Ex-Lions, from nothing to everything

"The thing I remember is how hard the players worked," Brown said. "When you're not winning, sometimes you press and it just gets harder and harder. With these guys, the ones who finished, they never quit. They practiced hard; they prepared hard. They were really a joy to be around. We didn't win, and that's no fun. But as far as the players that hung in there and went the distance with us, I was very proud of them."

Not everyone hung in there. Brown didn't want to talk about that, but the players knew who they were.

"I'll say this," Lenon said. "When you're in a situation like that, you have a certain amount of guys that pack it in."

Lenon wasn't one of them. His career came too hard for him. He was cut by the Panthers, cut by the Packers, and worked for a while in the mailroom of the U.S. Postal Service, from 11 at night until 7 in the morning.

At one point, early in his career, he thought about leaving football and using his degree for something more realistic. He talked to his mom about it, and she asked if he quit, would he have regrets? Lenon knew he would. So he kept playing football, in NFL Europe, in the XFL. He kept going, even after 0-16.

"When you go through difficult situations, it makes you stronger," said Lenon, who at 36 is the second-oldest player for the Broncos.

"I wouldn't know what to do if I didn't have a chip on my shoulder. I think I've had a chip on my shoulder since I came into this world, honestly. It's been beneficial."

All of them are motivated by previous slights. Ramirez was cut from the Lions in 2010; Avril bolted for Seattle last year when he didn't get a big contract despite producing 39½ sacks in five seasons.

"It's a business. I understand it," Avril said as he addressed reporters Sunday upon the Seahawks' arrival in New Jersey. "I'm here at the Super Bowl talking to you guys. I can't complain at all."

Avril didn't realize how bad it was in Detroit because he was a rookie. He saw the fans wearing bags on their heads, heard the boos and read the signs, but Avril always thought things could've been worse. At least the fans were still coming. At least they still cared.

He wouldn't trade his time in Detroit for anything, he said. He learned humility, the kind that comes when opponents are laughing as they're running up the score. And those who stuck around learned about change.

Ramirez took a step back, evaluated himself, and made adjustments. Now he's snapping the ball to Manning, and preparing to play on the biggest stage. Ramirez, who's Mexican-American, was surrounded for a solid hour on Tuesday during Super Bowl media day, shifting from English to Spanish, posing with a Mexican flag. At one point, he asked a reporter to take a picture of himself with the flag for his cell phone. In some ways, Ramirez still can't believe he's here.

His wife, Iris, whom he's been married to since college, was a rock for him during those days in Detroit. He tried not to take his work home with him. But that was impossible.

On Sunday, he will look for Avril, and maybe for a moment, they'll remember old times. They weren't the worst.

"You take your positives and negatives out of it," he said. "But you don't wish that on anybody."

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