DETROIT — Dominic Raiola spent 14 seasons with the Detroit Lions and endured some of the most difficult years in franchise history.
Perhaps that explains the bond he still feels toward the city, even though he'll no longer play his home games in Motown.
"I've made Detroit my home. People ask me when I'm moving back to Hawaii, I'm not," Raiola said Tuesday. "So, this is home for me now and I've made a home here. It's very humbling to be in this position that I am."
The Lions have told Raiola he isn't part of their plans for next season, meaning the veteran center will be a free agent after playing the first 14 years of his career with Detroit. He says he thinks he can keep playing, but now he'll have to find another team.
Raiola set a franchise record with 203 starts, and he's one of three players to appear in at least 200 games for the Lions.
"In many ways, he's a throwback who could've played in any era of the NFL," general manager Martin Mayhew said in a statement. "He should take pride in the fact that he is one of the most durable players in this team's history, as proven by his longevity, and that he helped lead us to two playoff berths in the past four seasons. We wish him nothing but the very best in all his future endeavors."
The Lions missed the playoffs in Raiola's first 10 seasons, including an 0-16 showing in 2008, but the Honolulu native was still a part of the starting lineup when Detroit reached the postseason two of the last four seasons. This season the Lions were a wild card, losing their playoff opener at Dallas.
"I think the last one's going to stand out. I mean, you can say the 2011 playoff year because it was so special and a lot of people made it about the guys that were left over from the 0-16 team," Raiola said. "But I think they're going to look back at this season and say that was a step for Lions coming to what's ahead of them. I think good things are ahead. I know good things are ahead."
Raiola's longevity — and his postgame candor — made him one of the most recognizable Detroit players, but he also exasperated fans on occasion. He was fined this past season for unnecessary roughness in a game at New England, and he was suspended for the regular-season finale at Green Bay after stepping on a Chicago player the previous weekend.
"I played with passion," he said. "Yeah it was controversial at times, but when you live in the city, nobody knows that unless you live in the city. If you're one with the city you understand the passion I play with, what I brought every day. It was grouped together."
The Lions drafted center Travis Swanson in the third round last year, and he seems to be the most likely candidate to take over the position now.
"He's going to do great," Raiola said. "He's a tough dude. He's smart. I mean, you've got to be smart to be a center. The Lions are in good hands with him and I'm glad I can leave what I did and move on to Travis. Couldn't happen to a better guy."
Raiola signed a one-year deal last offseason that kept him with the Lions for 2014, and this was arguably Detroit's most successful season of his time with the franchise.
"I put a lot of my career on grouping myself with the city. You heard me say that over and over," Raiola said. "One thing if I could apologize to people in the city is that I'm sorry that we couldn't be more successful and ultimately win a championship while I was here. ... Some people can take it how they want, but the real fans know that I really mean that and that it really comes from my heart."
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