63-year-old Lions fan walks 425 miles to attend practice

As Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz broke his team's 2010 training camp on Wednesday, he had a special guest in-house -- Joe Paquette Jr., a 63-year-old man from Michigan's Upper Peninsula, who walked over 400 miles to attend a team practice. The long hike -- 425 miles in 18 days -- had something strong behind it.

Something called "Sisu."

"It means perseverance and being able to bounce back from a difficult situation, which we all know the Lions are in," Paquette told the Detroit News. "I said that's what the Lions need, they need Sisu. But how do you get it down there? Do you send them a letter that ends up in the wastebasket?"

"Sisu," according to Wikipedia, is "a Finnish term loosely translated into English as strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity." That Paquette thought his actions were rational greatly impressed Schwartz and his players, who warmly welcomed him to Lions Park.

"We've had a long training camp and it was nice to see someone who's had as long a training camp as we did -- [someone] that came in and had that kind of energy," Schwartz said. "Football is a game that's meant to be played with emotion. You can't come out and just bring your lunch pail to work and that kind of thing. It's an emotional game and you need to have some excitement and Joe brought some excitement. He had genuine enthusiasm and if I ever walk 425 [miles], I don't know that I'd have the energy to say hello.

"Lions fans never cease to amaze me. People that are willing to do things like that to show support for the team -- it spread that he was out here today [to our guys] and you saw how many guys wanted to go over and just meet him and thank him for showing that kind of enthusiasm."

"Once they see that a 63-year-old man with arthritis in both knees can walk 450 miles just because of Sisu, they are going to buy into it," Paquette said. "We need the fans to get into it. We need our players to get into it. But I don't want them to say that I have Sisu. I want them to feel it. I want them to have it in their eyes and the hunger of Sisu in their eyes so that when they get on that field they know what they are going to do."

I don't know about you, but if I found out that a fan of the team I was coaching or playing for did this to prove a point, I'd be ready to run through a brick wall. Paquette walked an average of 25 miles a day, stayed in a motor home driven by his brother-in-law, and walked the last mile of the trip with family and friends by his side. Totally and completely awesome, especially when you consider that anyone doing this for the Lions -- a team that hasn't had a winning record since the year 2000, and went 0-16 in 2008 -- is no fair-weather fan.

There are many reasons to be encouraged about the Lions' 2010 season -- for the second straight year, they had a solid draft and acquired some interesting free agents. Schwartz is one of the smartest coaches in the game, and Matt Millen is but a memory. And I wouldn't be surprised if, when the Lions are up against it in the fourth quarter, they don't remember the idea of "Sisu," and pull a game or two out of thin air. Motivation is often oversold on football, but it's tough to argue with this.

Paquette will attend the Lions' third preseason game this Saturday as a guest of the team as it takes on the Cleveland Browns. If you would like to leave a comment on his Facebook page, you can do so here (that's where we got the "Sisu" pucture).

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