November 28, 2013

Durham eager for taste of Lions' Thanksgiving tradition

From making big catches on game-winning drives to being in the midst of the race for the playoffs, Detroit Lions wide receiver Kris Durham’s third season in the NFL has been quite eventful.

He’ll add another special moment today as the league celebrates a rich tradition — football on Thanksgiving Day.

In a clash between NFC North rivals, the Lions (6-5) host the Green Bay Packers (5-5-1) at 12:30 p.m. in a nationally televised game on Fox. Wearing No. 18, the 6-foot-6-inch, 216-pound Durham — the son of Southeast Whitfield High School girls basketball and track and field coach Mike Durham — will be enjoying his first taste of Thanksgiving away from the dinner table and on the gridiron.

The Lions and Dallas Cowboys have long been the traditional hosts of games each Thanksgiving, and since 2006 the NFL has had a third game on this day. But for Durham, who played at Calhoun High School and the University of Georgia, this is all new.

“I’ve never played on Thanksgiving,” Durham said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “There’s a lot of tradition in Detroit for it. ... There’s a lot of pride and tradition. They hold a parade for it. It’s crazy how excited people around here get for it.”

During his senior season at Calhoun High School in 2005, Durham helped the Yellow Jackets finish 14-1 and advance to the Georgia High School Association’s Class 2A state title game. He went on to sign with the University of Georgia, and in four seasons with the Bulldogs — he was redshirted in 2009 because of injury — he had 64 catches for 1,109 yards and four touchdowns.

The Seattle Seahawks drafted Durham in 2011 with the 11th pick of the fourth round, the 107th selection overall. A trip to the injured reserve list after tearing the labrum in his right shoulder ended his rookie season after he appeared in just three games. The Seahawks released him during their 2012 training camp, and he was soon after signed to the practice squad for Detroit, where he was reunited with his former college roommate, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford.

By the end of the year, Durham had a spot on the active roster and appeared in four games, including three as a starter, during a disappointing 4-12 campaign for the Lions.

This season, Durham has appeared in all 11 games for the Lions, with eight starts. He has 32 catches for 403 yards and two touchdowns.

“It’s a lot of fun watching him play,” Mike Durham said. “I’ve been to about five or six of his games this season.”

For Kris Durham, one of the biggest perks of being in Detroit has been playing alongside one of the league’s most talented players — wide receiver Calvin Johnson, an All-Pro selection the past two seasons. Johnson has 66 catches for 1,198 yards and 11 touchdowns this year.

“For me, he could go down as one of the greatest of all time,” Durham said. “The way he goes about and conducts himself, he’s one of the most humble guys you’ll meet and one of the hardest-working guys you’ll meet — even though he’s a Georgia Tech guy. I have to give him a little (jest) this week with it being Georgia versus Georgia Tech.”

One of the most memorable moments for the Lions this season came in a 31-30 win against the Dallas Cowboys on Oct. 27. With the Lions needing a win to stay above .500 but trailing 30-24 with a little more than a minute remaining and no timeouts, the Lions produced an 80-yard drive to the end zone. The drive’s longest play was a 40-yard strike to Durham that set up a 22-yard pass to Johnson and Stafford’s instantly famous fake spike.

Rather than stopping the clock with an actual spike of the ball, Stafford dove and stretched the ball across the goal line for the game-winning touchdown with 12 seconds left.

“It was kind of crazy how it all happened,” Durham said. “... It’ll be memorable for me.”

As for the game-winning sneak from his old college buddy? Durham was like the rest of the Lions — they had no clue it was coming.

“I talked to (Stafford) after the game about it and I asked him, ‘What made you think to do that? Did I miss something in the meeting?’” Durham said. “He said when he lined up, he was about to spike it. Then he saw a gap in the defensive linemen and saw them expecting him to spike it.”

The funny thing about the play, Durham said, is the referees reviewed whether Stafford crossed the plane of the goal line. It shouldn’t have mattered, though, because Stafford was pushed back, landed on his feet and kept running.

“He ended up running in the end zone anyway,” Durham said.

It’s been an exciting year for Durham. It may become even better today.

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