:29 left in the third quarter of Sunday’s Tampa Bay vs. Detroit Lions NFC Divisional Playoff game, more than 65,000 rowdy fans cheered for more than a football team.
Brandon Township resident and Navy Veteran Stephen Najor stepped onto Ford Field to a deafening ovation during a television break as the Detroit Lions Hometown Hero.
“It’s very loud when I walk out on the field,” said Najor, 56. “It was very humbling and nice to have your time in the service recognized.”
Najor’s trek to Ford Field started about a year earlier when his wife Nadia nominated him to be the game’s Hometown Hero through the Detroit Lions head office.
“Nadia didn’t even tell me I was nominated, actually she forgot about it too,” he said. “So on Wednesday I got a call from the Detroit Lions asking if I wanted to be the Hometown Hero for the game? I thought holy cow it’s going to be at the NFC Divisional Playoffs too.”
The Lions provided Najor four seats just four rows from his season tickets on the Club Level, so seven family members were able to enjoy the Lion win over Tampa Bay.
The Lion’s staff came up to Najor’s seats at the two minute warning just before halftime. They waited until the players came off the field and moved the family to the sidelines when the players came off the field. Najor was able to greet Goff and other Lions as they headed to the locker room for halftime.
“This season is surreal,” he said. “I did not expect them to be where they are right now. As a lifelong Lions fan it’s many, many years in the making. Even when I was in the service I watched the Lions whenever I could. We even had season tickets when the Lions played at the Pontiac Silverdome.”
A Detroit native and 1985 Southfield-Lathrup high school graduate, Najor joined the Navy after high school and served on submarines from 1986-1998. During his stint as an Electronics Technician First Class, he was assigned to the USS Albney SSN-753, a nuclear-powered fast attack submarine for five years. Then to Commander, Submarine Force Atlantic Fleet, communications watch and active duty on the USS Parche SSN 683, the most highly decorated vessel in U.S. history.
Najor has been a season ticket owner off and on since the 1990s. After giving up the season tickets for a few years, Stephen and wife Nadia, also a Lions fan, returned to their seats at Ford Field about three years ago. Season ticket owners have the option to buy their seats for the playoffs.
Stephen and his brother made a pact 30 years ago that if the Lions ever make the Super Bowl they will attend.
“We already purchased tickets to Las Vegas,” said Stephen, regarding the game on Feb. 11. “If the Lions make it we are going to the Super Bowl, if they don’t we’re just going to Las Vegas to have fun. Again, since I’m a season ticket holder I’ll have the option of buying Super Bowl tickets.”
The Detroit Lion fans are pretty crazy right now, he said.
“I believe in (Head Coach) Dan Campbell from the very beginning when he came to Detroit three years ago,” he said. “You have to give him a chance. My dad first took me to a Lion’s game in 1976 when I was 9-years-old, it was the season after the Pontiac Silverdome opened, we played the Miami Dolphins that game. I stayed with them ever since and I remain a Lion’s fan through thick and thin. They are my hometown team, they are my ‘Lions.’”
By David Fleet